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Tri-State remembers Soupy

Soupy Sales
Oct. 24, 2009 @ 07:54 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Legendary comedian Soupy Sales was known nationally for his pie-in-the-face comedy, but Tri-State residents remember him just as much for his kindness to everyone and devotion to Huntington and Marshall University.

Sales died Thursday night at age 83 at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, N.Y., following many health problems. He is survived by his wife, Trudy, and two sons, Hunt and Tony.

Over the course of five decades in the entertainment business, Sales made more than 5,000 live TV appearances and became one of the most recognizable faces in comedy.

The passing of Sales, whose real name was Milton Supman, brought back memories of the entertainer to Tri-State residents. Sales was born on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, N.C. The family later moved to Huntington, where he graduated from Huntington High School in 1943.

Sales enrolled in Marshall College, but his studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. Sales returned to graduate from Marshall in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Friends remember Sales' dedication to Huntington and pride in his alma mater.

"Soupy is one of the most distinguished persons we've ever turned out of Marshall," said Dr. Sam Clagg, a retired Marshall coach, geography department chairman and interim president. "He was one of our finest representatives on the national level, and he brought us much acclaim.

"He was never hesitant to tell people that he was from Huntington and went to Marshall University," Clagg continued. "I can't say that about everybody."

Clagg said Sales offered his comedic services for free when the university was planning a celebration of its 150th anniversary in 1987. Other entertainers and former Marshall grads were charging between $10,000 and $15,000 to speak at the event, but not Sales. Clagg said Sales was just happy to be back in town and helping out Marshall.

Jack Hardin of Huntington, a former longtime reporter and columnist for The Herald-Disptach, met Sales in a Marshall English class. Hardin said Sales was always cracking jokes and trying to make people laugh.

"He was bubbling over with personality," Hardin said. "He always tried to make a joke out of everything, and he succeeded half the time."

Joking during class and with friends eventually led to a career in show business. Sales became a $20-a-week reporter at radio station WHTN in Huntington. Sales then headed for Cincinnati, Ohio, changed his name to Soupy Hines and got a morning radio deejay position.

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.

After moving to Los Angeles, he eventually became a fill-in host on "The Tonight Show."

He moved to New York in 1964 and debuted "The Soupy Sales Show" with co-star puppets White Fang (the meanest dog in the United States) and Black Tooth (the nicest dog in the United States). Two years later, the show ended but Sales remained a familiar television face.

Suzanne Leibee of Lexington, Ky., said her father, Joe, graduated from Huntington High with Sales in 1943. Leibee said she and her sister used to be fascinated that someone they'd watch on TV went to the same school as their dad.

Leibee said her family would always watch "The Soupy Sales Show" and she has fond memories of the show's puppets and comedy sketches. Unfortunately, Leibee said, a lot of great comedians and performers are passing away.

"We tend to lose a lot of legends these days," Leibee said.

Sarah Diamond Burroway of Flatwoods, Ky., remembers mimicking her older sisters who danced to Sales' famous song "Do the Mouse" before she was old enough to go to school. When her sisters left for school, Burroway said she would sneak upstairs, turn on the record and practice.

"I was determined to improve my 'mouse' moves, playing that Soupy Sales LP over and over again," Burroway said.

She was thrilled when she received a Soupy Sales coloring book and remembers turning through the pages endlessly, trying to decide which one to color first -- White Fang or Black Tooth. In the early '90s, Burroway met Sales during one of his return trips to Huntington while she was working at WRVC AM & FM.

"I was impressed by his humor and graciousness," Burroway said. "He was an important pop icon whose appeal transcended the generations."

Huntington resident Jim Casto, former associate editor at The Herald-Dispatch, said he and his wife visited Sales in New York, and Sales insisted on taking the couple to lunch. Casto said they were surprised when Sales brought them to the Friar's Club, a private club whose members included Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles and Jack Benny.

"There we were standing in front of one of the most exclusive clubs in New York City with a legendary comedian," Casto said. "I feel fortunate enough to have known him."

During the visit, Casto gave Sales a Marshall baseball cap. Sales loved the gift, wore it for the rest of the visit and told Casto he loved wearing it around town and having Marshall fans recognize it.

"You would've thought I gave him a million bucks," Casto said.

Sales continued his career in show business with guest appearances on the game show "What's My Line?," "The Mike Douglas Show" and "The Love Boat." He played himself in the 1998 movie "Holy Man," which starred Eddie Murphy. He later joined WNBC-AM as a disc jockey in 1985 alongside shock jocks Don Imus and Howard Stern.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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