Monday, October 26, 2009

The Butler Did It and The Soupy is Served.

Two men are the topic of what may well be October's only posting here. I apologize for my postings here being so infrequent, but I've been busy over at The Huffington Post, which pretty much eats up all my flogging energy, and Little Dougie has been (and still is) occupied writing a musical with a songwriter friend of his, and has little creative energy left over for here. So sorry, but what you see may be all you get, barring a rush of time, energy, and vodka.

So my topic tonight is about two guys, hyperhunk Gerard Butler, and divine funnyman Milton Supman, better known as Soupy Sales.

I'm a strong believer in playing to your strengths. Gerard Butler's strengths are showing the pecs, and ... ah ... script selection? No; that's definitely not it. He can sing a bit, as he proved when played the title role in the movie of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. No, he didn't play Lord Lloyd Webber. He played the other hideously repulsive title character, The Phantom.

Except that, as played by Gerard, The Phantom was a dreamboat whose mask was just a fashion accessory. Even unmasked, he was far hotter than Raoul. He had a tiny disfigurement, like a fashion model with a zit. "Don't look at me! I'm hideous!" No one would mistake him for the great Lon Chaney. And there's nothing like two hours of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "music," to make one long for the blessed silence of Lon's wonderful movie.

Gerard's biggest (only) hit movie so far is 300, which presented the story of the 300 Spartans defending Sparta against Persia as softcore gay porn. It was a rigorously historically inaccurate presentation. Any trace of historical accuracy in any corner of the film was terminated with extreme prejudice. For heaven's sake, the movie presented the Spartans going into battle against swords and spears, not only not wearing armour, but with completely exposed, exquisite bare torsos. As battle gear goes, it's a deathwish; as movie costuming, it's $300,000,000 at the box office. The picture required Gerard to show his tits from beginning to end, and to shout stuff like "We are Sparta!" and "Tonight we dine in HELL!" Well honey, "Tonight we dine in Denny's!" The movie is so stupid and silly that I haven't watched the DVD I bought of it more than 7 or 8 times. Well, 9. Well 15. Okay, I have it on again right now. My fingers have to do something while Little Dougie types this up for me.

Gerard has also done a string of romantic comedies, that have grossed a combined $67.98. He has proved in his comedies that he is great at - showing the pecs and shouting "We are Sparta!"

So what possessed him to host Saturday Night Live last week? I know I make comedy appear effortless, but I'm drunk. Here's what I was expecting.

If only he had actually been that amusing, or at least, had been dressed like that.

They did do a 300 parody sketch, which of course was about how all 300 Spartans were gay. What else could it be about? But they had all the Spartans wearing breastplates. Since when is an SNL sketch more authentic than a big hit movie? In any event, they were parodying the movie, and the defining characteristic of the movie, and the biggest factor in selling its tickets, were all the exposed abs and mantits.

Understand, I'm not complaining about the guys hiding their pecs (except for Gerard). The current crop of SNL men are not guys I've ever sat around mentally undressing. In fact, should Bill Hader or Keenan Thompson or that Moynahan person appear shirtless, I'd be mentally dressing them. But they were parodying a movie where the men were all shirtless all the time. Where's the authenticity? Where's the commitment to doing the parody they'd written?

Remember the "Penis Song" nudist colony sketch when Matthew Broderick hosted SNL a bit over 20 years ago? You had that cast, including Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, not to mention adorable guest host Broderick, all stark staring naked, wearing only conveniently placed bits of scenery, some pixilation, and a guitar, in a sketch that used the word penis over 30 times. Funny how vividly I remember that sketch. Oh right. I still have it on tape. But those men committed to their sketch. This current group, required only to show the manboobs, all copped out. So this picture is not from that sketch.

Honestly, how, and for that matter, why have Gerard Butler on the show, and also include James Franco and The Rock, and not have any of them shirtless? The closest they came were some glimpses of The Rock's oversize physique through the ripped shirt in his Obama-as-The Hulk sketch. Do they think we watch these men for their talent? Well, maybe Franco. He's a pretty damned good actor, as he showed in Milk. (And that's not all he showed in Milk. I mean, the man had to kiss Sean Penn and make it look like it was pleasurable. He should have gotten the Oscar!)

Well enough about Gerard. If he wants more coverage here, he needs to show up in my boudoir for some uncoverage, and pleasure my brains out. Until then, he will remain what he has been for sometime now, the guy you use when you can't afford Huge Jackman.

Now to discuss someone who was funny, very funny, if perhaps not someone I particularly wanted to see shirtless. Milton Supman, better known to baby boomers everywhere as "Soupy Sales."

That's Soupy, pretty much flying through the air on his classic 1960s kid show for adults that was hip, stupid, smart, corny, sophisticated, ridiculous, and unaccountably funny.

When Walt Disney's The Mickey Mouse Club went off the air at the end of the 1950s (probably because Annette's "development" had reached the point where her name on the front of her tunic looked like it said "ANNETTE," and made a generation of young straight boys long for 3-D TV.), in Los Angeles, where Little Dougie was growing up with zero interest in Annette's tunic (Tim Considine was another matter though), the famous kid's show was replaced by a performer imported from Detroit where he had done a nationally syndicated kid's show called Lunch With Soupy Sales, and if that lunch included a pie, you could bet Soupy would end up wearing it on his face before long. His new show on KABC-TV Los Angeles, The Soupy Sales Show, was basically the exact same show. Here's Jimmy Dodd, the star of The Mickey Mouse Club, pretty much handing over the timeslot reigns to Soupy.

Little Dougie, just 11 years old, became Soupy's slave. If Little Dougie's mother were to catch fire, and needed him to save her life, she'd have been well advised not to do so while Soupy was on, because Dougie was busy watching the Soupster, and laughing until he could not breathe.

In the 1961 Malaga Cove School sixth grade talent show, Little Dougie auditioned for the humorless principal, and even more humor-challenged vice principal, basically doing Soupy's act, with a friend playing Soupy's sidekick, White Fang. The school administrators sat there stone-faced, not laughing at a single borrowed joke, looking grim. That is, looking grim until Dougie got a pie in the face. WHAM! To this day, Little Dougie vividly remembers seeing those two grisly would-be educators busting a gut with laughter at the oldest slapstick gag in show business. A few days later, the whole school repeated that laugh, when Dougie took his pie in the show.

Whether Dougie was (or is) funny is arguable. Whether Milton Supman was funny is not. Soupy Sales was a riot. And here's the real proof: most of the gags and jokes he told were ancient, corny and unfunny. Here's a typical Soupy "witticism": "Show me a novel that is caught in a tornado and I'll show you a book that is gone with the wind." Soupy's material wasn't funny. Soupy was funny. Soupy was riotously funny. He had charm, crack timing, a sense of utter silliness, and the illusion of completely undisciplined chaos, when he was actually fully in control of a show that was just plan hilarious. Surrounded by the silliest band of puppets ever, led by Pookie the Lion, and White Fang, the paw of a giant dog that always sounded like someone throwing up, Soupy's show was a wild, unpredictable melange of jokes, sketches, gags, and ad libs.

All the puppets were played by a former (and future) film editor named Clyde Adler. Here he is playing White Fang with Soupy.

After two years in Los Angeles, Soupy packed up his puppets and moved back east, to do the exact same show in New York City on WNEW-TV, this time with a little guy named Frank Nastasi playing the puppets. To Los Angeles boys like Little Dougie, Frank's Pookie the Lion never sounded right.

Soupy had famous adventures in New York. The most notorious of which came one New Years Day, when he told his kid viewers to sneak very quietly into the bedrooms where their parents were sleeping off their New Years Eve celebrations, and take out of their parents' wallets and purses the "little green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards. Send them to me here at WNEW-TV, and I'll send you a post card from Puerto Rico."

Did Soupy get money in the mail? He sure did. He got almost $80,000, most of it Monopoly money. What actual cash he did receive went to Jerry's Kids. One guy in his 20s sent him a dollar bill with a note which said, "I've seen your show, and you ought to go to Puerto Rico."

And no one enjoyed telling that story more than Soupy.

However, if there is anything you can count on finding everywhere, it's humorless asses. Kids know a joke when they hear it, but a certain class of adults are always morons. The morons complained to the station, the morons running the TV station suspended Soupy for two weeks, and found their station besieged by crowds of kid picketers, throwing paint. The station begged Soupy to come back, or at least call off the paint-throwing kids. Soupy let them stew, and came back after his two weeks. Screw 'em if they can't take a joke.

Little Dougie was heartbroken when Soupy deserted Los Angeles for New York. They had Broadway, did they have to have Soupy too? In the summer of 1965, Little Dougie's family went back to New York City to see the New York World's Fair and see some real Broadway shows. Little Dougie was glad to see the fair, and excited to see actual Broadway shows, but he was thrilled to be able to see Soupy again, even if only for two weeks. Here's a photo of 15 year old Little Dougie with his family at the fair. Only a true Soupy geek-level fan would go out in public to the fair wearing that badge. I hope he didn't wear it when seeing Hello Dolly, but he couldn't swear to it today.

It took Dougie 33 years, but he finally got to meet the Soupster. In 1994, Little Dougie went to see Soupy do his live stage act in San Clemente. It was a revelation. Soupy had over 50 years in show business as a top professional comedian by then, and his act showed exactly what 50 years of comedy performing could do for you. He was masterful. It was jokes, puns, cornball gags, long-shaggy dog stories, and personal reminiscences. On paper, it would have been deadly. But Soupy was a master, I repeat, a master, of timing, pacing, and audience manipulation. The structure of the routines was breathtaking. The way he would pile gag on gag, rattling out one-liners one after the other, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, building the pace, until the sheer momentum of the routines forced you into hysterical laughter. Then he'd break it up with long shaggy-dog stories (some literally shaggy dog stories, as you had to hear about White Fang.), and then tell some middle-length stories. It was pure structural genius. He was a total pro. Any young comedian learning their craft could have learned a world of craft from Soupy Sales.

And Soupy loved his fans. He was someone who didn't mind middle-aged people coming up and telling him they'd loved him when they were children. He took it as a badge of honor.

That night Little Dougie saw him work, after his show, Soupy spent over an hour with his fans, signing every bit of memorabilia they brought, some of it quite old. (Little Dougie had brought Soupy record albums he'd had since 1961.) Soupy had a Polaroid camera with him, and on his own dime (no one was charged anything, unlike at modern has-been conventions, I mean autograph shows, where people who played tiny parts in old movies sign pictures at $20 a pop) saw to it that everyone who wanted one, got a picture taken with him, that he could sign for them right then, like this picture from that night with Little Dougie, looking like a rather large Dougie.

Soupy's old TV show was revived for one season, as a national network show in color in 1979. Clyde Adler returned to play the puppets. (In the opening credit film sequence of each episode, a building Little Dougie lived in from 1986 to '89 could be clearly seen in one shot.) The show came to an abrupt end though when Clyde Adler suffered a heart attack on the set. Although Clyde survived, his performing days were over, and he returned to editing film in Detroit, and died in the early 1990s.

Soupy must have been on every game show that ever used celebrities. He was very smart, and played games well. A close friend of Little Dougie got him for a partner on The $25,000 Pyramid, and Soupy took her all the way up the pyramid and won her the money.

He guested on dozens and dozens of TV shows, from Burke's Law to The Carol Burnett Show, to The Beverly Hillbillies to Wings, with many, many others. Movies weren't really is forte, but he made a few, co-starring with Tab Hunter in a silly fantasy called Birds Do It, as well as Critic's Choice and Two Little Bears. More recently, he appeared with several of my friends, playing himself playing Moses, in And God Spoke, a faux-Chris Guest-type mockumentary, a movie that would be worth seeing even if only to see Lou Ferrigno beat the crap out of Andy Dick (That's entertaiment.), but which is very funny beginning to end. Soupy, carrying the Ten Commandments and a six-pack of Coca-Cola down from the Vasquez Rocks makes for Comedy Heaven. And God Spoke, and some of Soupy's old TV shows are available on DVD.

Here are pictures of two famous actors playing Moses in the movies, one is a hopeless buffoon, and the other is Soupy Sales.

Not long after Little Dougie saw Soupy work live, he took a fall, and broke something, and his days of performing live were over. Dougie saw him just in time, but he continued to love his fans, and to delight all who had the good fortune to encounter him. He wrote two books, an autobiography, Soupy Sez: My Life and Zany Times

And Stop Me If You've Heard It: Soupy Sales' Greatest Jokes, a collection of gags, a majority of which would only work if Soupy were telling them.

When Soupy died last week, at the age of 83, the world became a little less funny. It wasn't just that Marie Callandar now stopped making shaving cream pies (Soupy's pies - he was hit with over 50,000 of them over the years - were made with shaving cream because it didn't spoil or turn rancid under hot studio lights); it was that White Fang and Black Tooth and Pookie and Hippie all died with him. Soupy had been in failing health for some years, and his death was doubtless a mercy to him, but it is greiving a whole generation of former-kids who never lost their love for the zany guy with the face full of pie. Soupy's death made me sob. I think White Fang himself said it best when he said: "Oh rih o rah!"

I know it's Halloween week. For some Halloween postings may I suggest clicking on these links to some of my past Halloween tales.

Mister Halloween is always worth reading. It's Little Dougie's account of his relationship with Larry "Seymour" Vincent, the Greatest TV Horror Host That Ever Was.

A Halloween Memory is a chapter from my award-challenged autobiography, My Lush Life, recounting my spooky marriage to Count Vlad Tepes of Transylvania. You may think that, because you've seen a movie with Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee or Frank Langella (Richard Nixon isn't the only scary monster Frank's ever played) or even Gary Oldman, that you know the true tale of this nocturnal nobleman on the liquid diet, but I was married to the man!

For that matter, Little Dougie's book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies, is a perfect Halloween read. You can order a copy on that link, just don't be too dispapointed that it's not about me.

And over at The Huff Po, I'm still recapping Survivor: Samoa each week. My most recent posting there was No Fruit Cup. Thanks to Halloween (my busy season), my next Huff Po column will not appear until Sunday. In fact, if you you happen to be at Disneyland on Friday, keep an eye peeled for me. I'll be there, but incognito. If you recognize me, don't be afraid to ask for an autograph.The worst thing that can happen to you is my demanding Security have you arrested. I love my fans.

Cheers darlings.