I had seen bits and pieces of Soupy Sales in action before I met him in 1963, but I never had watched his program; that is, when he had one of his own. He was guest host of "The Tonight Show" during the break between the departure of Jack Paar and the introduction of Johnny Carson, but I didn't watch that week, partly because I was never impressed with Sales' brand of comedy.

He was, however, a personable, if self-centered fellow, openly frustrated by the way his image limited his opportunities in prime time or late night television.

We met while he was in Cleveland to co-host the "Mike Douglas Show," which then originated at KYW-TV, a channel that later moved to Philadelphia in one of the strangest swaps in television history. It reminded me of a baseball trade.

Sales was almost desperate to get back into television full-time after his show, which began as a local presentation in Detroit, then went national, was canceled after 10 years.

I pick up the interview where he talked about how he felt when he was no longer on the air . . .

Akron Beacon Journal, April 21, 1963
“I actually enjoyed myself after ABC canceled my show last year. I had time to relax, time to read, time to start hobbies. I began to paint. I even sold two of my paintings. But then I became fidgety and nervous, impatient to perform. I wanted to be ‘on’ all the time.

“I was host of ‘The Tonight Show’ for a week before Johnny Carson took over. I thought I did a good job. I felt the show should have been mine. I mean, if NBC hadn’t already signed Carson.

“Afterward I went back to California and did guest shots on several television shows. I lined up movie roles, but I’m not satisfied.”
Sales took a deep breath and summed up his problem in five words: “I want another television series.”

He was in Cleveland recently to co-host the “Mike Douglas Show.” He loved it. He threw pies, took a few in the face, sang, joked and battled for a full week, just as he had for 10 years as host of his own show on local, then national television.

“People belittle me because I throw pies,” he aid. “They think I’m a kiddies’ comic, but I’ve learned that grownups like slapstick as much as the kids. Take the ‘Mike Douglas Show,’ for instance. Everyone in the studio audience was an adult, but they all broke up with laughter when I hit Mike with a pie.

“I started television work in Huntington, West Virginia, after I was graduated from Marshall College. That was 1946. I went to Cincinnati, but I died there. I mean, I didn’t go over at all.

“Then I came up here to Cleveland. In those days I was Soupy Hines. I did five half-hour shows every week in addition to morning radio shows. I made $80 a week. Tops. Then WXEL took my television program off the air only one day after the Cleveland Plain Dealer gave me an award for having the best local TV show.

“I performed in nightclubs for a year and I kicked around this area doing jobs in Cleveland, Lorain, Youngstown and Akron before I went back to television in Detroit. First thing I had to do was change my name. The station figured Soupy Hines sounded too much like a Heinz soup commercial and might scare away other sponsors.

“I worked about a week with no last name. People called the station and asked, ‘Whats Soupy’s last name?’ and the operator said, ‘I don’t know. The station hasn’t decided yet. Finally, I picked a name out of a telephone book.”

Soupy’s slapstick and mayhem attracted big ratings, and the big ratings attracted the American Broadcasting Company. Sales was soon aired coast to coast.

“I made a bundle of money for the network,” he said, “but I didn’t get much of it. I begged them for a chance to do an evening show, but they wouldn’t consider it.”

He was born Milton Supman in Franklinton, North Carolina, in 1926. His nickname, obviously, came from his last name and probably stood alone, because "Soupy" Supman is redundant and not at all appealing. Choosing Hines as his last name seems to fit Sales' sense of humor. However, when he was forced to change his last name again, it's doubtful he picked "Sales" out of a phone book, like he said.

A more likely story is that the name was suggested by one of his Detroit bosses who recalled a comic actor named Chick Sale, who died in the 1930s. Like many people, the fellow who suggested the name added an "S" — something that people do to my name all the time, thanks to the fame of Lee Majors. Soupy knew the performer in question, and knew his name actually was Sale, but he went along with the suggestion, and thus Soupy Sales was born.

He remained reasonably active until his death in 2009, but never achieved the success he had with his program in the 1950s.