Most of my readers will not recognize the names of Pincus Leff, Milton Supman, or the name Paul Rubenfeld either.
I am writing to correct that!
A BIT OF HISTORY
Actually, although very limited, television broadcasting in the United States goes back to the 1930's. It would be the decade of the 1950's that the motion picture industry started losing a large share of their audiences to what, in the United States, would be sarcastically termed "The Boob-Tube"!
In 1949, those that could afford a television set, might watch the first television western, William Boyd as "Hopalong Cassidy", the anthology series "The Voice of Firestone" with commercials for their tires, the 1940's Band Leader Kay Kyser's "College of Musical Knowledge", the radio sitcom come to television "The Goldbergs", or the detective series "The Plainclothesman". By 1954 television sets became affordable to most American families and the new medium was coming out of its infancy.
Oh, that television set?
In 1954, the least expensive set available was a beautiful black and white, 17-inch, "RCA" table top, for $189, equal to $1,916.44 at the time of this writing, thanks to inflation. Color television programing did exist, but had extremely more limited broadcasts to American homes. The first color television sets sold came from "Admiral" in 1953. A nice 15-inch table top cost a homeowner $1,175 that year, equal to $12,269.38 today.
While adult programing, or what would eventually be called "Prime Time" was flourishing and entire families on Sunday night watched "The Ed Sullivan Show". Back with "Hopalong Cassidy", America's cereal companies discovered children's television as a means of selling their product by the simple expedient of a cut-out toy on the back of a package. Some children's programs were nationally broadcast, or had different hosts and hostesses in different broadcasting areas of the country.
The following link will take my reader to some of what this Los Angeles kid watched in the 1950's and completes my set up for this article. Enjoy, "Children's TV in 1950's L.A., Sheriff John, Engineer Bill, Skipper Frank, Tom Hatten and Others" at:
Pincus Leff was born on May 2, 1907, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and started as a 1920's vaudeville tap dancer in the chorus of the long forgotten "Brodrick-Felton Company" on the "Keith Orpheum Circuit". Over time, wearing a Glen plaid suit with baggy pants, a bow tie, a distinctive child's size hat, speaking with what became his trade-mark lisp, and calling himself "Pinky Lee". Leff became an expert at slapstick comedy, comic dancing, and rapid-fire jokes aimed at the audience in what would be considered "Burlesque Style". Leff also created a catch phrase for his character:
Oooooh! You make me so mad!
Above, Dentist Pinky Lee operates on an unidentified patient.
Besides his stage appearances, Pinky Lee next appeared in a major motion picture.
LADY OF BURLESQUE released on May 1, 1943
The motion picture was directed by William "Wild Bill" Wilder. Wilder's previous release was 1942's "The Ox-Bow Incident" starring Henry Fonda, and Dana Andrews. He followed this feature with 1944's "Buffalo Bill" starring Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara, and Linda Darnell. My article about the World War One, French Air Corps hero turned director, "WILLIAM A. 'WILD BILL' WELLMAN: '3' with JOHN WAYNE: "Island in the Sky', 'The High and the Mighty" and 'Blood Alley" can be read at:
"Lady of Burlesque" was based upon the 1941 novel "The G-String Murders" by Gypsy Rose Lee.
Barbara Stanwyck portrayed Burlesque Queen "Deborah Hoople aka Dixie Daisy". The previous year Stanwyck was seen in 1942's "The Gay Sisters" co-starring with George Brent and Geraldine Fitzgerald. The actress followed this picture by appearing in a screenplay divided into three stories, 1943's "Flesh and Fantasy", her co-star was Charles Boyer.
Michael O'Shea portrayed "Biff Brannigan". This was "B" drama character actor O'Shea's first motion picture. He followed this picture with the title role in the 1943 biographical movie "Jack London".
Joseph Breen of the "Hayes Censorship Office" was concerned the screenplay initially carried the title of the murder mystery by Burlesque stripper Miss Gypsy Rose Lee. He is quoted in a 2009 biography about him written by Thomas Doherty as saying:
We are concerned about the prominent use of the object known as the "G-String' as the murder weapon. It is our impression that the use of this extremely intimate female garment will be considered offensive . . .
William Wellman and producer Hunt Stromberg, 1932's "Red Dust" starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, and Mary Astor, and the entire "Thin Man" series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, fought Breen every step of the way and were able to retain some real vaudeville acts in the picture and the G-string in question.
The plot has a member of the Burlesque group being strangled to death with a G-String and the performers tracking the killer down.
At 12th billing was Pinky Lee portraying "Mandy".
Below Pinky Lee does a vaudeville routine with Barbara Stanwyck.
Above and below, Marian Martin as "Alice Angel" and Pinky Lee.
Pinky Lee was able to get himself a small contract with "Republic Pictures" and appeared in a musical based upon a series of 1920's and 1930's Broadway variety shows patterned after the "Ziegfeld Follies".
EARL CARROLL VANITIES released on April 5, 1945
Above, Alan Mowbray as "Grand Duke Paul", Eve Arden as "Tex Donnelly", and Pinky Lee.
Three forgotten motion pictures followed and then Pinky Lee met "Roy Rodgers, the King of the Cowboys" and became his side kick in three "B" Westerns.
IN OLD AMARILLO released on May 15, 1951
Roy's wife "Dale Evans, Queen of the Cowboys" wasn't in this motion picture. Roy is sent to stop a greedy landowner attempting to capitalize on a draught around Amarillo, Texas.
Above, Roy and his sidekick, "Pinky".
The missing Dale Evans appeared in Pinky Lee's next motion picture.
SOUTH OF CALIENTE released October 15, 1951
Pinky Lee's final entry with Roy and Dale was:
PALS OF THE GOLDEN WEST released on November 15, 1951
Before making the movies with Roy Rodgers, Pinky Lee had starred on an early "NBC" television variety program that started in 1950. Many articles list this as his children's show, because both had the same name, "The Pinky Lee Show".
However, Lee's variety show only ran into 1952, and more importantly was in prime time. The 30-minute musical situation comedy program featured burlesque acts and had a co-host, or hostess in this case. She was up and coming singer Molly Bee. At the time Bee had two hits on the charts, one was "The Tennessee Tango", and the other was her version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".
Additionally, from January 28, 1952, through January 30, 1953, Pinky Lee co-starred in a live 15-minute "NBC" television comedy entitled "Those Two". His first co-star was Vivian Blaine and after she left the show, Martha Stewart, joined the cast.
On January 4, 1954, "NBC" brought back "The Pinky Lee Show", but now the 15-minute spot became a "Emmy Award" nominated children's show. It was also the lead-in to the 15-minute, "The Howdy Doody Show". Both designed by "NBC" executives to play in a time spot just after most of the target audience had returned from the school and wanted to watch television. The program was sponsored by "Tootsie Roll" and as planned, the sales of the candy went sky high.
Pinky came out in each episode and immediately said:
Notice the "Tootsie Pop" in the little girl's hand?
The vaudevillian kept up a frantic pace, his jokes often flew over the head's of the kids, but not our parents that made-up a large portion of his studio and at home audience.
Below a mother and Pinky enjoy their "Tootsie Pops" and by her look, a possible inside joke.
Like many children's programs of the day there was merchandise and the following is just a small sample.
How about a comic book?
Returning to that hectic pace, on September 20, 1955, during his live television broadcast, Pinky Lee collapsed, but the director and camera man thought it was part of his routine. After a short time and he still wasn't moving, somebody finally reacted, and the comedian was taken to the hospital.
The official "NBC" publicity department released a statement reading:
Hollywood: Comedian Pinky Lee collapsed today during his television show. The little comic, a favorite with millions of youngsters, had been on the air only 20 minutes when he was taken ill during a commercial announcement. The National Broadcasting Company said a doctor was rushed to the nearby Burbank Studio to treat the comedian. His collapse reportedly came after a heated, preshow dispute with the director of the show. After being treated on the set, Lee was taken to Saint Joseph's hospital, where his doctor, Theodore Mainzer, said he was resting comfortably. Lee is in his 40's. Dr. Mainzer said the comedian apparently was a victim of extreme exhaustion and nervousness brought on by the fact that he was attempting to prepare several of his kiddie shows in advance in order to gain free time for a trip to New York to star in the TV show Heidi.
The following day the show was on the air without Pinky Lee and would stay that way until it was cancelled after the June 9, 1956 broadcast. There was confusion over what happened and newspaper columnist's wrote, incorrectly, that Pincus Leff had a heart attack and some even referred to "the late Pinky Lee".
After his recovery and without a television program, Lee started appearing in "Dinner Theaters" doing a comic routine.
On June 8, 1957, Pinky Lee became the host of "Claymation's The Gumby Show". After the original host quit, because he felt uncomfortable with the clay figures.
On May 1, 1960, Pinky Lee was a guest star on an episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show". On August 3, 1960 in Las Vegas, Nevada, the motion picture "Ocean's 11" premiered starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Somewhere in the "Riviera Hotel" sequences is Pinky Lee as an uncredited hotel employee. It would be another 19-years before Pinky Lee was seen on-screen again and that was in a series of skits in the made for television motion picture "Here It Is, Burlesque!", in 1979.
In 1963, Pinky Lee had made and attempt to return to children's programing on "KABC-TV", Los Angeles, with "The Pinky Lee Kids Show". The program went into syndication in 1964, but a year later the show was cancelled.
During his final years Pincus Leff was a drama teacher and appeared in regional musical theater.
On April 3, 1993, 85-years-old Pincus Leff passed away knowing his legacy was passed to another. More on that in the third part of this article.
As of this writing the following link will take my reader to episodes of "The Pinky Lee Show". I want to clear-up some on-line and IMDb false information. In the episode my link takes my reader too, is actor John Crawford, and not as is indicated by IMDb and others, Johnny Crawford. The future "Mousketeer" and televisions "The Rifleman" co-star was only 4-years old at the time of the original broadcast.
Milton Supman was born on January 8, 1926, in Franklinton, North Carolina, and was the youngest of three brothers. The family went for nicknames and the two older brothers were "Ham Bone" and "Chicken Bone". The future "Soupy Sales" was named "Soup Bone" and later as a DJ Milton called himself "Soupy Hines", but realized his chosen last name sounded too much like the "Heinz Soup Company". To prevent future confusion the young DJ took the new last name of "Sales" from Vaudeville comedian Charles Partlow "Chic" Sales.
While serving in the Navy during the Second World War, Milton entertained the crew of his ship the USS Randal (APA-224), an attack transport and created the imaginary character of a giant white dog he named "White Fang" aka: "The Biggest and Meanest Dog in the U.S.A.". After his service he enrolled in West Virginia's Marshall University and graduated with a Master's Degree in Journalism. He supported himself as a comedian, singer and dancer at local nightclubs.
At some point around this time Milton Supman legally changed his name to Soupy Sales. He next became a script writer and DJ at what is now "WVHU" radio in Huntington, West Virginia. At the time the call letters were "WHTN", which is now assigned to a Christian radio station in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1949 Soupy moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a morning DJ and continued to perform at local nightclubs.
Eat your heart out Dick Clark, because it was Soupy Sales, working at television station "WKRC-TV" in 1950, who created the first televised teen dance program, "Soupy's Soda Shop". This was two years before what would eventually become "American Bandstand" was even started by Bob Horn and six-years before Dick Clark took over.
Below is a photo from "Soupy's Soda Shop".
At the same time Soupy Sales had a late-night variety-comedy program entitled, "Club Nothing".
Also in 1950, Soupy Sales married Barbara Fox and the two remained married until their divorce in 1979. They had two sons, drummer Hunt Sales, and, bassist Tony Fox Sales, both would play with Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the band, "Tin Machine".
Above left to right in "Tin Machine" in 1988, Reeves Gabrels, Tony Fox Sales, Hunt Sales, and David Bowie, right forefront.
In 1953, Soupy had moved to Detroit, Michigan, and the studios of "WXYZ-TV" and started a program called "Lunch with Soupy Sales". He would take the cameras outside of the studio and interview local students on the way to and from school.
Soupy also had a night time program, "Soup's On", that competed with the 11 O'clock News shows and had a large number of jazz greats as his guests. They included, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, "Lady Day" herself Billie Holliday, and Charlie Parker.
By July 4, 1955, "ABC" was broadcasting "Lunch with Soupy Sales" on Saturdays nationally. While the network ran another weekday Soupy Sales program opposite "NBC's Today" and the "CBS" children's program, "Captain Kangaroo".
In 1960 Soupy Sales' morning show moved to Los Angeles, and he appeared in two episodes of the Nick Adams television show "The Rebel".
Among other television shows that Soupy Sales appeared out-of-character where the Dean Jones' "Ensign O'Toole", "McKeever and the Colonel", Walter Brennan's "The Real McCoys", Gene Barry's "Burke's Law", "Route 66", and Buddy Ebsen's "The Beverly Hillbillies". For fans of the animated "Saturday Supercade" between 1983 and 1984, "Donkey Kong" was voiced by Soupy Sales. In all, Soupy Sales appeared on 31 other television programs as a "Guest Star" through 2005.
Then, in March 1961, "ABC" cancelled the network broadcast of "The Soupy Sales Show" , but the local Los Angeles station kept it going until January 1962.
Above, Soupy with "Pookie the Lion", and "Hippy the Hippo". Clyde Adler voiced and worked the puppets on the show in Detroit and when it arrived in Los Angeles. When the show moved to New York City, Frank Nastasi took over puppet duty.
Also, during 1962, Soupy Sales was back at "ABC" filling in for three-months of "The Steve Allen Show", and after Jack Parr left "NBC's" "The Tonight Show", Soupy Sales hosted the program until Johnny Carson was hired.
Soupy's New York move happened on September 7, 1964 and would last until September 2, 1966. During the period the program had guest stars such as Frank Sinatra, seen below with a pie in the face, Sammy Davis Jr, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis. Also, the musical groups, The Shangri-Las, The Supremes, and The Temptations appeared.
Above, Soupy is with "White Fang's counter part, "Black Tooth" aka "The Biggest and Sweetest Dog in the U.S.A." and "Pookie" and "Hippy", below, Soupy and "White Fang".
As the two above stills show, all any viewer saw of either "Black Tooth", or "White Fang" was one hand either made from black, or white cloth.
As with any children's program there was merchandise for purchasing starting with a classic button from his Cincinnati, Ohio days:
For a very short time, back in 1954, Soupy had two other puppet characters, "Marilyn Monwolf" and "Joe Dogmaggio" to parody the marriage of actress Marilyn Monroe and baseball great Joe DiMaggio.
On New Year's Eve, January 1, 1965, young viewers watching his program had no idea that Sales was upset with having to work that holiday. He ended his broadcast telling them to go into their sleeping parent's bedrooms and take from their pants the funny looking pieces of green paper with pictures of Presidents and mail them to him. Several days later thousands of dollars, some in monopoly money, arrived for Soupy Sales at the television station. He apologized for the prank, money was donated to a charity, and he was suspended for two-weeks.
"The Soupy Sales Show" went off the air and from 1968 to 1975, and Soupy started making the game show rounds. He was a panelist on the revivals of "What's My Line" and "To Tell the Truth". He was also a panelist on "The Match Game", and "The Hollywood Squares".
"The New Soupy Sales Show" went on air in 1978 using the same format of the original. It was filmed at "KTLA" in Hollywood, California, but only lasted for one season of 65 episodes. Clyde Adler was back as puppeteer and in 1979 the program was syndicated.
The following year Soupy Sales married dancer Trudy Carson and they remained married until his death. On October 22, 2009, 83-years-old Soupy Sales passed away.
As of this writing the following link will take my reader to episodes of "The Soupy Sales Show".
Paul Rubenfeld was born on August 27, 1952, in Peekskill, New York. At some point before his fifth birthday the family moved to Sarasota, Florida, and the young boy would spend his time at the winter headquarters for the "Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus" developing a child's interest in entertainment. He would attend "Sarasota High School" and become President of the "Thespian Society", and was accepted into "Northwestern University's" summer program for gifted high school students. But more importantly for his future, Paul Rubenfeld became a cast member of the "Asolo Repertory Theatre" in Sarasota.
After High School, Paul attended "Boston University" and after graduation he would audition for acting schools. Paul Rubenfeld was turned down by, "Julliard", and twice by "Carnegie-Mellon", but found himself accepted by the "California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)" in Santa Clarita, California. Which would lead the young comedian, now named Paul Reubens, to the improvisations of "The Groundlings".
Depending on the source it was either 1977, or 1978, when each member of "The Groundling's" was to create a character one might see at a comedy club. Reubens couldn't remember jokes in real life and always ruined the punch lines. So, he thought, what about a character like that and "Pee-Wee Herman" was born. Reubens added two catch phrases to his characterization, the first was a distinctive laugh, and the second, a classic comeback:
I know you are, but what am I?
"Pee-Wee Herman's" original Glen plaid suit was borrowed from "The Groundlings" director Gary Austin, and a friend gave him the small red bow-tie. However, the overall look and persona of "Pee-wee Herman", according to Rubens, came from "Pinky Lee".
In February 1981, at "The Groundlings Theater", Paul Reubens introduced to the public "Pee-Wee Herman" in a 60-minute production he called "The Pee-wee Herman Show". The show would move to the "Roxy Theater" in Los Angeles and be filmed and televised by "HBO".
The main plot line would become familiar to television audiences five-years later. "Pee-wee" is at home in his "Puppetland Playhouse" entertaining his audience of boys and girls. Rubens was doing a homage to "Pinky Lee" and "Howdy Doody" from his youth. However, unlike the future kids show, this was pure adult entertainment.
As of this writing the following link takes my reader to a video of the 59-minute show at the "Roxy" and, again, this is 1981 adult entertainment.
The success of the show led "Warner Brothers" to have Paul Reubens write a motion picture. The end result was:
PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE released on August 9, 1985
The motion picture was directed by Tim Burton. Burton had just released through Disney his short "Frankenweenie", and would follow this picture with "The Jar", a 1986 episode of televisions "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp", a 1986 episode of "Faerie Tale Theatre" and 1988's "Beetlejuice".
Besides Paul Reubens, the credited writers were Phil Hartman, who had just written the music video 1984's "Van Halen: Hot for Teacher", and followed this motion picture with three episodes of the 1985 animated "Challenge of the Go-Bots", and writer Michael Varhol. Who had just co-written the 1979, Richard Harris, Karen Black, and Martin Landau, motion picture "The Last Word". He followed this film with 13 episodes of 1986's "Pee-Wee's Playhouse".
The screenplay has "Man-child" "Pee-Wee Herman" having his beloved bike stolen and sets out on an adventure across the entire United States in search of it. Which is a creation of individual skits tied to the missing bike story.
On September 13, 1986, "The Pee-Wee Herman Show" got cleaned-up and became a kids television series entitled: "Pee-Wee's Playhouse".
The premise remained the same, but the jokes were family oriented with some of them still going right over the kids. The setting is "Pee-Wee's" fantastic playhouse in "Puppetland" and incorporates live actors as recurring friends and neighbors, puppets, talking furniture and appliances, and is visited regularly by the "Playhouse Gang" of young people the changed young actors for the second season.
Here's four interesting actors on the show:
Lawrence Fishburne portrayed "Cowboy Curtis". In 1979, "Larry" Fishburne portrayed "Tyrone 'Clean' Miller" in "Apocalypse Now". A the time of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse", Larry Fishburne was appearing mainly in small roles on television. However, he had seventh billing in the Kevin Bacon and Jami Gertz 1986 "Quicksilver", and visited "Freddy" in 1987's "A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors". All of this before he became "Morpheus" in the first "Matrix" film in 1999.
In the "Playhouse's" second season William Marshall took over the role of the "King of Cartoons". Marshall was a Shakespearian actor who portrayed "Othello" on Broadway. He had a major role back in the Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter and Sidney Poitier 1957 "Something of Value" and in 1972 portrayed "Blackula". My short biography on the actor, "William Marshall Shakespeare's Vampire Cartoon King" will be found at:
British actor "Bernard Fox" portrayed "Dr. Jinga-Janga". Among his distinguished career is the true story of the sinking of the Titantic, 1958's "A Night to Remember", and in 1997, he was in director James Cameron's fictional version "Titantic". Fox appeared on a lot of American television programing including "Hogan's Heroes", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", and was "Dr. Watson" opposite Stewart Granger's "Sherlock Holmes" in the 1972 "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Bernard Fox is best remembered for playing "Dr. Bombay" on televisions "Bewitched".
Lynne Marie Stewart portrayed "Miss Yvonne". Stewart was the only cast member from the original adult version that reprised their role on the family television version.
Both the voice of "Pterri the Pterodactyl" above, and the head of the Genie "Jambi", below, was played by John Paragon.
On November 17 1990, the show went off the air.
The character of "Pee-Wee Herman" wasn't the only roles being played by Paul Reubens. Between December 25, 1968 and "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" going off-air, Reubens appeared in 6 other television programs and 21 motion pictures. These included 1980's "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie", 1980's "The Blues Brothers", and Disney's 1986's "The Flight of the Navigator" voicing "Max" but billed as Paul Mall. Paul also voiced several animated television shows, he voiced "Freaky Frankenstein" on the "The Flintstone's Comedy Hour", was "Bat-Mite" on "Batman: Brave and the Bold", "Pavel" on "TRON: Uprising", and "The Riddler" on the "Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special"
In 1992, Paul Reubens portrayed the "Penguin's Father" in "Batman Returns", and he was "Amilyn" in the original motion picture, "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer", and in 1993, Reubens voiced "Lock" in director Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas".
In 2010, the original Adult version "The Pee-Wee Herman Show" returned for six weeks on Broadway.
As of this writing the following link will take my reader to episodes of the "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" television show.