Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lunch With Soupy Sales in Detroit

Soupy Sales was born Milton Supman on January 8, 1926, in Franklinton, North Carolina. His father Irving Supman immigrated to America from Hungary in 1894. He was a Jewish dry goods merchant. Later in life, Soupy would quip that the local Ku Klux Klan bought their sheets from his father's store.

Milton's nickname came from his family. His older brothers were dubbed "Ham Bone" and "Chicken Bone." The youngest son was "Soup Bone." Milton (Soupy) Supman enlisted in the United States Navy and served in the South Pacific. After the war, he earned a Master's degree in journalism. His oldest brother became a doctor, and his other brother became a lawyer. Soupy had little choice but to go into show business.

After graduation, Soupy worked as a morning DJ and performed a comedy act in nightclubs. In 1949, Soupy Sales began his television career on WKRC-TV in Cincinnati with "Soupy's Soda Shop," television's first teen dance program. The show was cancelled after a year. Soupy moved to Cleveland and did a late night comedy/variety program called "Soupy's On!" where he took his first pie in the face which became his trademark. After a couple of seasons, Soupy left Cleveland for health reasons. "The station manager was sick of me," he quipped.

In 1953, Soupy Sales relocated to Detroit and worked for WXYZ-TV Channel 7, the local ABC station. Soupy not only had the Lunch With Soupy program, he also hosted a Friday evening variety show called Soup's On, which featured musicians and jazz performers who were working one of the twenty-four jazz clubs operating in the Paradise Valley entertainment district in old Detroit. Top performers like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Della Reese, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, to name a few, made guest appearances on Soupy's popular show. After an appearance, jazz artists would regularly sell out their venues.

Lunch With Soupy had a fixed kitchen set with a window, a table and chair to the left, and a door at center stage in the background that would interrupt Soupy mid-sentence with frantic knocking. Naturally, Soupy would stop, mug for the camera, and answer the door. Usually, Soupy played against only an arm and a voice appearing from the door jam.

Soupy wore a dark Orlon sweater, a white shirt with an oversized checkerboard bow tie, and a beat up top hat. Besides the pie-in-the-face running slapstick gag, Soupy was know for the Soupy Shuffle (his signature dance) and his Words of Wisdom like, "Be true to your teeth and they won't be false to you."

Pookie the Lion and Hippy the Hippo
If it was noon in Detroit and you were planted in front of a television set with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Soupy was on, you knew you were in for a good time. Regulars on the show were hand puppets Soupy interacted with. He was the straight man for voice artist Clyde Adler who did the off-stage puppeteering and voice characterizations. The show's favorite puppets were:
  • White Fang, "The Biggest and Meanest Dog in the USA." He appeared from the left corner of the screen only as a giant white shaggy arm and paw with black triangular claws. White Fang spoke in unrecognizable grunts and growls which Soupy repeated in English for comic effect. White Fang often threw the pies when Soup's jokes bombed.
  • Black Tooth, "The Biggest and Sweetest Dog in the USA." She had a black shaggy arm and paw with white triangular claws. She had feminine grunts and groans, and always flirted with Soupy. Her trademark move was pulling Soupy off-camera and giving him big, noisy kisses.
  • Pookie the Lion appeared on the ledge of the window behind Soupy. Pookie was a hipster with a wicked wit. He lip synced novelty records or prerecorded bits. My favorite memory of Pookie was a routine called "Life Got You Down, Bunky?" It was a pep talk he gave Soupy every time Soupy complained about feeling blue. Comically, it was inspirational.
  • Willie the Worm, a latex accordion worm that popped in and out of an apple. Willie was known as "the sickest worm in all of Dee-troit." Willie had a perennial cold and an exaggerated sneeze. He read birthday greetings to Detroit-area kids. Sadly, Willie's health failed him. He did not survive the show's move to the Big Apple in 1964.
When Soupy took his show to WNEW-TV in New York City, it went into national syndication. This was the height of Soupy's popularity. His guest stars included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland, and Sammy Davis. 

Soupy doing the Mouse dance

On New Years Day in 1965, to fill a few extra moments at the end of the show, Soupy made an off-the-cuff remark to the kids in his television audience. He suggested they go into their parents' rooms, find their parents' wallets, and take out the green pieces of paper with pictures of bearded guys and mail them to him. In return, Soupy said he would send them a postcard from Puerto Rico. The show was aired live and no transcripts or videotapes exist, so the exact language he used is not known.

Soupy's remark was an ad-libbed gag not meant to be taken literally, but an angry parent filed a complaint with the FCC. The way the press reported the story, it sounded like this was the biggest heist since the Brink's robbery. Some adults were livid that a TV personality would manipulate children for commercial gain.

Show business legend has it that the prank netted some $80,000. Soupy revealed publicly that he netted only a few real dollars which he donated to charity--the rest was fake money.

The station suspended Soupy. The outcry from Soupy's fans swamped the station's switchboards and packed their mail room with demands that Soupy be reinstated. Within a week, his suspension was lifted. Soupy worked for two more seasons before he gave up the top hat and bow tie and moved to Hollywood to become a panelist on many game shows including What's My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, The Gong Show, and Hollywood Squares in the 70s and 80s.

Milton (Soupy Sales) Supman died of cancer October 22, 2009, at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx. He was eighty-three years old. Soupy Sales is best remembered by his many fans for his trademark pie-in-the-face gag, but in the comedy world, Soupy is remembered for his inventive, anarchic brand of riotous, television comedy. 

 Soupy and Pookie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB8e_uRzhMU

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Elusive Purple Gang Audio Now Available

Rich Miller
At last, the audio of my latest true crime book The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra is available from Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. I wanted a professional voice artist, recording on professional recording equipment. My publisher Wheatmark Inc. recommended Rich Miller and arranged for him to make a demo recording of my first chapter. I liked it.

I met with Rich in Tucson, Arizona, and discovered he has an acting background ranging from Shakespeare to modern theater like Damn Yankees and August: Osage County. He has worked in theatrical sound design and done voice over work in television commercials.

Now, Rich operates his own recording studio and acts out stories in front of a microphone. He is the creator and host of a podcast named The Audiobook Speakeasy aimed at narrators, offering them content from audio coaches, sound engineers, casting directors, and contract specialists. 

I chose Rich to narrate The Elusive Purple Gang because I wanted someone who could read my book in a conversational tone to make the storytelling more engaging for the listener. Rich's subtle voice characterizations make listening a pleasure.

Elusive Purple Gang Audio Link 

Rich Voice Productions 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Allen Park's Uniroyal Giant Tire--Fifty-Nine Years Old--Heralds Entrance into The Motor City



The original U.S. Royal Tire exhibit was a Ferris wheel attraction at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965, held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens. The fair was open for two six-month seasons. In 1964, it was open from April 22th until October 18th, and in 1965, the dates were April 21st until October 17th.

The history of the U.S. Royal Giant Tire is pretty straightforward. Originally rigged as a Ferris wheel and powered by a 100 HP engine, it was over eighty feet high. It carried close to 2,000,000 people at the World's Fair, many of them famous world figures. There were twenty-four barrel shaped gondolas, each carrying up to four people for a total of ninety-six passengers paying a quarter apiece. 

At the fair's end, the tire was disassembled and shipped in twenty-one truck loads to Detroit and reassembled as a static display outside the Uniroyal sales offices in Allen Park, Michigan. It is one of the world's largest roadside attractions. The Uniroyal office has since moved, but the Giant Tire still stands.

The tire is not made of rubber, but sightseers don't notice the difference whizzing past the landmark at seventy miles an hour on Interstate 94. The tire weighs just under twelve tons and is anchored in twenty-four feet of concrete and structural steel. It is rated to withstand hurricane force winds.

When the Michelin Tire Company bought out Uniroyal and Goodrich in 1990, they renovated the landmark in 1994 with a fresh coat of paint, a modern looking hubcap, and neon lights for the Uniroyal lettering. Four years later in 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again to resemble a "Nail Guard" tire. An eleven foot long, 250 pound nail (world's largest) was sticking out from the tire to promote their new puncture proof product. The nail was put up for auction on eBay in 2003 and sold for $3,000, with proceeds donated to the Allen Park Historical Museum.

In 2003, the Giant Tire was once again renovated as part of the I-94 corridor revitalization. The neon lettering was replaced with reflective lettering and spotlighting. It has remained a Detroit landmark and an Allen Park roadside attraction for fifty-three-years heralding the entrance into the Motor City from Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.

It has been noted that the one thing the Beatles wanted to see on their American tour was the Giant Tire. Whether they stopped along the freeway to take a good look at it on their way into Detroit from Metro Airport isn't known, but when Paul McCartney and Wings were touring in 1976, the moment was commemorated.



For more detailed information on the Detroit's Big Wheel, consult The Giant Tire by Steve J. Frey: http://www.gianttire.info/?fbclid=IwAR2HT6p9Cva5dHSNZl-Ff0dRj053V6Eu--R5FuZtyauH3alhNuDMtladjkM

Friday, February 7, 2020

When White Pine was Green Gold in Michigan

"Brag Load" of Logs and Ten Man Crew with a Team of Horses

The Michigan forest landscape was bountiful for early settlers. Rivers and lakes provided plenty of fish and wildlife while the forests and open glades provided game and fowl for hunters. Clearing the land was a slow process with timber cut with axes. The first order of business was throwing up some hasty shelter. Log cabins were built and railings cut for fences to pen livestock. What scrap wood was left became firewood. These small pioneer farms had minimal impact on the environment.

Rapid development of the American East in the first half of the nineteenth century depleted much of the lumber forests east of the Appalachians. By mid-century, New York lumber speculators discovered the vast virgin hardwood forests of Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas--especially the stands of old-growth white and red pine for building materials. Many of these trees were over 200 years old, 200 feet high, and over 5 feet in diameter.

With the invention of the steam-powered circular saw in the 1850s, the lumber business ramped up production. Fortunes were made by enterprising men who had vision and deep pockets. They bought large tracts of private and government land and were quickly dubbed Lumber Barons. They owned the saw mills and set up the system of lumber camps that made more than a few men rich. The "shanty boys" as the owners called the lumberjacks did the heavy lifting. After a harsh winter, they could walk out of the forest with several hundreds of dollars--big money in those days--only to be targets of robbery or worse. The lumber business attracted a tough crowd in and out of the forest like any boom town industry would.

The first great lumber area in the state was Saginaw Bay which fed into Lake Huron. What made this location ideal for the lumber business were the six rivers that converged to form the Saginaw River: the Chippewa, Tittabawassee, Cass, Bad, Shiawassee, and Flint. From 1860 until 1890, most of the trees from the heart of the state were felled and floated down these rivers on their way to the saw mills.


Logging was a cold weather job. The logs were too big and heavy to drag through the woods. The loggers cleared timber roads first. When the roads iced over in winter, huge sleds were loaded with timber and dragged by horses or oxen to the river's edge where they were stacked awaiting the spring thaw; then, the logs were pushed into the swollen rivers and floated down to the lumber mills. Once at the saw mill, the logs were cut into boards, kiln-dried to reduce weight and warping, and loaded onto ships.


Lumber camps were rustic, quickly built, and meant to be temporary. When the land was exhausted of timber, the operation moved on. The camps consisted of a bunk house, a cook shanty with dining room and kitchen, a camp store, a blacksmith's shop, and a barn for the horses. Each camp had about seventy men and two foremen, twenty teams of horses, and seven yoke of oxen. A ten man crew could produce about 100 logs a day with a two-handled, cross-cut saw and double-edged axes.

Lumberjacks worked from sunrise until sunset, six days a week out in the wilderness with little to occupy them. Their pastimes were telling tall tales and playing cards on Sundays, as well as any mischief they could get away with in town if they were near one.

Lumber camps competed with each other to see which outfit could stack the highest load--called a brag load--and pull it twenty feet over the ice with a team of horses. My guess is the winning camp won a wager and a keg of beer along with bragging rights. I hope the horses got a little something extra for their efforts.

Stump Prairie
When the logging industry was finished raping the land, lumber camps were abandoned because owners didn't want to pay taxes on the land they owned, so they simply defaulted and the land went to the state. In all, over nineteen million acres were clear cut with no reforestation strategy, leaving behind barren "stump prairies" contributing to soil erosion, river and lake pollution, more atmospheric carbon dioxide, and degraded wildlife habitat.

One of the few forest animals that benefited from the clear cutting was the whitetail deer. With new open ground for grazing and more abundant and accessible plant food, populations grew. Little good it did them though. By 1876, professional hunters were killing 70,000 deer each year to supply the booming lumber camps and ship the surplus to Chicago and Detroit--two cities that had a taste for venison.

In a report on Michigan Forest History compiled by the Michigan Department of Resources, researchers found that: "Land clearing for agriculture, logging, and settlement altered local stream flow patterns and volumes, eliminated some waters, and introduced pollutants into others. Huge quantities of sediment from log drives and sawdust from sawmills were dumped into rivers. In one instance, the mouth of the Manistee River accumulated sawdust to the extent that it formed a delta of several square miles. At sawmill locations throughout the state, wherever sawdust was dispensed into the river, toxic and oxygen-deprived conditions were created for fish. These detriments, combined with land clearing efforts, exacerbated soil erosion into rivers, significantly reducing the quality of fish habitat in rivers."

The Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling has the only remaining stand of Michigan old growth forest. The park consists of fifteen square miles featuring forty-nine acres of old growth white pine saved from the teeth of the loggers' saw. The land was gifted to Michigan's Department of Natural Resources in 1927 by Karen Michelson Hartwick as a memorial to the logging industry in the name of her husband Edward E. Hartwick--a lumberman killed in World War I.


During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a logging museum adjacent to the old growth forest in the park to educate visitors about the logging industry. The CCC also hired unemployed men to plant millions of seedlings to reforest Michigan's barren areas, but even after one hundred years, some of the "stump prairies" still exist. On a brighter note, over half of the state is covered by new growth forests.


Michigan Logging History (5 minute video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShqFL9vWXmY

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Elusive Purple Gang Wins Book Cover of the Month Award for February 2020

San Diego Library Local Author Showcase--January 31th, 2020.

We have all heard the advice "Don't judge a book by its cover," but an engaging book cover can capture a reader's attention and act as a calling card to pick up the book and read the back cover. Of course, if the contents of the book are shoddy, the author loses a reader for life.

I was surprised to win a Book Cover of the Month Award for February 2020. Although the cover of The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra doesn't depict known Purple Gang members, it does quickly establish the time and place of the book. What is not so apparent is a subtle design feature that creates a sense of depth which draws the eye in.

Kudos go to Wheatmark Inc. cover designer Micah Edel. After I provided the cover photo and a rough idea of what I was looking for, Micah did the rest. Our most difficult decision was choosing the right shade of purple for the title. The shade was either too bright and festive or too dark and oppressive. Finally, I hit on it--make the title Crayola purple. It worked!

Contest organizer Pam Rice critiqued the cover this way, "The black and white photo is dramatic and makes a statement. The title is also telling the story. The font is simple with just enough of a serif to make it interesting. The background has a great texture but doesn't overpower the font or the image." 


I appreciate this honor and acknowledgement, but I have only one problem. I like the cover so much that I don't want to hide it behind a medallion. Bragging rights will have to do.

gregoryafournier.com