The boys at The Palm did not throw a pie in Soupy Sales' face at lunch. Soupy used to get hit in the face with pies all the time when he was on television. But now he is grown up, in a manner of speaking.
So grown up that he doesn't look like the little crew-cut twerp who used to encourage kids to sprinkle Jell-O on ice cream. He doesn't really look anything like Soupy, in his cranberry tweed jacket, a black V-neck sweater and four-in-hand that match. He does, however, still tell dumb jokes. "Do you have frogs' legs?" he asked the waiter. "Well then, keep your pants on."
When the boys at The Palm hauled out a piece of cheesecake with a birthday candle in it, and sang "Happy Birthday, Soupy," everybody in the place clapped. They know who this guy is -- even if it isn't really his birthday. Still Soupy after all these years.
Which just happens to be the title of Soupy's most recent album, his sixth. He was in town to promote it. Which is to say he told some jokes and behaved silly and, on occasion, got a little serious. (The latter will be omitted here.) He also admitted that he doesn't like getting pied anymore, what with his being in his mid-fifties now . . .
"I'm at Tony Roma's in Dallas. I had just done two performances of 'Come Live With Me' at a dinner theater. This guy comes up and asks me if he can take a picture of me with his wife. I'm very nice. As I'm leaving, he comes up and hits me in the face with a chocolate cream pie. It ruined my silk jacket and silk tie, and I say to him, 'Why did you do that?'
" 'Don't you think it's funny?' he says. And he laughs.
" 'Not as funny as this,' I say, and I knock him a-- over teacups. He's saying, 'I'll clean it.' 'The hell you will,' I say. 'I'm cleaning it up with you.' I beat the s--- out of him."
Whew! Good thing the boys at The Palm didn't throw that pie. There is a darker side to Soupy, which may have come out in 1965 when he encouraged the kids watching his show to go in mommie's purse and mail him those little green pieces of paper. He got taken off the air for a week.
"I got $80,000 in play money," he said, "and a dollar from some 28-year-old woman who said I should go to Puerto Rico."
Some little-known facts about Soupy Sales:
* He was born in Franklinton, N.C. His name was Milton Supman. His parents owned a dry-goods place called the Wonder Department Store. They were the only Jews in town, and sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan. Milton started selling pomade at age 7. The family moved to Huntington, W.Va., when he was 10. He was graduated from Marshall College there, with a degree in journalism. His college career was interrupted by a stint in the Navy, during which he was part of the Okinawa invasion force.
"It scared me to death," he said. "Hey! They're shooting at you. I like to get up in the morning and eat a little whitefish and a bagel."
* He has written his autobiography, "Peter and the Werewolf," which remains unpublished. In 1966 the play "Come Live With Me" opened on Broadway. It closed after five performances. "I'll tell you why," he said. "All the seats were facing the stage." He continues to take the show into dinner theaters.
* In 1965 he had two albums on the Billboard Top Ten: "Do the Mouse" and "Spy With a Pie." In 1966 he made a movie called "Birds Do It" with Tab Hunter. "They still show it in the six states with capital punishment," he said.
* He never won any talent contests. Once when Horace Heigt and his Musical Knights came to do an amateur show in Huntington, Milton hired pianist Billy Johnson from the local Harlem Social Club to back him up.
"They used him," Soupy said. "I didn't get in the show. And I still had to pay him $5."
* His two children, Tony and Hunt, 29 and 30, are rock musicians. They were once reported absent from school for 22 days. They thought their name was Sales and didn't respond when the teacher called out Supman. So about 24 years ago Melvin legally changed his name to Soupy Sales. Soupy was his nickname because of the family name Supman.
First it was Soupy Heinz, he said, "like Heinz 57, and then somebody said, 'Hey, Chic Sales was a great comedian. We'll call you Soupy Sales.' "
* His first TV show was a 1950 dance program in Detroit called "Soupy's Soda Shop." In 1955 he replaced Kukla, Fran and Ollie on ABC for the summer, and eventually became a network program. The show featured a lion named Pookie who lip-synched along with songs, and a dog named White Fang. White Fang's howl was stolen from an old record of "The Hound of The Baskervilles" that Soupy found while working as a chaplain's assistant in the Navy.
"A Jewish boy as a [Christian] chaplain's assistant?" he asked rhetorically. "Somebody had to keep you goyim in line."
* Recently there was a new Soupy Sales show on TV, a real floperoo. Ninety segments were filmed.
"It wasn't run right," Soupy said. "They put it on at the wrong time. Hey, but I work all the time. Concerts, dinner theater, 'What's My Line,' nightclubs. They still scream out lines from the show. It's a great feeling to know you've been an influence on people. They still ask for White Fang."
And where is the puppy these days?
"He's frozen to a fire hydrant in New York."