The Howdy Doody Show

views updated

The Howdy Doody Show

Howdy Doody was the name of a 27-inch, big-eared, freckle-faced, wooden puppet. Howdy appeared in a starring capacity on an immensely popular children's television show of the same name that ran on NBC from 1947 to 1960. It was broadcast live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

The Howdy Doody Show was the creation of Robert E. Smith (1917-1998), a former radio personality, who appeared along with his wooden counterpart at first on a weekly basis and later five days a week from Monday through Friday, starting at 5:30 in the afternoon. Howdy, clad in a red bandanna, dungarees, and a checkered shirt, would exchange banter with Smith, whose on-screen persona was that of Buffalo Bob Smith, and interact with the colorful denizens of Doodyville, among whom were the following: Phineas T. Bluster, the crusty mayor of Doodyville; Flub-a-Dub, a zoological pastiche comprised of eight different animals allegedly caught by Buffalo Bob himself in a South American jungle; Princess Summerfall Winterspring, a puppet at first but later a real person played by Judy Tyler; Clarabell the Clown (first played by Bob Keeshan, also known as Captain Kangaroo), a virtual mute who engaged in Harpo Marx-like antics and frequently brandished a seltzer bottle with which he would squirt Bob; and miscellaneous others. Hallmarks of the show were the Peanut Gallery, a kiddy audience between the ages of three and eight; the call and response between Bob and the Peanut Gallery, which had the former shouting "Say, kids, what time is it?" to which the galvanized Gallery would respond, "It's Howdy Doody time"; and the Howdy Doody theme song, the music of which was borrowed from "Tar-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."

The Howdy Doody Show holds a number of records. It was, for example, the first daily show on NBC to feature live music and the first to be broadcast in color. When it placed Buffalo Bob in New York and Howdy in Chicago for a special broadcast to celebrate NBC's having become a transcontinental network, it became the first show to employ the split-screen technique. And as Smith himself put it, "We were the first show on every day in quite a few markets….There was no daytime television, just a test pattern until 5:30. We were the first show to reach 1,000 shows, then 2,000."

The importance of The Howdy Doody Show is not confined to record-breaking firsts, however. Howdy, Buffalo Bob, and the rest of the cast made an indelible impression on their baby-boomer fans. In 1970 Smith received a call from a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania who asked him to come to the campus to do a show. At first, he thought it was a hoax, but the student was serious. Smith agreed and a Howdy Doody revival was born. Columnist Bob Greene wrote in 1987 that the show "may have been the most important cultural landmark for my generation."

Howdy Doody resides at Robert Smith's former home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. A replica, known as Double Doody, now resides at the Smithsonian Institution.

—William F. O'Connor

Further Reading:

Davis, Stephen. Say Kids, What Time Is It?: Notes from the Peanut Gallery. Boston, Little, Brown, 1987.

"Howdy Doody Host Delighted a Generation." The Ottawa Citizen. July 31, 1998, B-5.

Smith, Buffalo Bob, and Donna McCrohan. Howdy and Me: Buffalo Bob's Own Story. New York, Plume, 1990.

Williams, Scott. "Happy Birthday, Howdy Doody." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 1997, C-7.

About this article

The Howdy Doody Show

Updated About content Print Article