Even beloved children’s entertainers can get into trouble with their bosses, as Soupy Sales discovered when he made an unscripted comment on the Jan. 1, 1965, episode of his syndicated TV show that led to a suspension.
According to the story, Sales had a few minutes to kill at the end of his late-afternoon show, which had moved from to New York from Los Angeles only a few months before, when an idea popped into his head.
“Hey, kids,” he began. “Last night was New Year’s Eve, and your mom and dad were out having a good time. And they work hard, and after last night, they are probably still sleeping, so what I want you to do is tiptoe into the bedroom, but don’t wake them up. You will see your mom’s pocketbook and your dad’s pants on the floor, but don’t wake ’em up! Go into your mom’s pocketbook and your dad’s pants, and you will see little green pieces of paper with pictures of guys with beards on them. Now, don’t wake them up, but get those little green pieces of paper and put them in an envelope, and on the envelope write Soupy Sales, Channel 5.”
As a thank-you, Sales added, he’d send the kids a postcard from Puerto Rico.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 1993, the comedian claimed he received only $1 and some Monopoly money. But that same year, he told an audience at the Brokerage Comedy Club in Bellmore, N.Y., that he received $80,000. One woman in attendance shouted, “I want my dollar back!” To which Sales responded, “That’s my ride home.” He also recalled a 28-year-old woman who sent in a dollar with the message, “I’ve seen your show, and you should go to Puerto Rico.”
You can watch the 1993 comment from the comedy club below.
Regardless of how much money came in, execs in charge of Metromedia, the company that owned the station, weren’t amused. Sales was called into a room, where, as he noted during the Brokerage performance, he was met by 11 lawyers and questioned about his on-air comments. After admitting he jokingly asked for money, he was immediately suspended — some reports say for five days, others claim it was for two weeks.
”It was the first time I realized how incredibly powerful television was,” he told Entertainment Weekly. ”One woman wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission complaining that I was teaching kids to steal. They were even discussing the show in Congress — how they could stop it from happening again.”
Sales, whose musician sons Hunt and Tony played with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, died in October 2009 at the age of 83. Toward the end of his life, he had grown tired of telling the story. In an appreciation piece for Entertainment Weekly, writer Ken Tucker recalled being thanked by Sales for not asking him about the incident during an earlier interview: “‘Everybody thinks they have to bring that up — why?’ he asked me, irritation in his voice. ‘Because their editors tell them to, thinking they’ll get a bit more controversy out of it,’ I suggested. ‘Yeah,’ he said, sighing. ‘Maybe. Or maybe some people just like to make happy people unhappy.’”