The Howdy Doody Show was one of the first and the most popular children's television show in the 1950s. While Howdy and his friends entertained American children, they also sold television sets to American parents and demonstrated the potential of the new medium to advertisers.
The original Howdy marionette (he was a puppet?) was designed by Frank Paris and in a dispute over licensing rights Paris left the show with the puppet. The new Howdy, who premiered in March 1948 was an all-American boy with red hair, forty-eight freckles (one for each state in the Union), and a permanent smile. Howdy's face symbolized the youthful energy of the new medium and appeared on the NBC color test pattern beginning in 1954.
Other marionettes included Phineas T. Bluster, Doodyville's entrepreneurial mayor. Howdy's grumpy nemesis, Bluster had eyebrows that shot straight up when he was surprised. Bluster's naive, high-school-aged accomplice, was Dilly Dally, who wiggled his ears when he was frustrated. Flub-a-dub was a whimsical character who was a combination of eight animals.
The live characters included the native American Chief Thunderthud and Princess Summerfall Winterspring, played by Judy Tyler. Tyler went on to co-star with Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock in 1957.
Smith (born in Buffalo, New York) was transformed into Buffalo Bob when he took his place in the story as the great white leader of the Sigafoose tribe. Chief Thunderthud (played by Bill LeCornec) of the mythical Ooragnak tribe ("Kangaroo" spelled backward) introduced the word "Kawabonga," an expression of surprise and frustration, into the English language. One of the few female characters in the cast was the beloved Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka Tonka tribe, who was first introduced as a puppet, then transformed into a real, live princess, played by Judy Tyler.
The Howdy Doody Show also reflected America's fascination with technology. Part of the fun and fantasy of Doodyville were crazy machines such as the Electromindomizer that read minds and the Honkadoodle that translated Mother Goose's honks into English. Howdy also ushered in NBC's daily color programming in 1955.
Much of the mayhem was perpetrated by a lovable, mischievous clown named Clarabell Hornblow. Clarabell was played by Bob Keeshan who later became Captain Kangaroo. His pratfalls were generally accidents, and the most lethal weapon on the show was his seltzer bottle.
Although extremely popular, the demise of The Howdy Doody Show occurred due to financial reasons, and the last show aired on September 24, 1960, after 2,343 programs.
The most famous moment in the history of The Howdy Doody Show came during the closing seconds of the final show when Clarabell, who did not speak but communicated through pantomime and honking his horns, surprised the audience by saying, "Good-bye, kids."
If you remember what Buffalo Bob called the audience (the kids sitting in the bleachers on the stage) click the COMMENT button and tell us.