Howdy Doody Once Had Plastic Surgery|
from Reminisce Mag.
by Bill Weeks, Spartansburg, South Carolina
Who among today's 40- and 50- year-olds can't recall places like Doodyville, Pioneer Village or the Peanut Gallery? Or how about unforgettable characters like Flub-a-Dub ( a creature made from the parts of seven different animals) and a rather dim-witted carpenter named Dilly Dally?
For 13 years, starting in 1947 and ending in 1960, The Howdy Doody Show was a
true TV phenomenon. Remember Clarabell, Chief Thunderthud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring and the evil and cantankerous Phineas T. Bluster?
Despite those great memories, comparatively few of us recall the brief period of when Howdy wasn't Howdy. It all began before the first episode, when Bob Smith (soon to be Buffalo Bob) was hosting a kids' radio show in New York called Triple B Ranch.
Manufactured a Hayseed
Smith created a number of characters for that show, and the one he named Elmer would often exclaim "Well, howdy doody!" After Smith convinced NBC to let him try a network puppet show called Puppet Playhouse Theater, it was decided one of the marionettes on the new show would be named Howdy Doody.
Puppeteer Frank Paris was given the job of creating Howdy, and the figure he came up with bore little resemblance to the freckle-faced boy we all know today. However, that Howdy was only on the show for a few weeks. Frank became involved in a contractual dispute with the network and left the show, taking the first Howdy with him.
Months later, a new Howdy appeared, designed by two artists, Margo and Rufus Rose who'd worked at Walt Disney Studios. (Jennifer, a puppet artist, met Margo. She remembers Margo talking about Howdy Doody but not about working for Disney. If anyone knows for sure please let me know) It was 1948, an election year, and Howdy was running for "President of All the Boys and Girls". When some kids asked about his altered appearance it was explained that he'd undergone "plastic surgery".
Surgery or not, Howdy's popularity exploded that year--the show received a quarter of a million requests for "Howdy for President" buttons.
Among those in the growing television audience were Bob Smith's sons, Robin, Ronnie and, later Chris. "They were glued to the set, fascinated," Bob recalls. "I'd come home and they'd say, 'Daddy, do you know what Clarabell did to Buffalo Bob today?
Puppet Was Real
"To them, I was 'Daddy', while Buffalo Bob was this other guy on the TV!" Bob says the show focused on two things kids love--fantasy and slapstick. For visual excitement, there was the shell game, bursting balloons and --everyone's favorite--seltzer water squirting.
"The puppets weren't fantasy," Bob recalls, "but the stories were. The kids thought the puppets were real, and we treated them that way. We'd say, 'Put the microphone on Howdy', never' on the puppet'."
As the show's popularity zoomed, Bob appeared on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person while working on two other live shows--a network morning radio show and a television variety show. The burden of all those added duties, plus many personal appearances, contributed to a heart attack in 1954. This sidelined Bob for a year, and when he came back, airtime was becoming too expensive to have a children's show run five times a week.
Howdy and his stringed friends were moved to Saturdays, where they stayed until the show went off the air in 1960. At the end of the final telecast, Clarabell sadly broke his series-long silence to say "Good-bye kids".
Today, Buffalo Bob is still going strong. He and his wife of 56 years, Mil, live comfortably in the home they built several years ago in High Point, North Carolina. Always a people person, Bob enjoys getting out to meet fans at celebrity autograph sessions. But now he takes along a slightly altered version of the original marionette called "Photo Doody". (This version of Howdy has no strings and is easier to pose with for fans who want pictures.)
"During these sessions, it's the kids who often take the pictures of their parents with me," Bob relates. "It's the parents who grew up with us".
BUFFALO BOB SMITH:
Still Living the
Howdy Doody Legend
THE DUMMY DOCTOR:
Plastic Surgeon to Howdy