Milton Supman (January 8, 1926 – October 22, 2009), known professionally as Soupy Sales, was an American comedian, actor, radio/television personality, and jazz aficionado. He was best known for his local and network children's television show, Lunch with Soupy Sales (1953-1966), a series of comedy sketches frequently ending with Sales receiving a pie in the face, which became his trademark.
From 1968 to 1975, he was a regular panelist on the syndicated revival of What's My Line? and appeared on several other TV game shows. During the 1980s, Sales hosted his own show on WNBC-AM in New York City.
Sales on Lunch With Soupy Sales in 1960
|Birth name||Milton Supman|
January 8, 1926|
Franklinton, North Carolina, U.S.
October 22, 2009 (aged 83)|
Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Medium||Television, radio, film|
|Genres||Slapstick, word play, improvisation|
(1980–2009, his death)
Selma "Sadie" Berman
|Notable works and roles||Lunch with Soupy Sales|
Milton Supman was born in Franklinton, North Carolina, to Irving Supman and Sadie Berman. His father, a Jewish dry goods merchant, had emigrated from Hungary in 1894. Sales had three siblings: Marvin Supman (1916–1920), Dr. J. Leonard Supman (1918–1998) of Kingsport, Tennessee, and attorney Jack Supman (1921–2014) of Lancaster, Ohio. His was the only Jewish family in the town; Sales joked that local Ku Klux Klan members bought the sheets used for their robes from his father's store.
Sales got his nickname from his family. His older brothers had been nicknamed "Ham Bone" and "Chicken Bone." Milton was dubbed "Soup Bone," which was later shortened to "Soupy". When he became a disc jockey, he began using the stage name Soupy Hines. After he became established, it was decided that "Hines" was too close to the Heinz soup company, so he chose Sales, in part after vaudeville comedian Chic Sale.
Sales graduated from Huntington High School in Huntington, West Virginia in 1944. He enlisted in the United States Navy and served on the USS Randall (APA-224) in the South Pacific during the latter part of World War II. He sometimes entertained his shipmates by telling jokes and playing crazy characters over the ship's public address system. One of the characters he created was "White Fang", a large dog that played outrageous practical jokes on the seamen. The sounds for "White Fang" came from a recording of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sales enrolled at Marshall College in Huntington, WV, where he earned a master's degree in Journalism. While at Marshall, he performed in nightclubs as a comedian, singer and dancer. After graduating, Sales began working as a scriptwriter and disc jockey at radio station WHTN (now WVHU) in Huntington. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1949, where he worked as a morning radio DJ and performed in nightclubs. Sales began his television career on WKRC-TV in Cincinnati with Soupy's Soda Shop, TV's first teen dance program, and Club Nothing!, a late-night comedy/variety program. When WKRC canceled his TV shows, Sales moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he hosted another radio and TV series on WJW-TV (Channel 8) and continued his nightclub act. It was in a skit on his late night comedy/variety TV series Soupy's On! that he got his first pie in the face. Sales claimed he left the Cleveland station "for health reasons: they got sick of me." He relocated to Detroit in 1953 and worked for WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), ABC's O&O station.
Sales is best known for his daily children's television show, Lunch with Soupy Sales. The show was originally called 12 O'Clock Comics, and was later known as The Soupy Sales Show. Improvised and slapstick in nature, Lunch with Soupy Sales was a rapid-fire stream of comedy sketches, gags, and puns, almost all of which resulted in Sales receiving a pie in the face, which became his trademark. Sales developed pie-throwing into an art form: straight to the face, on top of the head, a pie to both ears from behind, moving into a stationary pie, and countless other variations. He claimed that he and his visitors had been hit by more than 20,000 pies during his career. He recounted a time when a young fan mistakenly threw a frozen pie at his neck and he "dropped like a pile of bricks."
Lunch with Soupy Sales began in 1953 from the studios of WXYZ-TV, Channel 7, located in the historic Maccabees Building, in Detroit. Sales occasionally took the studio cameras to the lawn of the Detroit Public Library, located across the street from the TV studios, and talked with local students walking to and from school. Beginning no later than July 4, 1955, a Saturday version of Sales's lunch show was broadcast nationally on the ABC television network. His lunchtime program on weekdays was moved to early morning opposite Today and Captain Kangaroo.
During the same period that Lunch with Soupy Sales aired in Detroit, Sales also hosted a nighttime show, Soup's On, to compete with 11 O'Clock News programs. The guest star was always a musician, often a jazz performer, at a time when jazz was popular in Detroit and the city was home to twenty-four jazz clubs. Sales believed that his show helped sustain jazz in Detroit, as artists would regularly sell out their nightclub shows after appearing on Soup's On.
Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz were among the musicians who appeared on the show; Miles Davis made six appearances. Clifford Brown's appearance on Soup's On, according to Sales, may be the only extant footage of Brown, and has been included in Ken Burns' Jazz and an A&E Network biography about Sales.
Sales briefly had a third dinner time show filmed largely in the Palmer Park section of Detroit. Sales' three shows were rumored to have earned him in excess of $100,000 per year. One of his character puppets was Willy the Worm, a "balloon" propelled worm that emerged from its house and used a high pitched voice to announce birthdays or special events on the noontime show; but the character never appeared when Soupy moved to Los Angeles. In his lunchtime show, Sales always wore an orlon fabric sweater. In many of his shows, he appeared in costume, performed his dance, the Soupy Shuffle, introduced many characters such as Nicky Nooney, the Mississippi Gambler, etc., and took "zillions" of pies in the face.
In 1960, Sales moved to the ABC-TV Studios in Los Angeles, California. ABC-TV cancelled the show in March 1961, but it continued as a local program on KABC-TV until January 1962. The show briefly went back on the ABC network as a late night fill-in for The Steve Allen Show in 1962 but was canceled after three months. All of the puppets on the show during its Los Angeles run were also operated by Clyde Adler.. A 1962 TV Guide listing refers to him as "West Coast disk jockey and comedian". His fame was significant enough to warrant utilizing him as a "Tonight" show guest host in the period between Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.
On September 7, 1964, Sales found a new weekday home at WNEW-TV in New York City. This version was seen locally until September 2, 1966. 260 episodes were syndicated by Screen Gems to local stations outside the New York market during the 1965–66 season. This show marked the height of Sales' popularity. It featured guest appearances by stars such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as musical groups like the Shangri-Las, The Supremes and The Temptations.
As with his earlier shows, Sales performed musical numbers on the show and his extensive jazz record collection was used in his TV work. "Mumbles" by Oscar Peterson with Clark Terry was Pookie's theme. "Comin' Home Baby!" by Herbie Mann was the theme for Sales' "Gunninger the Mentalist" character (a parody of Dunninger the Mentalist). This was also the period when Sales starred in the movie comedy Birds Do It. During the run of the New York show, actor Frank Nastasi played White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie, and all the "guy at the door" characters.
The New Soupy Sales Show appeared in 1978 with the same format, and ran for one season. 65 episodes were briefly syndicated, through Air Time International, to local stations in early 1979. It was taped in Los Angeles at KTLA, with Clyde Adler returning to work as a puppeteer with Sales.
Clyde Adler, the show's floor manager and a film editor at Detroit's WXYZ-TV, performed in sketches and voiced and operated all puppets on Sales' show in Detroit in the 1950s and in Los Angeles from 1959 to 1962, as well as in 1978. Actor Frank Nastasi, who played the part of Gramps on WXYZ-TV's other kids show "Wixie Wonderland", assumed the role of straight man and puppeteer when Sales took the show to New York from 1964 to 1966. Nastasi was originally from Detroit and had worked with Sales at WXYZ. Appearing on the show were both puppets and live performers.
The puppets were:
Regular live characters included:
On January 1, 1965, miffed at having to work on the holiday, Sales ended his live broadcast by encouraging his young viewers to tiptoe into their still-sleeping parents' bedrooms and remove those "funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. Presidents" from their pants and pocketbooks. "Put them in an envelope and mail them to me", Soupy instructed the children. "And I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico!"  Several days later, a chagrined Soupy announced that money (mostly Monopoly money) was unexpectedly being received in the mail. He explained that he had been joking and announced that the contributions would be donated to charity. As parents' complaints increased, WNEW's management felt compelled to suspend Sales for two weeks. Young viewers picketed Channel 5. The uproar surrounding Sales' suspension increased his popularity. Sales described the incident in his 2001 autobiography Soupy Sez! My Life and Zany Times.
The show's set included a door in the background. During the show, Sales would answer a knock at the door and interact with an actor seen only as an arm. Occasionally, the person at the door was a celebrity, such as Burt Lancaster or Fess Parker. Once, while the show was being broadcast live from Detroit, Sales' studio crew pulled a prank on him: when he opened the door, he saw a topless dancer partially covered with a balloon. Some reports say the gag was furthered by the crew switching the studio monitors so that Sales would think the stripper image was going out over the air. A second, nonbroadcasting, camera captured the uncensored version, while a stagehand moved a balloon back and forth in the doorway, giving at least some indication to the home viewers what was supposed to be behind the door. Sales was forced to try to keep the show going without revealing the risque scene backstage. The prank was recreated when the show originated in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles prank footage survives.
One of the fans of the Soupy Sales show was Frank Sinatra. When Sinatra started his own record label, Reprise Records, he signed Sales to a recording contract. Two albums were produced with Reprise, The Soupy Sales Show in 1961 and Up In The Air in 1962.
Sales' novelty dance record, '"The Mouse" dates from the mid-1960s period of his career, when his show was based in New York. Sales performed "The Mouse" on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1965, just prior to The Beatles' segment on the show. Sales signed with Motown Records in 1969 releasing a single, "Muck-Arty Park" (a play on the 1968 hit "MacArthur Park"), as well as an album A Bag of Soup. Soupy and Frank Nastasi also cut and recorded a comedy and song story disk "Spy With A Pie" for ABC/Paramount. "Spy With A Pie" was rereleased by "Simon Says" children's records.
From 1968–75, Sales was a regular panelist on the syndicated revival of What's My Line?. (He had been a guest panelist on one episode of the original version in 1965.) Sales usually was the first panelist introduced and occupied the chair on the far left side (facing the camera), next to Arlene Francis. In 1969, Sales appeared on Storybook Squares, a children's version of Hollywood Squares, as Henry VIII. In 1976, Sales was the host of Junior Almost Anything Goes, ABC's Saturday morning version of their team-based physical stunt program. Sales was also a panelist on the 1980 revival of To Tell the Truth; he had appeared as a guest on the show during the mid- to late 1970s. Other game show appearances included over a dozen episodes of the original Match Game from 1966 to 1969 as well as one week of the revived version in 1976, a week of shows on the 1970s edition of The Gong Show, a couple guest spots on Hollywood Squares (December 12, 1977 and April 4, 1978) as well as a few appearances on the combined version (Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour) in 1983–84 and a recurring role in all versions of Pyramid from 1973 to 1988 and 1991. He also made an appearance on Pictionary in 1997.
Sales hosted a midday radio show on WNBC in New York from March 1985 to March 1987. His program was between the drive time shifts of Don Imus (morning) and Howard Stern (afternoon), with whom Sales had an acrimonious relationship. An example of this was an incident involving Stern telling listeners that he was cutting the strings in Sales' in-studio piano at 4:05 p.m. on May 1, 1985. On December 21, 2007, Stern revealed this was a stunt staged for "theater of the mind" and to torture Sales; in truth, the piano was never harmed. Sales' on-air crew included his producer, Ray D'Ariano, newscaster Judy DeAngelis, and pianist Paul Dver.
He had a sporadic film career that spanned over 40 years, including:
Sales was married twice: first to Barbara Fox (from 1950 until their divorce in 1979). They had two sons, both of whom are rock musicians: bassist Tony Sales and drummer Hunt Sales (who were in the band Tin Machine with David Bowie). In 1980, Sales married dancer Trudy Carson, who survives him.
Beginning in 2011, Jewish Life Television (JLTV) began showing 79 color videotapes and black & white kinescopes of the existing 1964–66 New York City and 1979 Los Angeles shows. Reruns previously aired on Retro Television Network in 2013 and 2014.