Seven Best: Detroit television personalities
Last month's death of classic comedian Soupy Sales had me reminiscing about Detroit television. So, in his honor, Assignment Detroit presents a list of the best area TV stars.
- Milky the Clown: Also known as Clare Cummings, this Birmingham native entertained children and adults alike. The show, which featured magic, puppets and cartoons, was so popular that it had a two-year waiting list for tickets at one point, according to Detroit TV expert Ed Golick.
- Soupy Sales: This disc jockey turned children's television star owned the airwaves. He had two shows at his peak. Soupy was probably best known for his trademark “pie in the face” routine and locally for his show “Lunch with Soupy Sales” during the 1950s. He also was a huge jazz fan and had many international stars like Charlie Parker on his late-night show.
- John Kelly and Marilyn Turner: (Kelly & Company): Kelly was the newscaster. Turner was the weather forecaster. Their working relationship spawned what could be considered one of the first television talk and entertainment morning shows. They were on the air from 1978 to 1995, helping people across Detroit start their day with humor.
- Dick the Bruiser: Wrestling was hugely popular on Detroit television. Perhaps the best known was Richard Afflis, who went by the nickname Dick the Bruiser AKA the World's Most Dangerous Wrestler. (Trivia has it that David Letterman named his talk-show band after the mighty Bruiser.) The former professional football player filled the screen every Thursday night.
- Count Scary: Local radio legend Tom Ryan played the lovable vampire on Detroit station WDIV. He hosted monthly movie marathons with absolutely horrible horror films. His ridiculous accent and silly skits kept families in stitches, particularly during those dog days of summer. (Check out the video below of him pretending to be Michael Jackson.)
- Nat Morris (The Scene): The dance and music show ran on Channel 62, the most distant channel on your Detroit dial. Morris hosted and produced this classic, which taught generations how to move. Pop music had American Bandstand; Metro Detroit had The Scene, which had the hottest music and dancers I've ever seen to this day. Definitely made an impression on a generation.
- Bill Bonds/Mort Crim/Carmen Harlan: These Detroit newscasters are among some of the best in the nation. And I couldn't choose between these three legends. Bill Bonds, with his piercing baby-blue eyes and sharp personality, kept you guessing what he would say next. As my friend Eric Mayne says:
“(Bonds was) brash and unpredictable, yet charming. You didn't dare take your eyes off him or you might miss something outrageous.”
Mort Crim felt like a strict father by comparison, keeping the airwaves honest. And beautiful Carmen is still on the air, providing one of the most sincere faces and presentation in TV news. Hard to believe she's been on the air since 1978. She is Detroit royalty.
If you want to learn more about Detroit TV, check out From Soupy to Nuts by Tim Kiska. It is the Bible of local celebrity lore.
Other favorites: Captain Jolley and Poopdeck Paul, Bill Kennedy, Rita Bell, Edith Fern Melrose, Sir Graves Ghastly, The Ghoul, Sonny Eliot, Steve Wilson. Thanks to Fred Levine and others for the suggestions.