1 9 4 7 – 1 9 6 0 (USA)
2,543 x episodes
1 9 7 6 – 1 9 7 8 (USA)
130 x episodes
Howdy made his debut on Puppet Playhouse Presents in 1947. The show was soon renamed The Howdy Doody Show.
This cowboy marionette from Doodyville, with his freckled face, gingham neckerchief, cowboy boots and spurs, was incredibly popular amongst children and adults alike.
During the run-up to the 1948 presidential election, the puppet was embraced as a presidential candidate and the studio received 60,000 requests for ‘Howdy Doody For President’ campaign buttons.
Harry S Truman won instead, though some wags remarked that Howdy Doody was hardly less hokey in manner than the victor from Missouri.
Buffalo Bob Smith (so-called because he was from Buffalo, New York) – a struggling recording artist, puppeteer, ventriliquist and host of the show – was clad in buckskins as one of several human players on the Doodyville set.
Others were Clarabell (a mute clown with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ horns and a seltzer bottle with deadly aim) who frequently stole the show; Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka Tonka tribe; Chief Thunderthud of the Ooragnak tribe (“kangaroo” spelt backwards); The Story Princess; and Tim Tremble.
Among the actors in those roles were Bob Keeshan – later Captain Kangaroo – as Clarabell, and Don Knotts as Tim.
The puppet cast included Mayor Phineas T Bluster, the Flub-a-dub (a circus creature with a dog’s ears, a duck’s head, a cat’s whiskers, a giraffe’s neck, a raccoon’s tail, an elephant’s memory and a feather-covered body), and Dilly Dally, whose ears wiggled when he was nervous.
The show’s thin plots revolved around the activities of Howdy’s circus and the efforts of Bluster to prevent the fun.
Completing the cast in the studio was ‘the Peanut gallery’, an on-camera group of children chosen each week to be the audience on the bleachers. Just 50 youngsters could be crowded into the gallery (while their parents waited in a nearby corridor). The demand for tickets was heavy.
Songs, comedy, homilies and safety advice were invariably included in the little sketches that comprised Howdy Doody’s daily fare. Of the many filmed segments shown on the show, Gumby was one of the best received, and the stop-action clay figure ultimately graduated to his own show.
Buffalo Bob and the gang moved to Saturday mornings after The Mickey Mouse Club knocked them silly in the ratings. But thereafter, Saturday mornings became the domain of children’s shows.
The Howdy Doody Show aired for the last time on 30 December 1960. The most famous moment in the history of the show came during the closing seconds of the final show when Clarabell, the mute clown, surprised the audience by saying, “Goodbye kids”.
Buffalo Bob returned to Doodyville in the mid-70s for 130 colour episodes of The New Howdy Doody Show. Smith died of cancer on 30 July 1998.
Buffalo Bob Smith
Phineas T Bluster
Princess Summerfall Winterspring