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A Salute to Soupy Sales

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When I heard of the death of Soupy Sales, I felt like a page had been turned as yet another piece of my childhood was gone. In a world of Mr. Rogers and Romper Room and other bland kid stuff, Soupy really caught my attention as well as millions of other kids. His The Soupy Sales Show was truly inspirational to me, and it made me want to write sketches, perform in them, and be as funny as a six-year old could be.

While other kid shows threw entertaining stuff at you, Soupy had stuff thrown at him. Even though I knew it was coming, I couldn’t wait for that pie to hit Soupy right in the face. Only later on did I know that pie-throwing was a comedy staple that went way back but, as far as I was concerned, Soupy invented it.

I never could really sit through a Mr. Rogers episode. I know many kids did, but I never got far beyond him going into that closet and putting on the sweater. He made me want to sleep more than anything else. I also could only watch a few minutes of Romper Room or Captain Kangaroo, but give me Officer Joe Bolton and the Three Stooges, and I was glued to the television set.

As I remember Soupy Sales and his stable of characters like White Fang, Black Tooth, and the irrepressible Pookie the Lion, all I can think of is the glow I felt after seeing an episode. Besides the expected pie-in-the-face, there was a feeling that Soupy didn’t just know us kids and what we wanted; Soupy was a kid himself.

Whether Soupy was mugging it up with one of his funny expressions, singing a silly tune, or pushing his face right up near the camera, there was a surreal quality to his show that is still, I believe, unsurpassed today. In fact, judging from the television my children have watched over the years, I think Soupy inspired many of the antics I’ve seen on them, especially the talking to the camera routine, most notably on shows like Blues Clues and iCarly.

As a kid I always felt as if Soupy were talking to me, not at me. He stared at that camera and spoke sometimes in a funny voice or a silly voice. It did seem to me that I could expect the unexpected. I knew White Fang’s big paws were going to come into the frame at some point, but not knowing when or where in the show was exciting. Maybe it seems silly now to people, but I thought it was brilliant how White Fang was nothing more than arms and paws, but I thought of him as a real, big, bad doggie. Of course, I thought that because Soupy made him real.

Maybe the best part of the show, or at least the one I found funny and memorable, was how Soupy spoke to Pookie in the window in each episode. Pookie could say and do something funny or sing or whatever, and Soupy would give a deadpan look into the camera and make you believe that this was a real little crazy lion he was dealing with.

I know memory makes things seem fonder to us over the years, and I have not seen an episode of the show in probably forty years, but I can never forget it. It was an important and meaningful part of my childhood, and I think Soupy’s greatest impact on me and other kids was to free up our inner slapstick persona. We could enjoy this kind of thing freely and realize the best part of being a kid was using our imaginations to be anything we wanted to be, even a funny man in front of the camera talking to a dog’s paw.

Unfortunately, some people only recall the silly incident when Soupy told us kids to take money from our parents and send it to him. I was too little to remember the fallout, except I think he was punished and had the show taken off the air for a time. I didn’t get too far taking the money from my mother’s purse, but when I got caught and told her Soupy said to do it, she didn’t get mad; she just laughed because Mom got his humor too.

Later in his career I’d see Soupy on What’s My Line?, and he was the only reason I would watch that show. While more restrained in this venue, Soupy still got to mug for the camera as much as he could, and that made it worth watching. I recall Soupy appearing as a guest star on other shows, but unfortunately he never had the success he had with his own show, the one I remember most fondly.

All I can say is thank you, Soupy, for making each day a little brighter for the children of the 1960s. Also, thank you for letting us know that humor could be found in places no one expected, like in a window with a puppet, or the arms of an unseen mumbling dog, and mostly in the face of a comic genius who came close to the camera and straight into our hearts. Rest in peace, Soupy.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Thanks for this. Hope we get some nice DVD releases to share with future generations

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Echoing what Bicho just said, I’m also happy to see someone covered this. Soupy was one of a kind.

    -Glen

  • Gary Mitchell – Comedian/Magician

    I was a regular opening act for Soupy in the 80’s. What a class guy he was.
    Easy going, no attitude and I enjoyed many shows working with him. He taught me a few things but one thing in particular was –
    How to wear dress shoes with no socks!
    Soupy never wore socks on stage.
    The trick he said was to powder the inside of the shoes! Sometimes working without socks keeps me cooler – especially when summer heat arrives and crowded clubs become very warm. Great tip. Silly but true story. This came in very handy working on cruise ships when the humidity was high.
    RIP dear Soupy, you made a great contribution to television and made me and millions of kids of all ages laugh.
    I would have worked for free to share the stage with you but thankfully, I was paid !

  • http://mizbviewsfromthetower.blogspot.com Jeanne Browne

    Thanks so much, Victor; I haven’t seen much in the way of tributes to Soupy and he deserves to be honored and remembered. My memories are much like yours, but I think I was a little older than you and therefore also enjoyed the fact that Soupy was truly cool; a hipster in kid’s show clothing. I liked that he cracked up the stage crew and consistently said things with an edge that older kids and grown-ups would “get,” along with the pie-in-the-face kids stuff. Soupy Sales’ death is indeed the loss of another slice of our youth, but it prompted many fond memories. RIP (Rest In Pie), Soupy!

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Yes, a new DVD collection would be a perfect way to bring Soupy to a new generation. He was indeed one of a kind.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    When I was a little kid there was no Mr. Rogers — he didn’t start on PBS until 1970. And Sesame Street wasn’t there either.

    I did watch Shari Lewis, Kookla Fran and Ollie, Captain Kangaroo, and Gene London (out of Philadelphia) which was my favorite.

    But I certainly did see see Soupy Sales and enjoyed the show and enjoyed it very much.

    I remember being angry with Soupy for a while when I was a kid for doing something that would get him pulled off the air. Ah, kids.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Very nice article BTW

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Oh, yeah, and Bozo the Clown too. Couldn’t forget Bozo.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Victor, how old is your little one in your avatar? Congrats!

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Fran, the little guy is 10 months old and BLUES CLUES is his favorite show. I never got into the other shows you mentioned, and SESAME STREET came too late for me.

    Oh, and Jeanne, now I realize Soupy was really cool, and no wonder some of those famous guys came on the show. He even threw a pie in Frank Sinatra’s face one time. The Soup Man was cool and brave too.