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RIP Soupy Sales (1926-2009)

My addiction to television started very early and my parents were enablers, even though that term hadn't been coined at the time. Mom tells me that I regularly refused my strained carrots unless she placed my high chair in front of the TV and tuned it to Channel 7 for Lunch with Soupy. The antics of White Fang, Black Tooth, and Pookie, not to mention the constant pies in the face, so mesmerized me that I ate anything Mom shoveled my way. Sadly, Sales (who'd been ill for several years) has left us, but here are a few Soupy facts that will hopefully invoke some warm memories for all you good little birdbaths:

From Milt to Soup

He was born Milton Supman to parents who had a habit of bestowing nicknames on their offspring.

Milt's older brothers had been dubbed "Hambone" and "Chicken Bone," so when he came along he was unofficially christened "Soup Bone." Soup Bone was eventually shortened to "Soupy," and when he got his first professional job as a disc jockey he adopted "Hines" as his surname. As he gained popularity, management was worried that "Hines" sounded too much like Heinz, a company that sold soup. Soupy forestalled any potential conflict of interest entanglements by changing his last name to "Sales."

White Fang

Soupy originally created the character of White Fang (later known as the meanest dog in all of Dee-troit) when he was in the Navy. Stationed aboard the USS Randall, he'd put together an onboard entertainment show broadcast via the ship's PA system. Someone had an LP of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Soupy used a sound effect on that record of a dog's growl as the "voice" of White Fang. Soupy continued to use that growl after he left the Navy and landed a spot on WXYZ-TV in Detroit with the show that eventually evolved into Lunch with Soupy. Sound effects at that time were all provided by vinyl records, and it was the responsibility of the Electronic Transcription person to have all the records cued up and ready to play. One afternoon, the ET frantically mouthed down from his booth to stagehand Clyde Adler "I can't find the record!" Adler, whose right arm encased in an elbow-length glove fashioned from an old winter coat served as White Fang on-camera, spontaneously uttered gutteral "Ruh-O-Row-O-Ruh" noises while manipulating the puppet. This new version of White Fang was an immediate hit, and added a new dimension to Soupy's interaction with the character, since Adler (who was promoted from stagehand to puppeteer) could alter his grunts and growls to "reply" appropriately to Soupy's dialogue.

X-Rated Soup

The atmosphere on Soupy's set was relaxed, to say the least. The crew did their best to throw the boss off-guard, especially in the days when the show was broadcast live. One classic example occurred in 1959, when the crew arranged a very special surprise "present" for Soupy's birthday. A woman's scream prompted Soupy to open a stage door to see what was wrong. The TV audience could only guess at what was going on from his reaction and the musical cue (David Rose's "The Stripper"). However, thanks to the uncut "blooper" reel that was eventually leaked, part two of this YouTube clip lets all of us in on the secret. (Warning: If black-and-white nude breasts are verboten at your place of employment, this clip is not safe for work.)

Fans in High Places

Soupy's show moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, and one of his biggest fans turned out to be Frank Sinatra, by way of his daughter Tina. Frank was a huge fan of slapstick comedy, and when Tina told him about this guy on TV who was as funny as the Three Stooges, he began tuning in daily. Frank appeared on Soupy's show more than once (Sammy Davis Jr. even joined him once) and gamely accepted a pie in the puss each time.

Here Comes the Science

The pie-in-the-face schtick that became Soupy's trademark originally featured real pies. Eventually budget restrictions dictated the switch to shaving cream-filled pie crusts. But the crusts had to be real. That was Soupy's secret—real crusts exploded upon impact, and fell away from the victim's face. The recipient's dignity crumbled away, piece by piece, as the crust did. A pie that fully stuck to the face simply wasn't funny. It became something of a status symbol to get pied by Soupy—even the most unlikely celebrities stopped by for a faceful of pastry.

Nanny State Rules

On January 1, 1965, Soupy was a bit put out at having to work on a holiday. During the closing moments of his show, he encouraged the kids who were watching to sneak into Mommy and Daddy's bedroom and take those little green pieces of paper from their purses and wallets with pictures of presidents (like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) on them and mail them to their ol' pal Soup. He concluded by giving out the TV station's address and promising to send the kids a postcard from Puerto Rico in exchange. Sales considered his remarks just another tossed-off ad-lib, meant to make his crew laugh. What he didn't count on was the outrage of the many parents who'd been watching. The station received so many angry phone calls that Soupy was put on a two week suspension. In reality, very few children had the wherewithal to copy down the station's address, get a postage stamp and actually mail a dollar bill to Soupy. His "punishment" was more or less a gesture on the part of management to appease the parents who'd been appalled at the possible anarchy Soupy Sales had inspired among their children.

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11 Fast Facts About Cash Cab
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel

Between 2005 and 2012, anyone hailing a taxi in New York harbored a secret wish: that they’d wind up in the Cash Cab. The mysterious vehicle was both a licensed city taxi and a mobile game show, one where passengers could win thousands of dollars just by answering a few trivia questions on the way to their destination. After five years away, it’s back on Discovery Channel with its original cabbie host, Ben Bailey. But before you slide into the Cash Cab seat once again, check out some trivia on the series itself. Who knows—it could come in handy during your next taxi ride.

1. THE SERIES ORIGINATED IN ENGLAND.

Before Cash Cab came to the U.S., it had a brief run in Britain. This Cash Cab aired on ITV with host John Moody. It kicked off in the summer of 2005 and, although producers had high hopes for the series, fizzled out by the following year.

2. THERE ARE CASH CABS ALL OVER THE WORLD NOW.

Since the American iteration of Cash Cab became a hit, the concept has expanded across the globe. Internationally, it’s earned airtime in India, Canada, Jamaica, Egypt, and many more countries. Just stateside, the show has had additional runs outside of New York. Check out a clip from Cash Cab Chicago, with host Beth Melewski, above.

3. BEN BAILEY HAD TO PASS A DRIVING TEST.

Before Ben Bailey was the host of Cash Cab, he was a stand-up comedian who drove limos to pay the bills. That side gig turned out to be useful when he auditioned for the show. According to NJ.com, Bailey demonstrated his skills behind the wheel by scoring a 92 on his taxi license exam. He got the Cash Cab job, and left his old chauffeuring job behind. But he still does stand-up comedy (in fact, he’s touring now).

4. BAILEY HAS SECRET HELPERS.

Cash Cab can’t run on one man or one vehicle alone; Bailey has a crew close by at all times. Esquire reported that a black van housing the audio and video team trails behind the car. Bailey also has assistants who hop into the cab after he has revealed his identity to passengers. They’ll get contestants to sign their release forms, then work the lights and music. These assistants also, crucially, keep track of how much money is on the line.

5. SOME CONTESTANTS ARE SELECTED AHEAD OF TIME.

Not all passengers are chosen randomly off the street. Some are prescreened, although even that process is a little sneaky. According to previous contestants, the Cash Cab staff often approaches people by saying they work for a made-up series called Show Me New York, where residents share their favorite spots in the city. They’ll give prospective contestants a quiz. If they do well, the staffers will tell them to go to a certain location to film their segment. That’s when they get in the cab, and Bailey reveals the ruse.

6. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO PLAY.

Ben Bailey and the Cash Cab
Discovery Channel

While most people shriek in delight when the lights go off in the Cash Cab, not everyone is into the game. Bailey told NPR that when the show was first starting out, people regularly declined to participate. “People would kind of look at me and go, 'I don’t know what this crazy cab driver is up to, but I am out of here,'" he said. After the show gained attention, more passengers stuck around. But Bailey still got some hold-outs.

“I’ve had a couple people who burst into tears in the cab when I’ve told them what was going on,” he told Thrillist. “One time someone seemed to have some sort of panic attack, and then another time, this one woman was having an awful day—she just wanted to get in the cab and get where she needed to go. I was like, ‘Why are you crying in the Cash Cab? This is supposed to be fun, man!’”

7. THE CASH CAB IS FREE.

Regardless of how well they do, contestants never pay a fare for riding in the Cash Cab. Bailey still runs the meter, because the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission requires drivers to keep a record of the trip, but there’s no fee at the end of the trip. As Bailey puts it: The Cash Cab is one of only two free rides in New York. The other is the Staten Island Ferry.

8. THE BIGGEST PAYOUT WAS $6200.

To date, the biggest winner in Cash Cab history is a man named Sam, who took a ride with Bailey in 2011. He correctly answered a Video Bonus question about the Bonneville Salt Flats, doubling his $3100 in prize money to $6200. Anyone looking to beat Sam this season had better study up on America’s salt pans.

9. THE ORIGINAL CASH CAB WAS A TOYOTA SIENNA.

During the show’s original run, the Cash Cab was a Toyota Sienna minivan, sporting the taxi number 1G12. According to the Associated Press, the specs were so well-known that fans would chant the taxi number at Bailey’s standup shows in New York.

10. THE OLD CASH CAB IS CURRENTLY IN BAILEY’S GARAGE.

When the old Cash Cab minivan retired, it wound up in Bailey’s own garage in Morristown, New Jersey. “My neighbors are like, ‘Are you a cab driver?’” he told Entertainment Weekly. Bailey admits that he sometimes takes the car out for a drive, to “get people excited just to disappoint them.”

11. NO ONE HAS EVER THROWN UP IN THE CASH CAB.

Bailey gets this question all the time and would like to set the record straight: Nobody has ever puked in the Cash Cab. “Surprisingly, no one has,” he told the New York Post. “Once in a while you get someone who is a little disgruntled when they lose, but no release of bodily [fluids] happens on my watch.”

Hopefully, that streak will continue with the show's return.

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40 Years Later: Watch The Johnny Cash Christmas Show
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Johnny Cash made a series of Christmas TV specials and recorded a string of Christmas records. In this 1977 TV performance, Cash is in great form. He brings special guests Roy Clark, June Carter Cash, The Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison ("Pretty Woman" starts around 23:50), Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers. Tune in for Christmas as we celebrated it 40 years ago—with gigantic shirt collars, wavy hair, and bow ties. So many bow ties.

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