Pie-in-face shtick launched his career
Soupy Sales, the rubber-faced comedian whose anything-for-a-chuckle career was built on 20,000 pies to the face and 5,000 live TV appearances across a half-century of laughs, died Thursday. He was 83.
Sales died at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, New York, said his former manager and longtime friend, Dave Usher. Sales had many health problems and entered the hospice last week, Usher said.
At the peak of his fame in the 1950s and ‘60s, Sales was one of the best-known faces in the nation, Usher said.
“If President Eisenhower would have walked down the street, no one would have recognized him as much as Soupy,” said Usher.
The comic’s pie-throwing shtick became his trademark, and celebrities lined up to take one on the chin alongside Sales. During the early 1960s, stars such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Shirley MacLaine received their just desserts side-by-side with the comedian on his television show.
“I’ll probably be remembered for the pies, and that’s all right,” Sales said in a 1985 interview.
Sales was born Milton Supman on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, N.C., where his was the only Jewish family in town. His parents, owners of a dry-goods store, sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan.
His greatest success came in New York with “The Soupy Sales Show” – an ostensible children’s show that had little to do with Captain Kangaroo and other kiddie fare. Sales’ manic, improvisational style also attracted an older audience that responded to his envelope-pushing antics.
Sales returned from the Navy after World War II and became a $20-a-week reporter at a West Virginia radio station. He jumped to a DJ gig, changed his name to Soupy Heinz and headed for Ohio.
His first pie to the face came in 1951, when the newly christened Soupy Sales was hosting a children’s show in Cleveland. In Detroit, Sales’ show garnered a national reputation as he honed his act.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1961, he eventually became a fill-in host on “The Tonight Show.”
He moved to New York in 1964 and debuted “The Soupy Sales Show,” with co-star puppets White Fang and Black Tooth. By the time his Big Apple run ended two years later, Sales had appeared on 5,370 live television programs – the most in the medium’s history, he boasted.
Sales remained a familiar television face, first as a regular from 1968-’75 on the game show “What’s My Line?” and later appearing on everything from “The Mike Douglas Show” to “The Love Boat.”