For about a year there, my life revolved around a rubbery-faced little man who lived on a television soundstage with even rubberier
house pets. His name was Soupy Sales and his pets were White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie and Hippie. I felt like part of the family, even
though I was the only one who didn't periodically smash him in the face with a shaving cream pie.
The jokes were not new. Some had doubtlessly been heckled at the Parthenon. And, just to make certain surprise was kept to a
minimum, Soupy repeated material over and over and over and over. Still, it only added to the appeal that I could sit there and (usually)
figure out where a joke was going before the inevitable punch line, followed by the inviolate pie-in-the-puss, always accompanied by a rifle shot
sound effect. For kids — for adults, even — there is a Joy of the Expected and a special pride to be one step ahead of those folks
on the teevee.
Lunch With Soupy Sales consisted of Soupy, his four pets and an endless array of people who came to the door to annoy him,
exploit him and, invariably, pie him. All of the people at the door and all four pets were performed by a gentleman named Clyde Adler who was
the perfect straight man for the Sales madness. As I learned from newspaper articles of the time, Adler was not a professional comedian; he
was, by trade, a film editor at the Detroit TV station where Soupy had invented his winning format. Conscripted to help Soupy there, he had
taken an open-ended Sabbatical from the editing biz to migrate West with the comic. Clyde played White Fang (a white dog paw, reaching just
barely into camera range) and Black Tooth (a black paw), then raced around to the back of the set to play Pookie or Hippie (the puppets) or some
guy-at-the-door. Except for the rarest of accidents, no part of him but his voice and forearms ever appeared on the show.
"Raah-oh-raah-oh-raah," White Fang would intone in his gruff voice, intelligible only to Soupy. Soupy would have to translate for
"What's that you say, White Fang? Paramount keeps calling you about shorts?"
White Fang would answer, "Raah," which even I could tell meant, "Yeah."
Soupy: "Did you leave your shorts at the Paramount Theater again?" And here would come the pie.
Or at the door: A travelling psychiatrist (Clyde, of course) would arrive in answer to Soupy's desperate phoned plea for help.
"Ya gotta tell me, doc," Soupy would beg. "Is it possible for a man to be in love with an elephant?"
Clyde, sporting maybe the worst Viennese accent in show business would answer, "No, it is not possible! A man cannot be in love with an
Whereupon Soupy would whip out a piece of jewelry the size of a hula-hoop. "In that case," he would say, "do you know here I can
get rid of an engagement ring this big?" And here would come another pie.
Or Pookie and Hippie would fill three minutes, miming to a scratchy record by Stan Freberg, Johnny Standley or Eddie "The Old
Philosopher" Lawrence. (Among the many gifts Soupy gave me was that he introduced me to comedy albums, Freberg's especially.)
And at the end would come the pie. Always, the pie.
The format was wonderful...and I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Soupy, before he upped and moved his operation to New
York, was the hero of every kid my age in L.A. (and quite a few kids my parents' ages). Oddly enough, though every boy I knew wanted to grow up
to be Soupy, that was never my fantasy. When we ripped him off and did Soupy's show in the schoolyard, I was the only one who wanted to be
Clyde Adler — not the star but the guy behind the scenes.
And, if truth be known, what I really wanted was to be one of those people you heard laughing in the background...someone who
was a part of that wonderful world, who'd had a hand in making it all happen. I didn't realize it at the time but what I really wanted to be
was Soupy's writer. I don't think he had one at the time but, if he did, that's what I would have wanted to be.
When folks ask me how it was I became a writer — at times, a professional comedy writer — I cannot answer truthfully
without telling them about Soupy. If they remember the show — and most people do — they understand fully about wanting to be one of
those guys you heard laughing behind the camera.
Soupy was finally cancelled and Clyde Adler went back to editing film in Detroit. A year or three later, Soupy took New York TV
by storm with a new show — the same show he'd done out here but with a gent named Frank Nastasi taking Clyde's roles. It was probably as
good a show as he'd done in L.A. but I never got the chance to see it. A whole generation of kids on the East Coast, however, grew up with the
same devotion my friends and I had known in our Soupy days.
In 1978, I was hired as Head Writer of an NBC variety pilot called Anson 'n' Lorrie starring Anson Williams (then co-star of
TV's number one series, Happy Days) and his then-newlywed bride, Lorrie Mahaffey. Fred Silverman was running NBC and he had a hunch that
this duo could combine the best qualities of Sonny & Cher and/or Donny & Marie, two of his more notable past successes. We hired some
good guest stars (Ron Howard, Eddie Rabbitt, Gary Coleman, Al Molinaro) and a band of comedy sketch players (Jeff Altman, Darrow Igus, Louise DuArt
and Anna Mathias) and checked into KTLA Studios in Hollywood to tape us a pilot.
KTLA is a local station (Channel 5 in Los Angeles) but its main business is the renting of its huge facilities to TV production
companies. Their lot was once Warner Brothers' Hollywood facility. Stage 6, where we did Anson 'n' Lorrie was where Al Jolson
filmed The Jazz Singer. The small building that KTLA used for its newsroom offices was, once upon a time, the home of Leon Schlesinger's
cartoon studio (i.e., the birthplace of Bugs Bunny). WKRP in Cincinnati taped on Stage 3 and other shows — network and
syndication — were sprinkled across the lot.
Our first day there, I ran into Perry Cross, a producer I knew. He asked me what I was doing and I told him. Then I asked
him what he was doing and he said, "Oh, I'm doing the new Soupy Sales Show."
I did a take that Tex Avery would have considered overacting. "What new Soupy Sales Show?"
Perry took me by the wrist, led me eight steps through a studio door and I was suddenly standing on the set, watching Soupy Sales
rehearsing a dance number. "This new Soupy Sales Show," said Perry.
Soupy was doing a new, syndicated version of his classic program, he explained. "With White Fang and Black Tooth and Pookie and
Hippy?" I asked.
"With White Fang and Black Tooth and Pookie and Hippy," he proudly confirmed.
"Who's doing them?" I asked. My instant assumption was that they'd either hired someone new or imported Frank Nastasi from New
York...which was a shame. Now that I was thisclose to one of my childhood fantasies, one piece — Clyde Adler — was probably
"We got the guy who worked with Soupy in Detroit and L.A.," Perry proudly announced. "Clyde Adler."
I probably had the stupidest, most demented grin on my face. I have one right now, as I think about that moment — and all
the moments before, watching Soupy and Clyde, listening to the crew laughing in the background, wishing I could be there. Suddenly, I
was there. I told Perry just enough of this to not sound like a total ninny. "Would it be okay," I asked, "if I kind of hung around
when you're taping? I won't get in the way."
"If it's okay with the director, it's okay with me," Perry said. Just then, the director wandered up and, continuing this
cavalcade of coincidences, it turned out to be Lou Tedesco, a charming gent I knew from a recent, abortive project. (I know it sounds here like
I know everyone in Hollywood but I don't now and I knew even fewer then; it was maybe a one-in-a-hundred coincidence that Soupy's new show was being
produced and directed by two acquaintances.)
Lou said it was fine with him if I loitered on their set. "Anytime you want, Mark," he said. But just as quickly, he broke
my heart by turning to Perry and saying, "Geez, we should've hired Mark as one of the writers."
"Yeah," Perry said. "Now you think of it...when it's too late." Oh, the pain, the pain.
But, at least, I had the run of the place. I got to meet Soupy and Clyde and to watch them taping and to be one of those folks in
the background laughing at the jokes. For the next few weeks, while we rehearsed and taped our show on the adjoining stage, I commuted between
tapings, alternately playing Audience and Head Writer. Though the Anson 'n' Lorrie pilot had five times the prestige (and, probably, ten
times the salary), there was no doubt in my mind, which of the shows I'd rather have worked on.
The producer of Anson 'n' Lorrie was a bright lady named Bonny Dore who, like Soupy and Clyde, hailed from Detroit. In
fact, she'd gotten her start in television at the Detroit ABC affiliate and had once mentioned to me that she had been friends with both gents, Clyde
especially. I arranged a lunch with Clyde for the three of us.
The next morning, Bonny and I were locked in for several hours working on the rundown for the show. I steadfastly refused to tell
her who we were lunching with until, around Noon, a call came in for us and I put it on the speakerphone. "Hello?" I said.
Over the speaker came the unmistakable tones of White Fang: "Raah-oh-raah-oh-raah!"
In my best Soupy-style, I decoded: "Oh, hi, White Fang! You say you want to have lunch today?"
"Fine," I said. "Can you be ready at 12:30?"
"Well then, how about one o'clock?"
"Okay, we'll swing by Stage 2 for you. Any place special you want to go?"
"Okay," I said. "The Brown Derby it is! See ya."
Bonny looked at me, aghast: "That was...Clyde?" I nodded and we had a wonderful lunch together.
Later, we all went back to the set (Soupy's, not ours) where Bonny reunioned with Soupy and they swapped Old Times until it was time to
The bit being recorded had Soupy in a tux as the conductor of an unseen orchestra. He was conducting "The 1812 Overture" and,
every time the playback gave off with a cannon roar, Mr. Sales was creamed with a pie from an off-camera hand, usually Clyde's. But some came
from the Stage Manager and, at one point when there was a lull in the pastry-tossing, Clyde motioned me over, put a pie crust of shaving cream in my
hand and "spotted" me as I hurled it — dead on-target — into the face of the star. I was instantly aware I had been awarded a rare
For the next few weeks, I alternately worked on Anson 'n' Lorrie" and poached on the set of Soupy's show. Our pilot turned
out pretty good (I thought) but Mr. Silverman decided not to make it be a series. Instead, he wanted the same crew to produce a variety show
starring that Jeff Altman kid (from our back-up cast) and two popular Japanese performers who were billed collectively as Pink Lady and spoke not a
word of English. But that's another story for another time...maybe a thousand other stories for a thousand other times.
My visits to Soupy's set did not have a happy ending, either. One day, as I was slipping over to watch some of their taping and
to laugh along with the crew, I arrived in time to see an ambulance pull up and its attendants break out a stretcher and hurry inside. Three
minutes later, they were wheeling it out with Clyde Adler strapped to it, oxygen and intravenous feed keeping him alive but barely.
All action on the set had ceased; everyone was sitting around, pale and crying. And since I'd become a de facto part of
the staff — and since I felt the same way they all did about him — I sat down and joined them.
Happily, Clyde Adler survived his heart attack. He gave up performing and returned to Detroit, I later heard.
And, amazingly, my career survived Pink Lady. I did a number of other shows before ABC hired me, in 1983, to write and
co-produce a special on the history of childrens' programming. This was one of those rare assignments where a lifetime of TV watching suddenly
paid off: Everyone else involved was stunned at how much I knew without even doing a smidgen of research, not just about the shows but the names of
producers, actors and even sources for film clips.
Most of the clips were located with a minimum of legwork (and a lot of haggling over fees). At one point, I spent the better part
of an afternoon convincing an exec at Worldvision Syndication that owned the rights to the Jackson 5ive cartoon show. He insisted they
didn't own it, I convinced him they did...and he rewarded me for this information by charging us way too much for a clip.
But Soupy proved to be our biggest problem — especially maddening since his old show was an ABC in-house production and so were
we. We contacted Soupy's agent (or manager; I forget) and got permission to include him but were told we would have to find our own film
clip. Off we went in search of same, starting with the film vaults of the ABC Television Network.
A tired lady there informed me that, no, they had absolutely no films of The Soupy Sales Show. And she knew they had no
films of The Soupy Sales Show because darn near every day, someone called up asking if they had any films of The Soupy Sales Show and
she was getting darn sick of people calling up and asking if they had any films of The Soupy Sales Show. No, she told me, they had
absolutely no films of The Soupy Sales Show, goodbye.
I hung up, discouraged. But then I got a brainstorm — or, at least, a heavy drizzle — and I phoned her back and asked
if they had any films from Lunch With Soupy Sales. She put me on hold for about a month, then came back and said, "Oh, sure, we have
tons of those. " All those years, when person after person called to ask about old films, the archivist had been looking under "S" instead of
They shipped a half-dozen pristine, probably-never-watched 16mm kinescopes over to us. I could probably have picked a clip from the
first three minutes of any of them but, naturally, I insisted on watching all six hours. They were just as good as I remembered.
We called Soupy's rep and told him about our "find. " And, while we were at it, we secured a phone number for Clyde Adler since he
was in the clip (well, his arm was, at least). We needed his okay to include him in the show and we'd also have to send him a check.
But the phone number turned out to be an old one with no referral...and a check of Detroit Information yielded no listing for "Adler,
Clyde. " We spent three or four days chasing down other leads, all to no avail. The original TV White Fang, it seemed, had disappeared off
the face of the Earth.
All this took place in a little office at ABC, probably within fifty yards of where Soupy had originally taped his show; it was
maddening that we couldn't locate Clyde Adler.
Finally, a person from the ABC Legal came by and said that, since we had no signed release from Mr. Adler, we'd have to cut him from
the show and pick a new Soupy clip. "No," I said. "We are not cutting Clyde Adler out of the show. I'll find him."
I sat down at my desk and wracked my brain for another contact...some way to find the elusive Clyde Adler. Soupy's staff had been
trying and they'd given up. I had about two hours to find Clyde and get his okay or we'd have to cut him out of the show...and I was without a
On my desk — on every desk on the lot — there was a little spiral-bound ABC inter-office phone directory. All the ABC
facilities around the country were linked via a central phone system. On a wild hunch, I grabbed it up and looked up the personnel of the film
editing department at the ABC offices in Detroit.
There, neatly typeset, was the name "Clyde Adler" and an extension number.
I dialed the two-digit inter-office code for Detroit, then the three-digit extension given and, so help me, the voice of White Fang
answered on the other end: "Raaah-oh-raah?"
We'd spent weeks searching for Clyde Adler's phone number and it had been sitting on all our desks all along.
Clyde passed away a year or so ago. Soupy remains active and continues to receive all manner of well-deserved honors, not the
least of which is of the one-on-one variety.
When I met him and told him how much his work had meant to me, I wasn't the first of my age bracket to say such a thing to him.
Or the second. Or even the three thousandth, most likely. I'm sure he hears it, everywhere he goes...which is fine because he deserves to
But I'll bet I was one of the few to say it to Clyde Adler. I'm kinda proud of that...