Comedian Soupy Sales left an indelible image in my memory when I was a teenager growing up in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield during the 60's. He died Thursday in New York at 83.
Then my family still had a black and white television, which sat in the living room of our typical one level suburban house located a stone's throw from my elementary school. It was on that television I had watched President John Kennedy's funeral and film of the escalating Viet Nam War. At the time I was one of those many teenagers searching for an identity in the midst of a Cold War and a Civil Rights movement. I turned to Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley to narrate the complicated and confusing events on the world stage.
But whenever possible I made it my business to watch The Soupy Sales Show. Maybe it was the regular pie in the face routines that made it funny. It was never a surprise, but it always gave me a giggle. Maybe it was White Fang, the meanest puppet in the United States, or Black Tooth, the nicest puppet in the United States. Or maybe it was the "nut at the door," and puppets Pokie the Lion, Hobart and Reba. Maybe it was Sales facial contortions, his eyes pooping out while his mouth twisted. Crazy things happened all the time, as Sales frenetically bounced around on the set carrying out unscripted but well thought out routines that seemed spontaneous.
I will never forget New Year's Day in 1965. I was sitting on our sofa watching The Soupy Sales Show when he said, "Okay kids, I want you to go into your parents bedroom and find your mother's purse." Where's this going? "Then I want you to reach in and take all that green paper, the ones with the pictures of the presidents on them." Huh? "Then I want you to send them to me!" Sales claimed he only received a few dollars in the mail but he was suspended for the episode because he was encouraging children to steal.
Soupy Sales perfected the, eh, art of slapstick silliness on television. What made him so appealing was his fresh, unpredictable and downright funny approach. In fact, his show attracted large numbers of adult viewers as well.
The Soupy Sales Show would probably not make it on television today. But Sales did play a meaningful role on television at a time when the medium was finding itself. (By the way, I did not send Soupy Sales my mother's money.)