Allen Barra Remembers Soupy Sales


As Roy Edroso pointed out the other day, most children’s programming in the New York area during the early and mid-1960s was dreck. There were exceptions: Chuck McCann, who read the funnies to us on Sunday morning, and Sandy Becker of Sandy’s Hour, who died in 1996, are fondly remembered. But Soupy Sales was something else — the only TV personality of his time I can think of who appealed in equal measure to grade school, high school, and even college kids. In 1964-65, you gauged the hipness of any adult by whether or not they responded to Soupy Sales.

Soupy was to daytime TV what Ernie Kovacs to late night in the 1950s. He really was that weird. Soupy spoke right through the television to us and made us feel as if we were in on some joke that the stuffed shirts just couldn’t dig. I mean, a Jew from North Carolina — how cool is that?

Here’s a few Soupy-related items that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the obits.

— After his doggies, White Fang and Black Tooth (you could only see their “paws”) would do their “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh — Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ooh,” Soupy would pause, wait for the crew’s laughter to stop, stare into the camera, and deadpan “That’s easy for you to say.”

— When Soupy read his poetry, he would ask for commentary from Pookie The Lion. Pookie’s reply was always, “In the first place … it doesn’t rhyme.” (Pause) “And in the second place … it doesn’t rhyme.”

— Soupy had another hit song besides “Do The Mouse.” Sadly, it has been forgotten. The title, which Soupy would sing wearing a smoking jacket while waving a cigarette holder — on a children’s show! — was “Pafalafaka.” I have no idea whether or not I spelled that right, but it was supposed to be a Turkish word. One of the lines went “The very mention of/that tender word of love/gives my heart a jerkish-Turkish beat.”

— Somehow it slipped through the memory of Soupy tribute writers, but Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis were far from the only celebrities — Soupy’s groupies? — who appeared on the show. Let me recall two of my favorites:

One day, Burt Lancaster — I swear by all that is holy that I’m not making this up — Burt F’ing Lancaster knocked on the door, pulled Soupy outside as he went inside, locked the door, and, dressed in Soupy’s traditional sweater, top hat, and bow tie, proceeded to do the Soupy Shuffle. If anyone out there reading this knows where to get a copy, I will happily pay cash for the clip.

One day Richard Burton popped by with an old-fashioned stand up camera on a tripod and said he wanted to “immortalize” Soupy by taking his picture as he threw a pie. Soupy tossed the pie and held the pose. Then, after a few seconds, Soupy asked “What kind of pie was that?” Burton, his head under the camera drape, mumbled, “Meringue.” After a few seconds, Soupy, an innocent smile on his face, inquired, “What kind of meringue?” After another pause, the pie splatted into the back of Soupy’s head. Burton looked back towards the studio camera and stated in distinctive Burtonian voice, “Boom -eringue!”

— Perhaps the most legendary moment in Soupy’s television career is one for which, to my knowledge, here is no actual proof, but those of us who were watching remember it well. One day the familiar “Soooo – peee!” in a high pitched voice rang out, and Soupy opened the door to see his girlfriend Peaches — Soupy in drag, of course — gliding up. At the end of the bit, Sales, beaming his familiar moronic grin. Told us, “Boy, that Peaches! She can’t make my lemon pie, but she sure can make my banana cream!” It was one of the great moments in live television history, and, like a Mariano Rivera cut-fastball, he threw it right by the censors to those of us who were lucky enough to have been home from school in time to hear it.

It staggers the mind to think what Soupy sales might have accomplished had he been born in the age of cable TV. RIP, Soup.