No one threw, and received, a pie in the face quite like Soupy Sales. The American comedian and actor was said to be the world record holder of having been hit by more than 25,000 pies on his long-running children's show "Lunch With Soupy Sales" (ABC, 1959-1962). But the zany comic artist also did more than his share of returning the favor, sending pies flying at some of America's most famous celebrities of the time - Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Curtis - who all begged to be on the receiving end of his legendary antics. Sales was the consummate funny man; appearing in dinner theater and comedy clubs, performing live on Broadway, and keeping audiences in stitches with regular panelist gigs on the improvisational television show "What's My Line?" (CBS, 1968-1975) and several other comedy/variety shows.
Milton Supman was born on Jan. 8, 1926 in Franklinton, NC to dry-goods storeowners, Irving and Sadie Supman. He had two brothers; one was nicknamed "Hambone" while the other was called "Chicken Bone." He, in turn, was nicknamed "Soup Bone," which eventually became "Soupy." The actor's stage surname was taken after comedian Charles "Chic" Sale, who performed comedy acts on Broadway in the 1930s. Sales also went by the name of "Soupy Hines" for a while, which was a misspelled reference to the Heinz soup company.
After graduating from Huntington High School in West Virginia in 1944, Sales enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the South Pacific. His shipmates bore the brunt of his comedic aptitude; he was said to have been a prankster who often played silly characters on the ship's PA system. One of these characters was "White Fang," a large dog that played practical jokes on his shipmates. This character would eventually find its way into one of Sales' most popular television programs.
Sales attended Marshall College in Huntington, WV, where he received a master's degree in journalism. While still in college, he performed in nightclubs as a comedian, singer and dancer. He landed a job after college as a scriptwriter at a local radio station. There, he became the most popular DJ in town. He moved to Cincinnati, OH in 1949, where he worked as a morning radio DJ and performed in nightclubs at night doing what he did best - making people laugh. The gifted comedian eventually made his way into television, with the locally produced shows "Soupy's Soda Shop" (1950), a local teen dance program, and "Club Nothing" (1950), a late-night variety show. When the TV station canceled his shows, he moved to Cleveland to host another radio and TV series. It was a skit on his late-night "Soupy's On" where he received his first pie in the face.
But he was always known and loved for hosting "Lunch With Soupy Sales," which was originally known as "12 O'clock Comics," before being reincarnated in 1976 as "The Soupy Sales Show." Filmed in Detroit in the 1950s and then in Los Angeles in the 1960s, the show was an endless stream of gags, sketches, innuendos and puns, all of which ended in Sales getting hit in the kisser with a cream pie. The show took place in Sales' living room and included segments like "Soupy Sez" (words of wisdom); song and dance numbers, which featured "The Soupy Shuffle;" and hilarious routines with Clyde Adler's puppets like White Fang, "the biggest and meanest dog in the USA" who only appeared as a giant paw in the corner of the screen that growled and grunted; Black Tooth, "the biggest and sweetest dog in the USA," whose trademark was pulling Sales off-camera to give loud kisses; Pookie the Lion, who exchanged silly banter with Sales, and numerous others.
Sales kept up the pranks on "Lunch with Soupy Sales" and TV audiences were mesmerized. On New Year's Day 1965, Sales pulled what became one of his most famous pranks. Miffed that he had to work on a holiday, Sales jokingly asked his young viewers to go to their parents' bedrooms and remove those "funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. presidents" before he instructed them to "put them in an envelope and mail them to me." He added, "And you know what I'm going to mail you? A nice postcard from Puerto Rico!" Several days later, he announced on the show that they were indeed receiving money in the mail. Sales explained that it was only meant as a joke and announced that all of the money would be given to charity. In spite of his apology, many parents kept complaining and compelled the TV station to suspend his show for two weeks. The suspension actually boosted the show's ratings and made it a hit with a hip, younger audience.
Another prank on the show involved a topless dancer who Sales believed was being seen live. In the sketch, Sales would answer a knock at the door. He never knew who would be behind the door; it was usually a celebrity. When the show was being filmed in LA, as Sales opened the door, he saw a topless dancer gyrating with a balloon. Viewers only saw the balloon, but a non-broadcasting camera captured the non-censored version, which Sales saw and believed to be going live. He was forced to keep the entire show going without revealing the "risky" events happening backstage. Of course, nothing revealing was being broadcast, but the prank was legendary enough to later be featured on several famous blooper compilations.
From 1968 to 1975, Sales appeared on numerous TV game shows, including the syndicated revival of "What's My Line?" and the "Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour" (NBC, 1983-84). He also had a recurring appearance on "The $10,000 Pyramid" (syndicated, 1973-1982), where in one classic episode, he repeatedly said the word "bacon" while trying to make a confused contestant say "greasy things."
Sales married twice - first to Barbara Fox from 1950 to 1979, and then to dancer Trudy Carson in 1980. He had two sons with Fox - Hunt and Tony - who would grow up to become musicians. The actor spent much of the 1980s hosting another radio show in New York. In 1985, he reportedly had an incident with radio show personality Howard Stern, who had an afternoon show on the same station. The two did not get along. Stern allegedly cut the strings in Sales' in-studio piano; it was only in 2007 that Stern revealed that it was just a stunt staged for "theater of the mind" and to torture Sales. No piano was harmed.
During his career, the rubber-faced comic also recorded a number of chart-toppers, including the novelty dance records, "Do the Mouse" and "Spy with a Pie." He also performed live on Broadway, in dinner theaters and comedy clubs, and starred in the movie "Birds Do It" (1966) along with Tab Hunter. On January 7, 2005, Sales was awarded a long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That same year, the actor appeared in two independent films "The Innocent and the Damned" and "Angels with Angles." On Oct. 22, 2009, Sales passed away at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, NY after he had entered the hospice for various health issues. He was 83.