We lost a true Detroit legend yesterday when Soupy Sales died in a Bronx hospice after years of declining health at the age of 83. Sales -- who was born Milton Supman in Franklinton, North Carolina -- was years ahead of his time in that he delivered a children's show (complete with puppet friends) that surely appealed to the kiddies but featured "inside" jokes that went above the kids' heads but would appeal to the parents who were also watching at home. It's a tradition that would be used by everything from The Simpsons to Pee-wee's Playhouse in subsequent decades.
Sales first came to prominence on Detroit TV before his Lunch With Soupy show went national in 1959. A lot of us (including Alice Cooper; see video below) grew up with him; I remember driving my mom crazy, as I insisted she had to have Jello ready for dessert (the gelatin product was one of his sponsors -- though I was too little to realize that at the time) because it topped off every lunch five days a week. But he was even more well known for the "pie in the face" schtick that was also an everyday part of his goofy, hilarious programs. It became a national craze; Frank Sinatra even stopped by the show once to good-naturedly get a pie in his face. For an earlier generation, he was more important than Mr. Rogers, who never incorporated old vaudeville or Boscht Belt routines into his schtick. Also, Mr. Rogers never asked his kid audience to go to their mom's purse, take out all the pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them and send them to him, as Sales did one afternoon when he was peeved at television brass for making him work on a holiday.
Soupy even scored a zany novelty hit single "Do The Mouse," in '64 which he performed on one of the same February Ed Sullivan TV shows that introduced America to a group from England called the Beatles. The hit single even got him a brief contract with Motown Records.
If that's not enough Trivial Pursuit data, it also needs to be mentioned that Sales sired one of Iggy Pop's greatest rhythm sections in the form of Hunt and Tony Sales, who played with Iggy on the tours for The Idiot and Lust For Life...and later were the rhythm section for David Bowie's Tin Machine project. Rest in peace, funny man. If you believe in Heaven, you can perhaps picture St. Peter laughing today, with pie on his face...