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Soupy Sales dies; Had a hit career with pies, puppets

Soupy Sales had three live shows on national television at various times. One drew a larger audience than
Soupy Sales had three live shows on national television at various times. One drew a larger audience than "Kukla, Fran and Ollie." (File Photo)
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"Send them to me," he said, "and I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico."

Mr. Sales received only a few dollars in the mail, but people complained to the FCC that he was encouraging children to steal. His network, ABC, suspended him, but public protests led to his reinstatement. His ratings went up when he returned to the air, but his show was canceled in 1966.

By then, according to the calculations of entertainment writer Leonard Lyons, Mr. Sales had hosted 5,370 live television shows in a 13-year period, more than anyone else up to that time. Mr. Sales attributed his success to the madcap possibilities and mishaps of live television.

"Everyone else is filmed," he told TV Guide in 1965, "but I'm on there live, and people know the difference."

He was born Milton Supman on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, N.C., where his parents owned a dry-goods store. They were the only Jewish family in town.

By the time Mr. Sales was 8, his father had died and his family had resettled in Huntington, W.Va. Mr. Sales served in the Navy during World War II, returned to West Virginia and graduated from Marshall University.

The name "Soupy" evolved from his childhood nickname, "Soupbone." He worked as a radio disc jockey and stand-up comedian under the name Soupy Hines, but decided the name made him sound like a ketchup, so he became Soupy Sales.

In Cincinnati in 1950, he launched one of the country's first teenage television dance shows. After an intermediate stop in Cleveland, he came to Detroit in 1953, and his afternoon show on WXYZ-TV, "Lunch With Soupy Sales," drew a larger audience than the popular children's show "Kukla, Fran and Ollie."

Mr. Sales also had a daily late-night talk and variety show, "Soupy's On" and, between the two programs, had as many as 1 million viewers a day in Detroit.

He often had jazz musicians on "Soupy's On," including a 1955 appearance by trumpeter Clifford Brown. It is the only filmed performance by Brown, who died in a car accident in 1956.

ABC picked up "Lunch With Soupy Sales" -- later called "The Soupy Sales Show" -- in 1959, and a year later he moved to Los Angeles. By 1964, Mr. Sales and his show were in New York. "The New Soupy Sales Show" aired for one year in the late 1970s.

From 1968 to 1975, Mr. Sales was a panelist on "What's My Line?" and often appeared on other game shows. He acted in several movies and television shows and continued to perform as a stand-up comic until recent years.

His marriage to Barbara Fox Sales ended in divorce.

In 1980, he married Trudy Carson Sales, who survives, along with two sons from his first marriage.

Looking back on his career, Mr. Sales estimated that he had been splattered by more than 19,000 pies. He became something of an expert on the messy staple of slapstick comedy and once testified at a Navy court-martial on behalf of a sailor accused of throwing a pie in an officer's face. The military court was not amused, and the sailor was convicted.

"A pie has to hit you and explode into a thousand pieces so you see the person's face and see it take away his dignity," Mr. Sales once said.

"I used to look like Cary Grant, but not after being hit with 19,000 pies."

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