Thursday, June 4, 2015

Getting Schooled: Howdy Doody, aka NBC Puppet Playhouse (1947)

He was one of television's first superstars, but he wasn't really human.

Howdy Doody made his debut on NBC's Puppet Playhouse in 1947, and got so popular that eventually, his name became the show's title, though that won't be the case in the video we have for you below.

Howdy was the creation of "Buffalo" Bob Smith, who not only gave voice to Howdy, but interacted with him as well while others operated the marionette. Kids were entertained five days a week for 13 years (1947-60) by Smith, Howdy, and their ensemble of human & puppet characters, including Clarabell the Clown (more on him shortly), and Princess Summerfallwinterspring (Judy Tyler). Producer E. Roger Muir would, along with partner Nick Nicholson, move into the game show business a few years later, and, in 1976, acquired the rights to Howdy Doody from NBC in order to revive the series for syndication. Unfortunately, The New Howdy Doody Show, which launched in August of '76, lasted just a shade more than 5 months before being cancelled in January 1977.

Three men essayed the role of Clarabell, most famously Bob Keeshan, who left in 1952 due to a salary dispute. Nicholson took over the role for a while until jazz musician Lew Anderson took over, and, in the series finale in 1960, it was Anderson who uttered Clarabell's only line. Smith, Nicholson, and Anderson reunited for the short-lived revival, which was spurred after Smith and Howdy appeared on Happy Days in a season 2 episode. Producer Bob Brunner donned the Clarabell makeup for the episode.

Unfortunately, the 1976 series, which I saw, isn't available on YouTube. Internet Archive serves up a 1948 episode that posits Howdy as the world's youngest candidate for President. As if he'd have a chance against Harry Truman.........

It wouldn't be fair to rate the series based on what I saw of the 1976 edition, so there will be no rating.


magicdog said...

I do remember watching the 70s version of the show - At the time, I had no idea Howdy Doody had entertained two generations of children before! My mom (part of that original generation) told me.

That's probably why I was so excited to see him and Buffalo Bob on Happy Days. It was like he and the show never went off the air.

hobbyfan said...

Many wish that were true.