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Soupy Sales, Expert Witness


I was such a fan of the subversive humor of comedian Soupy Sales that, when he died this week, I wished for a legal angle so I could blog about him. After all, this was a man who not only perfected pie throwing as an art, but who once told the viewers of his children's TV show to sneak into their parents' bedrooms, "take some of those green pieces of paper with pictures of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson on them," and "send them to me." In return, he promised, "I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico."

Well, my wish came true. A couple of different bloggers -- Dwight Sullivan at CAAFlog and Danny Jacobs at On the Record -- picked up on this piece of trivia from Sales' obits that I completely overlooked: He once served as an expert witness called to testify in the court martial of a sailor accused of tossing a pie into an officer's face. As recounted in the Los Angeles Times obituary of Sales:

Noted defense attorney William Smith enlisted Sales to tell how he had never been prosecuted for assault with a pie. (Once, however, actor Bob Cummings sent him a cleaning bill. “We paid him $150,” Sales recalled, “and he sends a bill for 75 cents.”)

Pie-hurling, Sales told the court, was “a harmless joke” designed to “relieve tensions and frustrations.” He offered to perform at the Port Hueneme naval base Christmas show if the charges were dropped but was turned down. The sailor was found guilty.

The obit in The Washington Post also mentioned Sales' stint as an expert witness, concluding, "The military court was not amused, and the sailor was convicted."

Thanks to the wonders of Google News, I even managed to find a contemporaneous report of Sales' 1974 testimony, courtesy of UPI. It begins:

The comedian and the Navy officer took opposing sides Thursday in the cream pie court martial, a clash between the traditions of Mack Sennett and Horatio Hornblower.

Comic Soupy Sales soberly told the court he is an expert on cream pies, having stopped more than 19,000 with his face, and that a pie in the puss is "a harmless joke."

The military court also heard from Timothy Curtin, the officer who was on the receiving end of the sailor's pie toss.

Curtin, in turn, testified that he is a "by-the-book" officer and does not find slapstick humor very funny -- nor, for that matter, he added, did he ever find the professional performances of Soupy Sales very funny."

Sales had himself been in the Navy during World War II and told the military court that he had not "come here to ridicule the court. I am a former Navy man and proud of it and am also a good American."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 29, 2009 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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