How Soupy made life better

Way back in the early days of TV, years before Pee Wee Herman got famous in his playhouse, there was another guy who held court in his own crazy little joint, a place where all kinds of unpredictable, funny, and generally entertaining things would happen. A fellow who could legitimately claim to be Pee Wee’s grandaddy, so to speak. Soupy Sales.

Soupy just kicked the bucket, at age 83. My first reaction was, “Soupy Sales just died? Hell, I thought he died a long time ago.” I don’t remember a whole lot about his show, Lunch with Soupy Sales. After all, I was watching as a kid of 8 and 9 back in ’61 and ’62.

Memories have a tendency to get a tad fuzzy when they’re over 40 years old, you know? I do remember the two great dogs of the show, White Fang and Black Tooth (you never saw their faces, only their puppet paws), and also the pie-in-the-face bit, where everybody on the show, especially the big name guest stars like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, would regularly take cream pies to the kisser. I do know that my brother and I must have loved the show, if only because we named our first dog, a beagle, after Soupy.

I wish I could honestly say I remember the infamous bit that got Soupy in serious trouble, the one where he told us kids to get into mommy’s purse and send all the “funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. presidents” to him, but I missed that classic.

The real reason I dug Soupy Sales, though, was, simply, he made my old man laugh.

That was such a big deal to me as a kid. If you could make my dad laugh, you must have been good. You must have been brilliant. It was just a treat for me, to see my dad crack up and really let loose. And Sales, bless him, could pull that off. Dad wouldn’t actually sit in the family room and watch the show with Tom and me. He was a bit too cool to sit in there with us and watch a “kids show.” Instead, he’d be in the kitchen at the table, reading the Chronicle and eating his Saturday breakfast before heading off for the weekly golf game. But since our house back in the early ’60’s was dinky, he could easily overhear Soupy and his antics, and conversely, I could hear when Soup got a laugh or chuckle out of the old man. And Soupy would get those chuckles regularly. Hell, at times, he’d positively slay! And I just thought that was so cool. So great! For reasons that are now obvious, I cherished those moments as a boy, even though back then I had no idea what that was or that I was capable of such a thing as cherishing. All I knew was that I loved Soupy Sales, and the main reason was because he could make the Lord God Boofoo of my universe laugh out loud. And if the old man was laughing, well, everything was all right in our crazy little playhouse.