Howdy Doody: The most celebrated children’s show in television history

 
 

The Howdy Doody Show was one of the earliest children’s television shows in America and was very popular in the 1950s.

It was telecast on the NBC network in the U.S from 1947 until 1960, and it was created by E. Roger Muir. The show included Western frontier and circus themes and every episode opened with one simple question.

The puppet would ask “Say, kids what time is it” and kids all around the country would answer “It’s Howdy Doody time!” The program was also a pioneer in the early years of color production, and it was also partly used to sell color television in that period.

Bob Smith and Howdy Doody.

Howdy Doody was created by Bob Smith who at that time worked on WNBC as a radio announcer. Late in the year 1947, when Smith made an appearance on NBC, he used the voice of Doody that until then had only been performed on radio. After his performance of the character on the television program, the producers of NBC demanded a visual character for a new show.

The creator of the Howdy Doody puppet was Frank Paris. Smith became the host of the show, and his nickname was Buffalo Bob. The set of the show was a western town, and Bob and the puppet were dressed as cowboys. The expression “howdy doody” comes from the phrase “How do you do?” and it was a common phrase in the western United States.

On the air with the first Howdy Doody puppet.

The popularity of the show grew very fast.

The popularity of the show grew rapidly, and many toymakers made requests to buy the rights for the puppet and to sell it in their department stores. There was a constant disagreement about it because Paris was the creator of Howdy Doody, but Smith owned the rights. Many times during the show, Paris would grab the doll from the NBC studios and leave with it, leaving the program without the main character. One day, Paris just disappeared with the puppet. The NBC producers had to make a map of the United States which would allow the kids that were seeing the show to learn where Howdy was going (different cities). Smith was saying that the puppet was busy with the elections on the campaign trail and while he was there, Howdy decided to have some plastic surgery done to improve his appearance. As the original puppet was gone, the studio hired Velma Dawson to create a new puppet.

Howdy Doody after the plastic surgery.

This replacement of the first puppet made by Paris is now often remembered as being the original. Howdy was a boy who had 48 freckles on his face, one for each state of the union and he was operated with 11 strings. Today, the marionette is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Over the period of the show’s run, duplicates were made that were sometimes used on air, and one of them is Double Doody, who was the Howdy stand-in puppet, and today it can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum in America.

There were also other human and puppet characters on the show, and the best-known of the human characters are Clarabell the Clown who was mute, Sir Archibald the Explorer, Chief Thunderthud, and Princess SummerFall WinterSpring.

The original Howdy Doody made by Dawson at Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo Credit

There were other puppet characters too, the most notable being Heidi Doody, who was Howdy’s sister, Dilly Dally, Sandra the Witch, and Captain Windy Scuttlebutt. A few of the puppets were animal characters such as Mambo the elephant and Tizzy the dinosaur. When Bob Smith died, there was a battle for the custody of the original puppet and for some time it was held in a bank safe.

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Alan Semok, a puppet maker, was called in by the court to unseal a trap door which was on the back of Howdy’s head. Dawson was also called in because they needed her to see if the puppet they had was really the original puppet. After 50 years of repaints and replacements, she declared that it is the original doll and today Howdy Doody is in the custody of the Detroit Institute of Arts.