Friday, July 27, 2012


Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob
From 1947 to 1960, The Howdy Doody Show entertained young children across the country, often credited by historians as one of the leading reasons why television became a staple in American living rooms. The television series certainly demonstrated the potential of the new medium to advertisers, which competed against the already established medium of radio. Each week the television viewers to exposed to the antics of Clarabelle the Clown, watched silent slapstick comedies, and watched as Howdy Doody joined Buffalo Bob in attempts to foil the schemes of Mr. Bluster. Princess Summerfall-Winterspring a beautiful Indian Princess, sang and told stories. Howdy Doody had red hair, 48 freckles (one for each State of the Union) and was voiced by Bob Smith himself. (Which also explained why Howdy Doody never put in a public appearance when Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle appeared on stage for various functions.) 

The Howdy Doody Show was a program of historic firsts. It was Howdy Doody’s face that appeared on the NBC color test pattern beginning in 1954, was the first children’s program telecast in color on NBC, and was the first children’s program to be broadcast five days a week.

On the afternoon of February 12, 1952, The Howdy Doody Show reached a milestone, celebrating its 1,000th telecast. To mark the first TV network show to reach 1,000 performances, the Howdy Doody telecast a gala on-the-air celebration with celebrity guests Milton Berle, Ed Wynn, Jack Carson, Danny Thomas, Dave Garroway, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

Rehearsals of The Howdy Doody Show
As a result of all the publicity and popularity of the children’s program, and with Bob Smith’s experience on the radio, it wasn’t difficult to convince the network to grant Bob Smith a Saturday morning radio program of the same name.

Bob Smith got his start in broadcasting on WBEN radio in Buffalo, NY, after being discovered by singer Kate Smith. He later moved to WNBC in New York City. The character of “Howdy Doody” really began on Bob Smith’s radio program, Triple B Ranch, in 1947. At that time, Bob Smith was voicing a character named Elmer who always greeted the children in the audience with “Howdy Doody, Kids!” Soon the children were calling Elmer by the name of “Howdy Doody.” Later in 1947, Howdy Doody made his television debut and the show rose to popularity. In 1950, Smith gave up his radio show to devote full time to The Howdy Doody Show on television.

Bob Smith and his famous puppet, Howdy Doody, were joined by their television friends and other cast members – Mr. Bluster, Flubadud, Princess Summerfall-Winterspring (played by the beautiful Judy Tyler), Dilly Dally, and Clarabell the Clown and his All-Clown Orchestra. The format was the same as the television program as a comedy-variety show staged strictly for a children’s audience, with children in the “Peanut Gallery” being invited to sing with Howdy, to say “Howdy-Doody,” etc. from time to time, thus getting the children into the act. (Screening silent comedies was not done on the radio program like it was on the television counterpart.) The audience was composed of children invited from various public schools in the New York area, plus other children who requested tickets in advance if such an offer was made available from time to time. Adults accompanied the children, but did not sit in the “Peanut Gallery.”

The Saturday (later Sunday) morning radio program was produced and directed by Simon Rady, a package production of the Kagren Corporation. The entire radio program originated from New York City. Every episode was taped in advance sometime during the week, so once a week a large handful of the kids that appeared on the television program as members of the Peanut Gallery were treated to a radio broadcast after the live television show went off the air. The script writers were Bob Cone and Eddie Keane. Eddie Keane was also the musical director. He wrote the music Howdy Doody sang. Celebrity guests paid visits from time to time. Bob Smith himself played the piano in novelty numbers. In short, the radio program was pretty much the same as the televisions series, without the visuals and added sound effects.

Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob
In the minds of the juvenile listeners, the “All-Clown Band” probably consisted of a dozen face-painted clowns – the kind you would see in a traveling circus. In reality, the magic of radio proved a disappointment to the kids sitting in the Peanut Gallery. The “All-Clown Band” was really one person, Buffalo Bob Smith, playing whistles, washboard, bells, spoons, horns, frying pans, and more. Clarabell, initially played by Bob Keeshan (who would later gain fame as Captain Kangaroo) never spoke on the television series. For radio, he honked a horn instead of talking. Some might believe a sound man was responsible but Keeshan was present in the studio, in complete clown makeup. (Remember, young kids were still present.) Keeshan also supplied the voice of Zabby, the “man from Mars,” and Flubadub, “the only talking animal in radio.” Whenever the role of The Inspector was needed, Keeshan also voiced The Inspector.

Bill Le Cornec was the voice of Dilly Dally. Dayton Allen supplied the voice for Mr. Bluster, Phineas P. Bluster, Flubadub and on rare occasions he doubled for the voice of Howdy Doody. Allen’s last broadcast was November 29, 1952. Bob Keeshan’s last broadcast was also November 29, 1952. Effective with the broadcast of December 6, 1952, Bob Nicholson played the role of Clarabelle as well as all the other roles Keeshan played. (Nicholson later went on to more success as co-producer of television’s The Newlywed Game.)

Broadcast Breakdown
December 15, 1951 to September 5, 1953
East Coast Broadcast: Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.
West Coast Broadcast: Saturday from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. *

* In the Los Angeles area, Howdy Doody aired only twice on the radio and at a different time slot from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. on September 6 and 13, 1952, hoping to attract a local sponsor. Also, for the June 21, 1952 broadcast, only the second half was heard on the repeat West Coast show (12:30 to 1:00 p.m.).

September 6, 1953 to April 18, 1954
East Coast Broadcast: Sunday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
West Coast Broadcast: Sunday from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. (times also varied in different areas)

-- December 15, 1951 to March 15, 1952, sustained
-- March 22, 1952 to June 14, 1952, the 9:00 to 9:15 a.m. portion was sponsored by International Shoe. (West Coast Repeat was 12:30 to 12:45 p.m., obviously) One exception: Over WNBC in NYC, International Shoe was not the sponsor.
-- June 21 to August 9, 1952, sustained. (International Shoe took a summer hiatus)
-- August 16, 1952 to March 14, 1953, the 9:00 to 9:15 am segment sponsored by International Shoe on a portion of the network only. (Other stations sustaining or co-op).
-- From March 21, 1953 to April 18, 1954, the entire hour was under co-op, part of the network’s Minute Man Plan.

The beautiful Judy Tyler.
Today, very few people know that The Howdy Doody Show was also broadcast on radio. And a popular assumption was that the radio program was nothing more than an audio track from the television series, but the radio series did consist of original material created and produced for the radio. Jay Hickerson of Leesburg, Florida, has been the official record keeper for more than two decades when it comes to all existing and available circulating radio programs. His publication is updated every four years with annual supplements in between. According to Hickerson, a total number of 17 radio broadcasts exist in recorded form. Only ten have been assigned broadcast dates. The remaining seven have not been verified and dates assigned by collectors are apparently inaccurate (citing Wednesday and Thursday dates, not Saturday or Sunday). The exact dates of the remaining recordings still need to be determined. Verified dates include December 15, December 22 and December 29, 1951. February 23, March 1, May 3, June 28 and August 16, 1952. January 3 and April 4, 1954.

Among the highlights of the radio program was the premiere broadcast of December 15, 1951. Milton Berle, the popular television personality, and his little daughter, Vicki, are guests. All of the kids in the Peanut Gallery referred to the comedian as “Uncle Miltie.” Western star Gabby Hayes, who appeared in a number of Howdy Doody television broadcasts, made his first of many appearances on the program, telling tales of stagecoach times and about his uncle who drove a reindeer stage one Christmas.*

* Gabby Hayes would make his second visit to the radio program on February 16, 1952.

Gabby Hayes
For the broadcast of December 22, 1951, Bob Smith told the story of “The Little Branch,” a Christmas story about the little branch on a big pine tree that became a Christmas tree. The broadcast of January 12, 1952, featured a dramatization of “Hopalong Riding Hood,” spoofing the Western cowboy hero and the Little Red Riding Hood story. The February 23, 1952 broadcast of Howdy Doody was a special George Washington program. All of the stories and songs were about the first President of the United States.

Beginning with the broadcast of August 23, 1952, an announcement was made during the International Shoe-sponsored segment about a Poll Parrot Shoe write-in gimmick. Every youngster who wrote in to tell what he liked about Poll Parrot Shoes would get a membership card in the “Howdy Doody Thinker-Upper Club,” which had just been organized. The two best letters received each week would be read over the air and the writers would receive a special gift such as a Howdy Doody doll or a Clarabelle doll, or a Howdy Doody Phonograph. Kids simply needed to visit the nearest Poll Parrot dealer; take a look at all the Poll Parrot shows and then go home and write their letter.

As a result of the troubles behind-the-scenes with Bob Keeshan and the producers, Clarabelle the Clown was written out of the series more than once, only to return to the program soon after. During the broadcast of August 30, 1952, and beginning the week after, youngsters had to enjoy the show without the consistent horn-hinking. Clarabelle would return a few weeks later. Bob Keeshan made his final appearance as Clarabelle on the broadcast of November 29, 1952, and the clown was written out of the series. Young children were led to believe that Clarabelle would not return for a few weeks, but the fan letters poured in and the week after, December 6, Bob Nicholson began playing the role. Clarabelle never left the program as it was dramatized the week prior, and tens of thousands of young children were no doubt relieved.

Clarabell, Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob Smith

The Presidential election of 1952 received major television coverage, much more than the 1948 election since most Americans did not have a television set. As a result, Howdy Doody ran for office. Free campaign buttons were distributed to any child who wrote to the network. Young children all over the nation had been encouraged to send in their votes. This was not just a publicity stunt for the television and radio program, but an attempt to convince the executives at International Shoe to continue sponsorship of the radio program since they expressed a desire to option a clause in their contract to cease sponsorship. They reportedly received over 60,000 requests, statistically representing one-third of the American homes with television sets. Within the first two weeks, other potential advertisers were convinced and the Howdy Doody radio program was successfully profitable for NBC-Radio. Among the new sponsors was the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company. During the radio broadcast of November 8, 1952, an announcement was made that “Howdy Doody” had been elected “President of all the kids in the United States,” due to the overwhelming response.

Tape Problems
On television, Buffalo Bob Smith encountered the usual errors that result in “live” broadcasting. During one broadcast, while showing a silent slapstick comedy, one of the children exited the Peanut Gallery and walked up to Buffalo Bob and sat on his lap. Loud enough for the microphone to pick up Smith’s narration of the film, the young lad remarked, “I have to go to the bathroom.”

For radio, you would think taping the show in advance for later playback was not without its flaws. Not so. In the start of the broadcast of January 5, 1952, there were three seconds of dead air due to tape machine failure. The content lost was “It’s Howdy Doody Time,” the answer the children gave to the opening. The June 7, 1952 broadcast suffered another setback. Trouble with the taping resulted in dead air from 9:16 to 9:20, at which time the tape resumed. NBC filled the four minutes with Electrical Transcription music. (It only took the network 25 seconds to start the music from the moment the show went to dead air.) The broadcast of September 20, 1952, began a little late (10 seconds of dead air time to be exact) because of the tape machine being “frozen.”

Judy Tyler, a.k.a. Princess SummerFall-WinterSpring
In Conclusion
In September of 1954, months after the radio series concluded, Buffalo Bob Smith, at age 36, was stricken in his home with a heart attack. NBC Television used some film previously made by Smith himself, beginning September 6. The reruns gave Smith a chance to recover, and Smith never returned to the program until January of 1955. No doubt the radio program would have also been affected had the series continued beyond April of 1954.

After she left the Howdy Doody Show, Judy Tyler became a night-club singer and got rave reviews for her opener at Mocambo’s in Hollywood. Bob Keeshan began a long and successful career as Captain Kangaroo.

His love of radio was clearly evident after the Howdy Doody television show concluded, when Bob Smith purchased a radio station in Maine and continued his career in broadcasting as an announcer and emcee for numerous radio programs.

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