Howdy Doody


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About

The Howdy Doody Show was one of the first and easily the most popular children's television show in the 1950s and a reflection of the wonder, technical fascination, and business realities associated with early television. While Howdy and his friends entertained American children, they also sold television sets to American parents and demonstrated the potential of the new medium to advertisers.

The idea for Howdy Doody began on the NBC New York radio affiliate WEAF in 1947 with a program called The Triple B Ranch. The three Bs stood for Big Brother Bob Smith, who developed the country bumpkin voice of a ranch hand and greeted the radio audience with, "Oh, ho, ho, howdy doody." Martin Stone, Smith's agent, suggested putting Howdy on television and presented the idea to NBC television programming head Warren Wade. With Stone and Roger Muir as producers, Smith launched Puppet Playhouse on 17 December 1947. Within a week the name of the program was changed to The Howdy Doody Show.

Children loved the Doodyville inhabitants, because they were a skillfully created, diverse collection of American icons. The original Howdy marionette was designed by Frank Paris and in keeping with Smith's voice was a country bumpkin; however, in a dispute over licensing rights Paris left the show with the puppet. The new Howdy, who premiered in March 1948 was an all-American boy with red hair, forty-eight freckles (one for each state in the Union), and a permanent smile. Howdy's face symbolized the youthful energy of the new medium and appeared on the NBC color test pattern beginning in 1954.

Smith treated the marionettes as if they were real, and as a result, so did the children of America. Among the many unusual marionettes on the show was Phineas T. Bluster, Doodyville's entrepreneurial mayor. Howdy's grumpy nemesis, Bluster had eyebrows that shot straight up when he was surprised. Bluster's naive, high-school-aged accomplice, was Dilly Dally, who wiggled his ears when he was frustrated. Flub-a-dub was a whimsical character who was a combination of eight animals. In Howdy and Me, Smith notes, "Howdy, Mr. Bluster, Dilly, and the Flub-a-Dub gave the impression that they could cut their strings, saunter off the stage, and do as they pleased."

Although the live characters, particularly the native Americans Chief Thunderthud and Princess Summerfall Winterspring, were by modern standards stereotypical and often clownish, each had a rich heritage interwoven into the stories. These were prepared by Eddie Kean, who wrote the scripts and the songs until 1954, and Willie Gilbert and Jack Weinstock, who wrote scripts and song lyrics thereafter. For example, Smith (born in Buffalo, New York) was transformed into Buffalo Bob when he took his place in the story as the great white leader of the Sigafoose tribe. Chief Thunderthud (played by Bill LeCornec) of the mythical Ooragnak tribe ("Kangaroo" spelled backward) introduced the word "Kawabonga," an expression of surprise and frustration, into the English language. One of the few female characters in the cast was the beloved Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka Tonka tribe, who was first introduced as a puppet, then transformed into a real, live princess, played by Judy Tyler.

The Howdy Doody Show also reflected America's fascination with technology. Part of the fun and fantasy of Doodyville were crazy machines such as the Electromindomizer that read minds and the Honkadoodle that translated Mother Goose's honks into English. Television's technical innovations were also incorporated into the show. On 23 June 1949 split-screen capabilities were used to join Howdy in Chicago with Buffalo Bob in New York, one of the first instances of a cross-country connection. Howdy also ushered in NBC's daily color programming in 1955.

The Howdy Doody Show was immediately successful and was NBC's first daily show to be extended to five days a week. In 1952 NBC launched a network radio program featuring Howdy, and in 1954 Howdy Doody became an international television hit with a Cuban and a Canadian show, using duplicate puppets and local talent, including Robert Goulet as Canadian host, Timber Tom.

As amazing as it may now seem, there were published concerns over violent content in Howdy Doody, but though the action in Doodyville generally involved slapstick, parents generally supported the show. Much of the mayhem was perpetrated by a lovable, mischievous clown named Clarabell Hornblow. Clarabell was played by Bob Keeshan who later become Captain Kangaroo. His pratfalls were generally accidents, and the most lethal weapon on the show was his seltzer bottle. Moreover, educational material was consciously incorporated both into the songs and the stories; for example young viewers received a lesson in government when Howdy ran for President of the kids of America in 1948. The educational features of the program made the Doodyville characters attractive personal promoters both for the show and for the sale of television sets.

And even before the advent of the Nielsen ratings, Howdy Doody demonstrated its ability to draw an audience both for NBC and for possible advertisers. In 1948, children's shows were often provided as a public service either by the networks or the stations. When Howdy ran for President of all the kids, Muir suggested that they offer free campaign buttons. They received 60,000 requests, representing one-third of the American homes with television sets. Within a week their advertising time was sold out to major advertisers, such as Colgate Palmolive Peat Company. Although the producers were careful about what they advertised, they were very aggressive about marketing products they selected, incorporating product messages into songs and skits.

The producers also recognized the potential for merchandising. In 1949 the first Howdy Doody comic book was published by Dell and the first Howdy Doody record was released, selling 30,000 copies in its first week. There were also Howdy Doody wind-up toys, a humming lariat, a beanie, and T-shirts, among other licensed products.

Although extremely popular, the demise of The Howdy Doody Show demonstrated the financial realities of the new medium. In 1956 the early evening time slot became more attractive to older consumers, and the show was moved to Saturday morning. Although it continued to receive high ratings, the expense was eventually its downfall, and it was taken off the air on 24 September 1960, after 2,343 programs.

The most famous moment in the history of The Howdy Doody Show came during the closing seconds of the final show when Clarabell, who did not speak but communicated through pantomime and honking his horns, surprised the audience by saying, "Good-bye, kids." The reality continues to be that the rich, live-action performances that filled early children's programming are too costly for modern, commercial television. The show was briefly brought back to television as The New Howdy Doody Show in August 1976, but was canceled in January 1977, after only 130 episodes.

-Suzanne Rautiolla-Williams

CAST

Buffalo Bob Smith ...................................Bob Smith

Clarabelle Hornblow (Clown) .................Bob Keeshan

.....................................................Henry McLaughlin

........................................................ Bob Nicholson

..........................................................Lew Anderson

Story Princess .....................................Arlene Dalton

Chief Thunderthud ................................Bill Lecornec

Tim Tremble........................................... Don Knotts

Princess Summerfall Winterspring .............Judy Tyler

.............................................................Linda Marsh

Bison Bill (1954) ....................George "Gabby" Hayes

Howdy Doody (voice) .................................Bob Smith

Howdy Doody (voice, 1954) ........................Allen Swift

Phineas T. Bluster (voice)...................... Dayton Allen

Double Doody (voice)................................ Bob Smith

The Flubadub (voice)............................ Dayton Allen

Traveling Lecturer......................... Lowell Thomas, Jr.

PUPPETEERS

Rhoda Mann, Lee Carney, Rufus C. Rose

PRODUCERS

Martin Stone, E. Roger Muir, Simon Rady

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

2,543 Episodes

NBC

December 1947-September 1960   Non-Primetime

FURTHER READING

Davis, Stephen. "It's Howdy Doody Time." Television Quarterly (New York), Summer 1988.

_______________. Say Kids! What Time Is It? Boston: Little, Brown, 1987.

Fischer, Stuart. "Howdy Doody." Kids TV: The First Twenty-Five Years. New York: Facts on File, l983.

Gould, Jack. "Hail Howdy Doody!" New York Times, 14 November 1948.

Grossman, Gary H. Saturday Morning TV. New York: Dell, 1981.

"Six-Foot Baby-Sitter." Time (New York), 27 March 1950.

Smith, Buffalo Bob, and Donna McCrohan. Howdy and Me. New York: Penguin, 1990.

"Stars on Strings." Time (New York), 17 January 1949.

Stewart, R. W. "Busy Bob Smith." i, 2 May 1948. "Television Reviews: Puppet Television Theatre." Variety (Los Angeles), 31 December 1947.

"TV for the Kids." Newsweek (New York), 22 November 1948.

Highlights
"Buffalo" Bob Smith sings the theme song from The Howdy Doody Show
02:28
Bob Keeshan on remaining in character as "Clarabell the Clown", and his opinion on the Howdy Doody  finale where "Clarabell" spoke for the only time
01:26
Eddie Kean on writing for Howdy Doody
Bill Persky on his first job in television coming up with a storyline for Howdy Doody - the pigloo
Who talked about this show

Dick Askin

View Interview
Dick Askin on choosing projects as Vice President of Domestic Sales at Fries Entertainment
04:33
Dick Askin on choosing projects as Vice President of Domestic Sales at Fries Entertainment
04:33

Art Clokey

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Art Clokey on the debut of the "Gumby" character on Howdy Doody
01:14

Dominick Dunne

View Interview
Dominick Dunne on how he got his first job in television as a floor manager on Howdy Doody
05:41
Dominick Dunne on working with "Buffalo" Bob Smith on Howdy Doody
01:17
Dominick Dunne on working with Bob Keeshan as "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
00:22
Dominick Dunne on the crew of Howdy Doody
02:46

Dennis Franz

View Interview
Dennis Franz on Howdy Doody, the first television show he became aware of as a child
00:36

Herb Granath

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Herb Granath on his memories of The Howdy Doody Show
01:38

Ron Howard

View Interview
Ron Howard on the "Howdy Doody" episode of Happy Days
00:58

Eddie Kean

View Interview
Eddie Kean on writing for Howdy Doody
Writer Eddie Kean on the beginnings of The Howdy Doody Show
20:15
Writer Eddie Kean on coining the word "cowabunga" on Howdy Doody
07:55
Writer Eddie Kean on celebrity guests on Howdy Doody; on the show's legacy; on leaving the show
10:17
Writer Eddie Kean on his behind-the-scenes experiences on Howdy Doody

Bob Keeshan

View Interview
Bob Keeshan on how he came to be "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
10:31
Bob Keeshan on playing the character of "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
02:01
Bob Keeshan on "Lucky", the puppet before "Howdy Doody" and "Howdy Doody" running for President
04:54
Bob Keeshan on Howdy Doody's sponsors
02:01
Bob Keeshan on the mission of Howdy Doody's producers
03:34
Bob Keeshan on playing "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody, and working with the cast
04:14
Bob Keeshan on rehearsing for Howdy Doody and the "Peanut Gallery"
03:31
Bob Keeshan on remaining in character as "Clarabell the Clown", and his opinion on the Howdy Doody finale where "Clarabell" spoke for the only time
01:26
Bob Keeshan on how children responded to "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
00:39
Bob Keeshan on how much of his "Clarabell the Clown" moves were scripted on Howdy Doody
04:09
Bob Keeshan on "Buffalo" Bob Smith from Howdy Doody
06:10
Bob Keeshan on Howdy Doody producer Roger Muir
02:11
Bob Keeshan on Howdy Doody writer Eddie Keane
01:09
Bob Keeshan on Rhoda Mann, the operator of the "Howdy Doody" puppet on Howdy Doody
01:15
Bob Keeshan on Judy Tyler, "Princess Summerfallwinterspring" on Howdy Doody
01:15
Bob Keeshan on Bill LeCornec, "Chief Thunderthud" on Howdy Doody
00:56
Bob Keeshan on the limitation of his talents on Howdy Doody
02:05
Bob Keeshan on "Buffalo" Bob Smith's attitude toward him
05:14
Bob Keeshan on being fired from his role of "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
05:24
Bob Keeshan on his replacement as "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
01:57
Bob Keeshan on his favorite Howdy Doody memories
01:47

E. Roger Muir

View Interview
E. Roger Muir on the creation of Howdy Doody, hosted by "Buffalo" Bob Smith
09:38
E. Roger Muir on the studio audience of Howdy Doody which was made up of children, and on becoming producer of the show
03:23
E. Roger Muir on the introduction of the first "Howdy Doody" puppet on Howdy Doody, and on "Howdy" running for president
05:29
E. Roger Muir on the advertisers of Howdy Doody
01:44
E. Roger Muir on Bob Keeshan as "Clarabell the Clown" on Howdy Doody
04:44
E. Roger Muir on how the peanut gallery got its name on Howdy Doody
03:51
E. Roger Muir on "Buffalo" Bob Smith getting his nickname on Howdy Doody
00:58
E. Roger Muir on the "Howdy Doody for President" storyline on the show
01:44
E. Roger Muir on "Howdy Doody" changing appearance when they got a new puppet on Howdy Doody, and on the merchandising of the show
07:01
E. Roger Muir on the puppeteers of Howdy Doody, and on the supporting characters of the show
08:12
E. Roger Muir on the Howdy Doody's theme song and music
03:08
E. Roger Muir on his day-to-day duties on Howdy Doody, and on the crew of the show
03:52
E. Roger Muir on the 1976 revival of Howdy Doody
03:44
E. Roger Muir on Bob Keeshan leaving the role of "Clarabell" on Howdy Doody
06:40
E. Roger Muir on "Buffalo" Bob Smith's heart attack during the run of Howdy Doody
04:02
E. Roger Muir on Howdy Doody's transition to color
02:25
E. Roger Muir on working with "Buffalo" Bob Smith on Howdy Doody
04:43
E. Roger Muir on the last Howdy Doody broadcast, and on the legacy of the show
04:29

Bill Persky

View Interview
Bill Persky on his first job in television coming up with a storyline for Howdy Doody - the pigloo

Bob Smith

View Interview
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the introduction of "Clarabell the Clown", played by Bob Keeshan, on Howdy Doody
05:57
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the show "Triple B Ranch", where "Howdy Doody" was born, and the origins of Howdy Doody
04:49
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the set of Howdy Doody
01:37
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the first week of production on Howdy Doody, originally known as Puppet Playhouse, and on "Howdy Doody" making his first appearance
08:31
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the Howdy Doody theme song
02:28
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on E. Roger Muir, producer of Howdy Doody, and on the creation of the Howdy Doody puppet
02:41
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the creation of the second "Howdy Doody" puppet, and how "Howdy Doody" running for president of all kids.
07:05
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on working with a puppet on live television on Howdy Doody
03:06
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the scripts of Howdy Doody
03:29
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the side characters of Howdy Doody including "Clarabell the Clown"
08:00
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on how the Howdy Doody cameras were placed
01:14
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the logistics of working with the puppets on Howdy Doody
04:53
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the sponsors of Howdy Doody
02:25
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on Howdy Doody winning the Peabody Award
01:30
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on selling the rights to Howdy Doody, and on their 1,000th show
02:27
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the popularity of Howdy Doody
05:25
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on his 1954 heart attack, during his tenure as host of Howdy Doody, and on the show being in color starting in 1955
06:42
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on Howdy Doody going from daily to Saturday mornings
01:52
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the final episode of Howdy Doody
02:14
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the 40th anniversary of Howdy Doody
00:57
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on the key to Howdy Doody's success
03:03
"Buffalo" Bob Smith on his book about Howdy Doody, "Howdy and Me"
02:08
"Buffalo" Bob Smith sings a song about Howdy Doody
02:59

Herbert F. Solow

View Interview
Herbert F. Solow on his recollections of Howdy Doody
01:21

Caroll Spinney

View Interview
Caroll Spinney on the marionettes on Howdy Doody
01:03

Dan Wilcox

View Interview
Dan Wilcox on being in the "peanut gallery" as a child on Howdy Doody
01:29

Dick Wolf

View Interview
Producer Dick Wolf on being in the "Peanut Gallery" of The Howdy Doody Show when he was a child
03:30

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