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Soupy Sales, slapstick pioneer

The pie-in-the-face comic Soupy Sales died in New York Thursday.

By David N. GoodmanAssociated Press / October 23, 2009

Comedian Soupy Sales, left, mugs for photographers after delivering his trademark pie-in-the-face to fellow comedian Pat Cooper during a New York party honoring his 75th birthday in this Jan. 8, 2001 file photo.

Stuart Ramson/AP/File

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Soupy Sales, the rubber-faced comedian whose anything-for-a-chuckle career was built on 20,000 pies to the face and 5,000 live TV appearances across a half-century of laughs, has died. He was 83.

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Sales died Thursday night at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, New York, said his former manager and longtime friend, Dave Usher. Sales had many health problems and entered the hospice last week, Usher said.

At the peak of his fame in the 1950s and '60s, Sales was one of the best-known faces in the nation, Usher said.

"If President Eisenhower would have walked down the street, no one would have recognized him as much as Soupy," Usher said.

At the same time, Sales retained an openness to fans that turned every restaurant meal into an endless autograph-signing session, Usher said.

"He was just good to people," said Usher, a former jazz music producer who managed Sales in the 1950s and now owns Detroit-based Marine Pollution Control.

Sales began his TV career in Cincinnati and Cleveland, then moved to Detroit, where he drew a large audience on WXYZ-TV. He moved to Los Angeles in 1961.

The comic's pie-throwing schtick became his trademark, and celebrities lined up to take one on the chin alongside Sales. During the early 1960s, stars such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Shirley MacLaine received their just desserts side-by-side with the comedian on his television show.

"I'll probably be remembered for the pies, and that's all right," Sales said in a 1985 interview.

Sales was born Milton Supman on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, North Carolina, where his was the only Jewish family in town. His parents, owners of a dry-goods store, sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan. The family later moved to Huntington, West Viriginia.

His greatest success came in New York with "The Soupy Sales Show" — an ostensible children's show that had little to do with Captain Kangaroo and other kiddie fare. Sales' manic, improvisational style also attracted an older audience that responded to his envelope-pushing antics.

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