|Soupy in his signature "costume".
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.
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.
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.