Claim: Soupy Sales was suspended for asking his young television viewers to send him "green pieces of paper" taken from their parents' wallets.
In January 1965 on his morning children's show, the performer Soupy Sales suggested to his young viewers that they find the wallets of their sleeping fathers and take out "some of those funny green pieces of paper with all those nice pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton, and send them along to your old pal, Soupy, care of WNEW, New York." [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
"Hey kids, last night was New Year's Eve, and your mother and dad were out having a great time. They are probably still sleeping and what I want you to do is tiptoe in their bedroom and go in your mom's pocketbook and your dad's pants, which are probably on the floor. You'll see a lot of green pieces of paper with pictures of guys in beards. Put them in an envelope and send them to me at Soupy Sales, Channel 5,New York,New York. And you know what I'm going to send you? A post card from Puerto Rico!"
Origins: On Friday, 1 January 1965, children's TV host Soupy Sales, somewhat miffed at having to work on New Year's Day, had a few minutes to kill at the end of
his program. Ad-libbing, Sales looked into the camera and delivered some variation of the request to his young viewers quoted above. (The show was aired live and no tape of it exists, so a verbatim transcription of his words is not available.)
The reaction from outraged parents came fast and furious, and WNEW-TV in New York pulled Soupy Sales' program off the air by the following Monday. Contrary to common belief, Soupy Sales wasn't fired over the stunt, nor was his show canceled because of it: He resumed broadcasting two weeks later, and his program ran on WNEW for close to another two years.
It's easy for those who weren't around back then to underestimate the frenzied reaction to what now seems like a harmless prank (especially in comparison to the antics of the numerous "shock jocks" who abound on radio these days). But in 1965, adults were livid at the idea of a TV personality's crassly manipulating children for commercial gain, even if the whole thing was merely an impulsive gag. Frankly, though, Soupy hadn't really done anything that radio and television pitchmen hadn't already been doing for years — he simply cut out the middleman by asking children to send him money directly rather than exhorting them to buy his sponsors' products. Could anyone really deny that Soupy's radio predecessors had been just as commercially manipulative when they continually touted the charms of various mediocre products to children, who then pestered their mothers to buy those products solely because the purchases were necessary to obtain a Shake-Up Mug or Code-O-Graph or whatever geegaw was being plugged on popular kids' shows like "Little Orphan Annie" and "Captain Midnight."
If cooler heads had prevailed back in 1965, parents might have realized the furor was much ado about nothing. The premise of
Soupy's stunt was largely untenable, because it required that children mostly too young to understand or appreciate the concept
of "money" would nonetheless be able to recognize it, surreptitiously remove it from their parents' wallets, put it in envelopes with the correct postage and address (even though Soupy hadn't provided an address), and mail it, all without their parents' knowledge or assistance. At that age I'd have been hard-pressed to mail a postcard to myself without help, and no kid I knew who was mature to enough understand the value of money was about to part with any prized currency by sending it to a TV host who promised nothing in return, no matter how nicely he asked. Nonetheless, decades later sloppy historians were still reporting that "It worked. According to reports it was 'the biggest heist since the Brink's robbery.'"1
It didn't work. Although various accounts credit Soupy with having received up to $80,000 through the mail, Sales himself has revealed on numerous occasions that he netted only a few real dollars, along with a lot of play money and green Monopoly money:
The most famous single gag comes on New Year's Day 1965. Mr. Sales tells kids to go into their parents' wallets and to send him "those little green pieces of paper."
It's become a cult thing to say you sent $10, $20, he says, but if that had been true, he would have had enough money to buy the building. He received only a few dollars, and a week's suspension. 2
Perhaps someone should have been more concerned with the gullibility of parents, not children.