Posted By Cliff Tuttle | July 15, 2012
If you watched the Howdy Doody Show, you are probably eligible for Social Security. I watched it on Channel 3 (Dumont TV Network), later Channel 2 in Pittsburgh at 5 PM, Monday through Friday in the 1950′s. The regular characters, Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob Smith, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-dub, Mr. Bluster, Clarabell the Clown, Chief Thunder Thud, Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring are all still familiar names.
Most of the characters were puppets, the kind that were operated with strings from above. The strings were quite visible, but after all, we were just kids and not very critical of TV shows.
In case you have forgotten this important stuff, here is a short description of the main characters.
Howdy Doody was a puppet with a freckled face and red hair who bore a striking resemblance to Arthur Godfrey. He wore jeans and a cowboy shirt, complete with neckerchief. His hometown of Doodyville was apparently named for him, although he was just a kid, like you and me.
Buffalo Bob Smith was a grown-up who was dressed as a pioneer with Davy Crocket fringe, except in white to emphasize that he was one of the good guys. He was a real person, not a puppet. He acted as the host of the show, interacting with the kids in the peanut gallery and assisting Howdy in overcoming evil.
And speaking of evil, Phineas T. Bluster, a puppet, was the Mayor of Doodyville, although the election must have been rigged. He wore a three piece suit complete with spats. He was always plotting something, but was thwarted by Howdy and Buffalo Bob at the last minute.
Then there was Clarabell, a human clown who didn’t speak. Instead, he wore a box on his belt (equipped with a seltzer bottle which he used liberally) with a bicycle horn on each side. One was marked Yes and the other No. He was often asked questions requiring a yes or no honk, which sometimes revealed the plots of Mr Bluster. Clarabell was later rumored to be Bob Keishon of Captain Kangaroo fame, but there was no way to tell, since Clarabell was well disguised.
Chief Thunderthud was an Indian Chief , human, who wore a full-sized war bonnet and was often accompanied by Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring, also human. Thunderthud was always being amazed or surprised by something, whereupon he exclaimed, in a loud voice, “Cowabunga!”
Flub-a-dub was a mongrel animal puppet who was composed of eight animals, with a duck bill, seal flippers, a dachshund body and if you must know the rest, click the link above. Flub-a-dub talked a blue streak, but rarely said anything worthwhile.
Dilly Dally was a puppet friend/foil of Howdy who was not all that smart. He wore overalls and a baseball hat cocked to the side.
This was a pioneering kids show that established the format of many others to follow. It taught us that good triumphs over evil and urged us to ask Mom and Dad to take us to church or synagogue over the weekend. It was the first time I had ever heard of synagogue. I had to ask my mother what it meant.
And, yes, the Howdy Doody Show lives on in our culture. Chief Thunder Thud’s famous expletive “Cowabunga” is still in our vocabulary, thanks in part to Bart Simpson. So is the term “peanut gallery”, a prototype studio audience, where a noisy bunch of kids were massed in a grandstand, ready to react to any misdeeds by Mr. Bluster by screaming their heads off to warn Howdy.
Scary, isn’t it?
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