Friday, October 23, 2009

Do they do The Mouse in The Great Beyond?

Milton Supman, better-known as Soupy Sales, has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 83 and as I type this, the world appears to be just a bit gloomier than the day before. An individual on Facebook commented that “A generation of gentle delinquents mourn his passing”—and I think that simple, eloquent statement just about sums it up.

I was a bit too young to remember Soupy’s phenomenally popular kid’s show in the 1960s—I primarily remember him for television venues like hosting a Saturday morning version of a then-popular nighttime program, Almost Anything Goes (Soup’s show had a “Junior” in front of it) and multiple appearances on Match Game and the syndicated version of the panel show warhorse What’s My Line? He also plays “Moses” in an amusing low budget film entitled …And God Spoke (1993) that used to play frequently on Cinemax now and then, and appears as himself in the Eddie Murphy “comedy” Holy Man (1998).

But a generation just a tad older than I remembers him from Lunch with Soupy Sales and The Soupy Sales Show, local television programs that later earned him a national cult audience of both kids and adults. Soupy hosted the program with a series of puppets known as Pookie, White Fang (the meanest dog in the United States) and Black Tooth (the nicest dog in the U.S.), and one of the show’s running gags had Soupy constantly being hit in the puss with a cream pie. (I like Mark Evanier’s comment on this: “The budget was pocket change and they blew it all on shaving cream, anyway.”) Sales was able to transcend his low-budget with attention-grabbing stunts like asking the kids at home to open up their father’s wallets and mail the “green pieces of paper” to him in care of the network. The show’s popularity was such that celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. made cameo appearances in the 1960s, and when Sales revived the series in 1976 notables like Dick Clark, Frankie Valli and Alice Cooper gamely took pies in the kisser.

Sales’ greatest fame occurred at stations in Cleveland and Detroit, but fellow West Virginians like myself like to claim him as one of own (even though he was born in Franklinton, NC) because he started his career at a pair of radio stations in Huntington before moving on to the "big time". West Virginia honored its favorite pie-throwing son in 2005 by bestowing upon the Soupster an honorary Doctorate of Human Letters degree from Marshall University. Marshall’s president, Dale F. Nitzschke, noted the occasion by remarking: “Soupy Sales is unquestionably one of this country’s comic geniuses. He has brought distinction to himself and honor to his hometown and university.” “Doctor” Sales’ response was nothing short of hilarious: “As a doctor, I’ll make house calls.”

R.I.P, Soupy. You will be sorely missed.

We’re also mourning the passing of Collin Wilcox-Paxton, one of the most underrated dramatic actresses of this century who’s gone to her greater reward at the age of 74 after a fight with brain cancer. Wilcox’s best-known showcase is probably her performance in the 1962 film classic To Kill a Mockingbird, in which she played rape victim Mayella Ewell—a powerhouse turn that impressed a generation of film fans like myself despite her brief screen time. Her silver screen resume also includes appearances in The Revolutionary (1970), September 30, 1955 (1977), Jaws 2 (1978), Marie (1985) and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997).

But I remember Wilcox best for her appearances in two of my favorite television shows; the first being The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in which she plays the unfaithful wife of Pat Buttram in the adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury tale “The Jar.” (She also made quite an impression in a second Hitchcock offering, “The Monkey’s Paw—A Retelling.”) The other is one of The Twilight Zone episodes that made the “honorable mention” list of my favorites a few weeks back, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” This fantastic episode, which addresses the issues of individuality and conformity, is permanently tattooed on my brain with Wilcox as a defiant woman trying to resist State-sanctioned plastic surgery in order to look like all the other women in a futuristic society…and sadly, failing to accomplish her goal in the end.

Among the other television programs Wilcox made guest appearances on: The Untouchables, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Fugitive and The Defenders—she appeared in the classic episode “The Benefactor”; recently made the subject of an episode of the critically acclaimed AMC series Mad Men. In fact, I learned of Ms. Paxton’s passing through an outstanding tribute written by Stephen Bowie at his amazing The Classic TV History Blog; he wrote about Collin in a well-worth-your-time essay on the classic Defenders episode and followed it up with an equally well-written interview. All three of these posts make for simply fascinating reading.

R.I.P, Ms. Wilcox-Paxton. You will be terribly missed.

Bookmark and Share


Todd said...

Ivan, it's Stephen Bowie's fabulous blog. I'm saddened to hear of her passing, she was a hell of an actress.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thanks for keeping me honest, Todd -- I went and made the necessary correction.

C. Jerry Kutner said...

Glad you mentioned "The Jar" - one of the very best Hitchcock episodes (Norman Lloyd direction, Bernard Herrmann score) and Wilcox was awesome in it.