|Soupy in his signature "costume".|
Soupy’s television career began in 1950 as the host of Soupy’s Soda Shop, TV’s first teenage dance television program, followed by Club Nothing, a talk show that incorporated Soupy’s zany brand of comedy. In 1953, Soupy joined Detroit’s WXYZ-TV, an ABC affiliate, where he began doing The Soupy Sales Show. Soupy opted not to don some kind of silly costume for the show, convinced by a colleague who dressed as a clown that in sacrificing his anonymity off the air, he also couldn’t be easily replaced by putting someone else in the suit. Soupy chose to wear a large polka-dot bowtie, a disheveled top hat, and a sweater that became his signature outfit (the tie would shrink over the years).
|Soupy enjoying his lunch with the audience.|
ABC gained interest in the local program and slated it as the summer replacement for Kukla, Fran and Ollie in 1955. Although hopes were dashed at the network picking up the show on a permanent basis, Soupy found more work at WXYZ in the form of 12 O’Clock Comics (soon renamed Lunch with Soupy Sales since he always ate his lunch with his audience), a daily daytime kids’ show that consistently outperformed the network offerings, and the late-night show Soupy’s On which often featured jazz musicians whose venues would often sell out after an appearance. ABC took another look at Soupy and offered him a Saturday slot for Lunch.
|Pookie drops by the window for a visit.|
Lunch with Soupy Sales debuted on ABC on October 3, 1959. Airing at noon (traditionally considered lunchtime), Lunch was an unscripted variety show aimed at children. While they had a general idea of where an episode would go and what would happen, improvisation was their key to success. The setting of the show was Soupy’s kitchen (as opposed to his living room in other versions of the show) where he would interact with a host of puppet co-stars: White Fang, the country’s biggest and meanest dog (carried over from Soupy’s radio days, seen only as a white and black furred clawed arm that came in from off-camera); Black Tooth, a sweet dog with an incoherent growl (created to be White Fang’s opposite); Pookie, a happy-go-lucky lion that initially was mute, but eventually gained a voice and a hipster personality and often lip synched to novelty records and pre-recorded bits (the puppet was found in a prop box at the studio); and Willie the Worm, a latex accordion worm that lived in an apple, always had a sneezing cold, and read birthday greetings to local kids. All of the puppets were performed by Clyde Adler, who also filled in any other role as needed; especially the “man at the door”, whose arms were the only thing visible on camera when Soupy answered the door.
|Soupy being berated by the "man at the door".|
Soupy’s comedic styling was slapstick in nature, which often meant his shows involved pratfalls or his being hit by some kind of object—most notably a cream pie, especially when he answered the door. In fact, the pie was his signature gag in all of his programs, and it was estimated that he had been hit with tens of thousands in his career. Celebrity guests who appeared on the show also never left without getting one slapped into their own faces. These routines would inspire Fred Rogers to get into television in order to provide more educational content to children. Other recurring bits were his signature dance, the Soupy Shuffle, and “Words of Wisdom”, whereby Soupy would impart smart-sounding nonsense. Soupy also incorporated his love of jazz into the program whenever possible.
|Soupy and friend thoroughly creamed.|
After the first season, production of the show moved to Hollywood. It remained on ABC until March of 1961 when the network cancelled it; however, it continued on as a local show until January of 1962. ABC wasn’t done with Soupy, recognizing his immense popularity in the area. Immediately following the cancellation, they gave him a new Friday night version of The Soupy Sales Show to replace The Steve Allen Show. Eventually, The Soupy Sales Show moved production to New York City where it lasted until 1966. Soupy would go on to have a career appearing on and hosting game shows, as well as one final revival of The Soupy Sales Show in 1979. Because of the lack of archival practices of the time, and the fact that the earlier shows were done live, the majority of Lunch with Soupy Sales had either been destroyed or erased.