Remembering a local TV entertainer

Hal Fryar passed away recently at age 90. If you don’t know who he is, maybe the name Harlow Hickenlooper will ring a bell. Harlow Hickenlooper is tough to say. Hal Fryer will be tough to forget. They are one in the same.

Hal was the host of several children’s television shows in Indianapolis over his 43-year career, including a longtime gig on WFBM-TV (now WRTV-6) where he introduced Three Stooges movie shorts. In 1965, Fryar was cast in the original Three Stooges movie, “The Outlaws Is Coming,” to play the part of Johnny Ringo. In 2008, he was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.

When I interviewed Hal in 2008, the octogenarian recounted his career and teared up when he talked about the obligation he had to the children he entertained.

“They work hard at school all week. They need some fun and relaxation. That’s a big responsibility.”

Hal loved doing live TV, a passion the two of us shared. But there was a strain in our relationship — a mock competition between us. It began when Hal boasted to me that the Three Stooges once hit him in the face with a pie, proving his close relationship with the trio.

Not to be outdone, I proudly proclaimed that I had been similarly victimized by the one and only Soupy Sales. A framed photo of that pie bombing hangs on the wall over my desk. That’s the second thing I would grab if my house caught fire … right after I’d rescue my Howdy Doody puppet.

In 1998, Crackers Comedy Club in Indianapolis invited Soupy to do a week-long guest appearance at the northside venue. Because we had known each other back in New York, Soupy agreed to do a live remote interview with me from his hotel. The set-up was that I would stand by the elevator door as he exited to the lobby. “Good morning,” I said. “Have you heard Soupy Sales is staying here?”

Soupy did his inimitable take to the camera: “I am Soupy Sales.”

“No you’re not,” I said, feigning non-recognition of the star.

“I’m Soupy Sales,” he repeated, mocking frustration with another glorious stare into the camera.

“Man, you sure got old,” I said — a pre-planned zinger, of course.

Suddenly (as arranged), a waiter walked by with a pie in his raised hand. Soupy nabbed it from the waiter and smooshed it squarely in my face. I was never happier.

The last time Hal Fryar and I spoke, we compared proper pie-throwing techniques. The pie, which is usually shaving cream on a paper plate (whipped cream dissolves too quickly), should be placed (not shoved) in the face using two hands in an upward motion. No grinding permitted, and always allow one eye of your adversary to be free of pie so he can navigate safely to a bathroom to clean up.

Useless information, you say? Not to a comedy artist like Hal.

Months ago when Hal discovered that his cancer had returned, he lamented to his son, Gary, “Gosh darn it … I was really looking forward to my nineties.” Direct and right on target. Just like a pie in the face.