A Children’s Television Classic – The Howdy Doody Show
by Guy Belleranti
Originally titled Puppet Playhouse, The Howdy Doody Show ran on NBC for over 2,300 episodes, entertaining children (and parents) from 1947 to 1960.
The television series evolved from a 1940’s radio program titled “The Triple B Ranch” which featured Bob Smith’s voice as a character named Elmer. Elmer would greet viewers with the phrase “Well, uh, Howdy Doody” and this led to the character Howdy Doody and the TV series.
The Howdy Doody Show was black and white until the mid 1950’s. Then it ushered in color programming on the NBC network. Thirty minute episodes ran five days every week until 1956. After this episodes were cut back to one Saturday morning per week.
The setting of The Howdy Doody Show was Doodyville, a western town populated by both humans and marionette puppets.
Bob Smith, dubbed “Buffalo Bob” on the program, was the show’s host. Meanwhile, the main non-human character was the marionette Howdy Doody.
Smith wore a western fringed outfit, and Howdy Doody also wore western style clothing. The puppet had red hair, a freckled face (supposedly a freckle for each of the 48 states) and blue eyes.
Smith provided Howdy Doody’s voice for most of the shows, however, when he had a heart attack in 1954, he temporarily left the program to recover. During this time voice actor Allen Swift provided Howdy’s voice. Swift also did other puppet voices on the show during it’s run.
Other human characters on The Howdy Doody Show included:
- Clarabell the Clown – first played by Bob Keeshan (before he became Captain Kangaroo), then played by Bobby Nicholson, and finally played by Lew Anderson
- Chief Thunderthud – originator of the cry “Kawabonga (Cowabunga)” – played by Bill LeCornec
- Princess Summerfall Winterspring – at first a puppet; and then in 1951 a human played first by Judy Tyler and then later by Linda Marsh
Puppet characters in addition to Howdy Doody included:
- Phineas T. Bluster – Doodyville’s mayor
- Flub-a-Dub – a puppet whose body parts were made up of 8 different kinds of animals
- Dilly Dally
- Andy Handy
- Double Doody – Howdy Doody’s twin brother
- Heidi Doody – Howdy’s twin sister
The Howdy Doody Show featured stories, songs and quite a bit of slapstick. Especially memorable were the times when Clarabell the Clown squirted someone (often Buffalo Bob) with his seltzer bottle.
The program’s great popularity led to huge waiting lists of children hoping to get a chance to sit in the kid’s audience section known as the Peanut Gallery. Each show began with Buffalo Bob asking “Say kids, what time is it?” and the kids in the gallery yelling back, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” Following this everyone sang the theme song:
“It’s Howdy Doody Time,
It’s Howdy Doody Time.
Bob Smith and Howdy Do
Say Howdy Do to you.
Let’s give a rousing cheer,
“Cause Howdy Doody’s here.
It’s time to start the show
So kids, let’s go!”
The program became a merchandising bonanza with Howdy Doody toys, comic books, records, T-shirts and more being produced.
One of the show’s most famous moments has to be the final episodes’ closing scene. In it, a tearful Clarabell the Clown, previously voiceless, surprised the audience by saying “Goodbye kids” before the picture faded to black.
In 1976 some of the original stars reprised their roles on the short-lived The New Howdy Doody Show. “Buffalo” Bob Smith and Bill LeCornec were among the
returnees. However, the program was cancelled after 6 months and 130 episodes.
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