WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Soupy Sales, a pioneer of slapstick television comedy who once estimated he had taken 20,000 pies in the face, died on Thursday night in a New York hospice, the Detroit Free Press reported. He was 83.
Born Milton Supman in Franklinton, North Carolina, Sales began his TV career in Detroit in 1953 as the host of the goofball “Lunch with Soupy,” a half-hour show that featured a cast of imagined characters including a dog named White Fang, who communicated through a string of guttural noises.
Sales also conjured up Hippy the Hippo, Willy the Worm and Black Tooth, a sloppily affectionate dog — characters that carried over to a late-night comedy-variety show, “Soupy’s On,” which aired five nights a week in Detroit in the 1950s.
The program, which aired on ABC-owned affiliate Channel 7, broke new ground in the pre-civil rights era by regularly featuring some of the top black jazz performers of the 1950s, including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
Sales left Detroit in 1959 for an ABC-affiliate in Los Angeles and later hosted nationally syndicated children’s shows in New York and Los Angeles.
He stirred up a hornet’s nest with his show on New York’s WNEW-TV in the mid-60s by asking kids to go into Mommy’s purse, pull out the paper money and mail it to him at the station.
He was suspended for that stunt but reinstated after huge demonstrations in front of the New York studio.
The comedian never lost his contempt for TV executives, contending they had ruined television. He has said most station managers wouldn’t “know a tap dancer from a trombone player” and their main contribution to TV was “getting drunk on their six-martini lunches,” the Free Press reported.
Sales, survived by his wife, Trudy, and two sons, Hunt and Tony, had been in ill health for several years.