Soupy Sales, 1926-2009



Local children had a number of crappy shows with which to entertain themselves or drown out their parents’ drunken yelling in the 60s. Most of the hosts were anodyne, cheerful dopes like Officer Joe Bolton. But Soupy Sales, who has passed away at age 83, was different. He was hard-working and rubber-faced in the manner of sweaty Vaudeville comics, and gave kids more energy and crazier patter than we suppose a child psychologist would have recommended or even countenanced. (Fortunately such busybodies were not employed by minor stations in those pre-Sesame Street days.)

He did lame gags and paused for laughs (which he frequently got from the crew, who were apparently under no prohibition to make noise in those rough-and-tumble days at WPIX). We don’t remember many of them — we mainly responded to his evident, earnest desire to please us — but we do recall that he famously told us to take the “green pieces of paper” in our father’s wallet and send them to him. (Snopes confirms!)…

And he created some genuinely bizarre characters to liven up the show: two dogs/bears/whatevers named White Fang and Black Tooth, represented by furry arms grabbing or caressing Soupy, and voices cooing or growling nonsense at him (“OO-OO-OO-OO-OO! OO OO!”). He had a talking head in his coal oven. He developed a in-show mini-series about a Jewish detective called “Philo Kvetch” in which he struggled against a nemesis named Onions Oregano. And he got hit with pies. (Nobody could take a pie like Soupy; he did a perfect, frozen take after each assault, and made a grand show of wiping off the cream, often tasting it and commenting on the flavor.)

At the top of each show, and sometimes (presumably when he ran out of material) in the middle, he lip-synched his own songs. “The Mouse” actually became a minor hit, but we especially loved “There’s Nothin’ To Do Today (But Have Some Fun)” (“You don’t have to wash your face/We’re not goin’ anyplace”), which perfectly conveyed both our childish hopes and, we like to think, those of the struggling minor entertainer who, having obtained a miniscule break with a local kids’ show, gave it, and us, all he had. Some of us recall him more fondly than we do our teachers, crossing guards, and other alleged authority figures, because we knew they were just doing a job they evidently didn’t much like. We were Soupy’s job, and we knew he loved us.