15 Little-Known Facts about the 'Howdy Doody' Show
Howdy Doody was as integral to the lives and development of children in the 1940s and 1950s as Sesame Street was to the generation of children that followed. The star of The Howdy Doody Show was a big-eared, freckled, and always smiling wooden puppet called Howdy Doody, who was always getting into adventures with Buffalo Bob Smith and the cast.
The show aired between 1947 and 1960 on NBC, and was broadcast from 30 Rockefeller Plaza on weekdays. Created by Robert Smith (who played Buffalo Bob Smith), The Howdy Doody Show was initially called Puppet Playhouse before a name change. Howdy Doody himself was created to be the embodiment of American ideals, making it infinitely popular with children and adults.
15. HOWDY DOODY WAS BORN TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Howdy Doody was initially created to comfort children whose fathers were either fighting in wars, or training for them. His face was inspired by a caricature of Buffalo Bob’s sister. From this starting point, the puppet creators added his red hair and freckles; 48 of them, to be exact – one freckle for each American state (at the time).
14. HOWDY DOODY’S FIRST APPEARANCE ON SCREEN WAS NOT SCRIPTED
Smith initially worked in radio, where he once alluded to a character called Howdy Doody. Children were immediately entranced by the character, demanding to see him. Luckily, Smith had discovered that NBC was searching for a children’s show for the network, so he pitched the idea for his puppet.
The network liked the idea so much that they decided to film the first show in the same week! Smith was unprepared, however, without a puppet to appear in the show. Nevertheless, with clever scripting, he managed to get through three shows before the puppet was ready to make his TV debut.
Smith alluded to audiences that Howdy Doody was shy, and hesitant to come and play with the children. Not only did this cover story hide the fact that the puppet was not yet ready, but it built up a great deal of suspense, enticing children to watch and finally see the puppet. After his eventual introduction, the show remained scripted.
13. THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE HOWDY DOODY PUPPET
Because Howdy was such an adventurous little guy, he was subject to a good deal of wear and tear. Add to this the show’s long history, and it’s no wonder that several back-up puppets were made. However, the copies of Howdy were never exact replicas, and children could tell the difference, so the extra puppets were used as stunt doubles.
That puppet who most often appeared as Doody’s double was known as Double Doody (not the most imaginative name, but we must remember this was a children’s show!). After the show stopped filming, Double Doody was auctioned off for $100,000 and became housed at the Smithsonian Institution.
12. THE SHOW’S OTHER CHARACTERS WERE A COLOURFUL BUNCH
Apart from Howdy and Buffalo Bob, Doodyville was also home to several other notable characters. From the mayor of Doodyville, Phineas T. Bluster, to a zoological creation by the name of Flub-a-Dub, and Clarabell the Clown (a mute but naughty comic relief), there was a character to appeal to all fans.
11. CLARABELL THE CLOWN WAS LESS FUNNY HAHA AND MORE FUNNY WEIRD
Throughout the show’s run, Clarabell the Clown was played by three different actors. Bob Keeshan was the first to play the role, and also the most notorious. The actor’s onscreen persona was a vast contrast to his behind-the-scenes antics, which included smoking, raunchy jokes, and exposing himself to co-workers!
Keeshan left the show after two years, and was initially replaced by a friend of Buffalo Bob’s, Bobby Nicholson. However, he preferred playing other characters, and so gave up his clown nose after a short time. He was replaced by Lew Anderson, who played the role from 1954 until the show’s end in 1960.
10. THE SHOW’S SUCCESS MADE IT AN ADVERTISER’S DREAM
The Howdy Doody Show was no stranger to sponsorships and advertising. Its success, and the sway it held with so many children, made it an ideal platform for advertising. Because Buffalo Bob insisted that any sponsorships should be child-friendly and meet the approval of the parents, the show was sponsored by Wonder Bread, Hostess Twinkies, and Colgate toothpaste, among others.
9. HOWDY WAS AS REAL TO BUFFALO BOB AS ANY CHILD
One of the show’s unique features was that Buffalo Bob spoke to and about the puppet as though he was a real person. This naturally led to many children adopting the treatment, and Howdy was seen as a living person and actor rather than a wooden puppet. Buffalo Bob actually told media that he considered Howdy to be his child.
8. BUFFALO BOB SMITH WAS A FATHER TO FOUR (REAL) KIDS
Though the Internet houses surprisingly little information about Buffalo Bob’s personal life, we do know that Smith was a father four times over. His children have remained firmly away from the limelight, and none have followed in their father’s footsteps to enter the world of entertainment. Hopefully, wherever they are, they are happy, and making their father proud.
7. HOWDY DOODY TRIED HIS HAND AT POLITICS – DOODY FOR PRESIDENT!
In 1948, the show’s creator and main funder, E. Roger Muir, came up with a surprising idea – to have Doody run as president in an all-children’s vote. The idea was such a hit with the children of America that 250000 ‘I’m for Howdy’ campaign badges were made. But how was the process mediated, you may wonder? Through sheer brilliance.
The children’s votes were tied in with existent sponsorships on the show, effectively meaning that families had to buy Wonder Bread (who’s packaging contained the cut-out ballot papers) in order to vote. Given the sheer number of responses, this was the perfect method to cash in in advertising.
Based on the number of votes received for Howdy, had it been a real election, he would have beaten some of the actual presidential candidates! This remarkable feat was aided by Howdy’s campaign promises, which included shorter school years and two Christmases each year. With promises like that, he’d have gotten my vote, too!
6. THE SHOW HOLDS A SURPRISING NUMBER OF RECORDS
The Howdy Doody Show claims several accolades and achievements, including being the first NBC show to feature live music, and was also the first show to be broadcast in colour! Given the limited television programming available at the time (think back to test patterns), it was also the first show many viewers saw, staring off the evening’s programming.
The show’s long run also allowed it to enjoy a number of firsts – from the first show to have 1000 episodes aired, to the first show to air a staggering 2000 episodes! At the end of its run, viewers had been treated to a phenomenal 2543 visits to Doodyville.
5. THE SHOW WAS LATER REVIVED FOLLOWING REQUESTS BY YOUNG ADULT FANS
The children who had viewed the show in its heyday were young adults in the 1970s. As such, when a Happy Days episode in the 70s called The Howdy Doody Show featured Buffalo Bill, there was an appeal by viewers to produce a new show, which was given the go-ahead by NBC.
The New Howdy Doody Show had a shorter run than its predecessor, with a 130-episode run over a year. The name wasn’t the only aspect of the show to change, however – Howdy was given a mini makeover, complete with new hair. Given the short run of the improved show, audiences likely didn’t like the changes.
4. HOWDY DOODY’S OWNERSHIP WAS A SOURCE OF DEBATE
Given how successful the show and title character were, it’s no surprise that ownership of the franchise was a debated topic. While the idea behind the puppet was Buffalo Bob’s, the design was undertaken by Frank Paris. When advertisers thus enquired about who held the rights to the character, it led to a falling out between the two men.
3. THE HOWDY DOODY SHOW PLAYED AN INTEGRAL ROLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHARLIE BROWN
The show’s iconic introduction was possible due to the involvement of children in the live audience (fondly called the peanut gallery). When the show (and its related merchandise) was at its peak, executives at United Features Syndicate jumped on the bandwagon, requesting permission to use the name Peanuts in a comic by Charles M. Schulz, which later featured Charlie Brown.
2. BUFFALO BOB WAS 100% DEDICATED TO THE SHOW
Smith was involved in a few other projects besides the Howdy Doody show, and as such, faced enormous pressure and stress. When this stress later resulted in a heart attack, Smith insisted that he continue working while recuperating. As such, the network built a makeshift studio in Smith’s basement, allowing him to film shows at home.
1. ROBERT SMITH’S LEGACY LIVES ON
Buffalo Bob Smith kept the Howdy puppet with him for the rest of his life, proudly displaying him in his home office, before Howdy found his way to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Following the actor’s unfortunate death from cancer in 1998, however, fans protested Howdy’s home, demanding (unsuccessfully) that he be kept in Buffalo, New York.
ANOTHER REVIVAL? MAYBE THE THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM
With the thousands of children’s shows currently available across the world, the niche that Howdy Doody created and filled may no longer exist. Other shows featuring puppets and unusual characters have nevertheless been incredibly successful, so perhaps there’s room for a modern Howdy Doody revival. What do you think – would you watch it?