Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cream-pie-faced comedian Soupy Sales dies


Soupy Sales, 83, a loose-limbed comedian whose goofy skits, slapstick antics and pie-tossing shenanigans made him one of the country's most popular television stars of the 1950s and '60s, died Oct. 22 at a hospice in the Bronx, N.Y.

He had a variety of health problems, but the cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Sales gained early fame in the 1950s as the host of a daytime children's TV show in Detroit and always had a strong following among young people (college kids), who appreciated his groaning puns, silly dances and runaway train of thought.

At various times, he had three live shows on national television, which featured Mr. Sales chatting with puppets and guest stars, mangling the language or making outrageous puns in a segment called "Words of Wisdom" and -- on practically every show -- getting smacked in the face with a cream pie or three.

On his own program, Mr. Sales frequently bantered with stagehands and with a gallery of puppets that included Pookie (a wry, hipster lion), White Fang ("the meanest dog in the United States," who merely grunted expressively and was seen only as a large, furry paw), Black Tooth ("the biggest and sweetest dog in the United States" who also appeared as a furry paw and gave Mr. Sales slurpy, offscreen kisses) and Hobart and Reba (two puppets who lived in a potbellied stove).

Mr. Sales invented such recurring characters as Philo Kvetch, an incompetent private eye, and Peaches, an annoying girlfriend portrayed by Mr. Sales in drag.

His jokes combined Borscht Belt fare with a broad humor that appealed to children:

"Is there any soup on the menu?"

"Yes, but I wiped it off."

"Show me a country that has only pink automobiles . . . and I'll show you a pink carnation."

Critics blasted Mr. Sales for presenting "a mishmash of mediocrity" intended for "kids with low IQs," but his show was undeniably popular and became a favorite of college students and teenagers.

It was something of a romping, vaguely subversive "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and was even called by a New York Post critic a "phantasmagoria of Dada." His influence can be seen today in the Muppets, the faux-naif irony of Pee-wee Herman and the freestyle dances of comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.


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