|Buffalo Bob: 'Say kids, What time is it''
Peanut Gallery: 'It's Howdy Doody time!!!'
And thus began one of television's most fondly remembered and most popular children's programs, a winning combination of humans and marionettes. Howdy Doody enjoyed a 13-year run of 2,343 episodes, bringing the adventures of host Buffalo Bob, a puppet named Howdy, and their pals in Doodyville into the hearts of children at home and in the live studio audience'known to the performers as the "Peanut Gallery."
Aside from Bob and Howdy, the most famous member of the cast was the silent prankster clown Clarabell, who honked one horn for 'yes' and another for 'no,' and would usually spray a seltzer bottle or two at Buffalo Bob. Other live characters included Ugly Sam the wrestler, Pierre the chef, Sir Archibald the explorer, Oil Well Willie, Lanky Lou the cowhand, and Chief Thunderthud, who said, 'Kowa-bonga!'
Howdy's marionette associates included the mean Phineas T. Bluster and his nervous sidekick Dilly Dally, Howdy's mixed-up pet Flubadub, Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka Tonka tribe, Howdy's sister Heidi Doody, and Inspector John J. Fadoozle ("Boing!").
The show's origins went back to the early days of television, when radio producer Martin Stone was asked to develop a TV show for children. Stone approached Bob Smith, who was at the time a part of The Triple B Ranch Show on NBC radio. Bob, who had a simple character that would exclaim 'Howdy Doody,' agreed to do the TV show while still holding on to his stake in the radio program.
The new show, originally titled Puppet Playhouse, featured a theme song with the lyrics 'It's Howdy Doody Time,' and a marionette designed by Frank Paris and handled by Rhoda Mann. However, Howdy did not make an appearance on the first show because Paris had not yet completed his work on the puppet. Instead, Bob talked to a voice in a box. In spite of this shortcut, the show received a fantastic response. Also included on the show were guest acts and the airing of a short film, a feature later known as the Old Time Movie Segment.
In 1948, Howdy made his first appearance and interacted with other puppets. During this time Bob Keeshan (later known as Captain Kangaroo) was drafted to become Clarabell the clown. Later that year, Paris demanded merchandising rights for his puppet, got a big fat 'no' from NBC, and walked. The puppet ended up as Peter Pixie on a local kids' show in New York, but was not successful.
The following month, Howdy re-surfaced after a 'transformation' into a friendlier-looking puppet. That summer, the show's success grew even larger as the 'Howdy Doody for President of the Kids' campaign was waged. The event spurred 58,000 requests for campaign buttons from the kids at home.
In July, Polaroid became the show's first sponsor. Soon after, the show had plenty of sponsors and merchandise for sale. In October, Buffalo Bob and Howdy made an appearance at Macy's Department Store in New York which led to a subsequent selling of 10,000 dolls.
In 1949, the show officially became Howdy Doody and the circus atmosphere was traded in for a town called 'Doodyville.' Many new characters were introduced, including Summerfall Winterspring. Originally a puppet, Winterspring became a real-life girl in 1951.
After the hiring of Bob Nicholson for many duties, several cast members were uncomfortable with the man's presence and either quit the show or were fired. Nicholson became the new Clarabell the clown, new puppeteers were brought on, and Alan Swift took over Dayton Allen's voices.
In 1954, Buffalo Bob had a heart attack and was temporarily replaced by Bison Bill and Gabby Hayes. 1955 brought a new Clarabell and Bob returned to the studio. By this time, the entire show was broadcast in color.
Times were tough for Howdy and his pals. Their popularity was being challenged by a new wave of children's programming, most notably The Mickey Mouse Club. The ratings began to slip. Forced to give up its weekday slot and move to Saturdays, Howdy Doody was now videotaped, and now featured segments starring a little green slab of clay named Gumby. But the writing was on the wall: The original baby boomers had grown up, and change was in the air.
Howdy Doody was cancelled following it's Saturday morning September 24,1960 episode.
A syndicated update of the show premiered in 1976 called The New Howdy Doody Show, but lacking the magic of the original, the revival soon vanished.
The freckle-faced puppet and his human sidekick left their mark on the first true TV generation, defining children's shows in the 1950's. Among the show's many milestones: it was the first TV show to complete 1000 broadcasts, one of the first to use color, and the first to implement a split-screen cross-country broadcast.
At the end of the final episode, Clarabell finally spoke. Teary-eyed, he looked directly into the camera and said simply, "Goodbye, kids."