Regular listeners and frequent guests on Hieronimus and Company's 21st Century
Radio are accustomed to surprising links between what is considered "paranormal"
and what is considered "ultra normal". Some of our contemporary culture's
best loved icons, specifically selected, have been emphasized on 21st Century
Radio and The Zoh Show for their talents of up-lifting the human spirit. Many
of us remember them as friends when we were friendless, even adding meaning
and depth to our lives.
When we biographize Babe Ruth we highlight his love and concern for children
and his pioneering attitude that saved baseball from scandalizing unpopularity.
When we reminisce with programs from Old Time Radio like X Minus One, The Shadow,
and Jack Benny we are being inspired by their pioneering inventiveness that
created a new communications medium. In February and March of 1995 21st Century
Radio paid homage to another pioneer, the first program created for children
on the brand new medium of television. 50 years ago NBC TV began influencing
tens of millions of children in a personal and a meaningful way. On its debut
in December 1947, it was called "Puppet Playhouse" featuring Bob Smith
and his Howdy Doody marionette which spoke to him from a desk drawer for the
first three weeks of the show until the puppet prop was completed.
In researching Howdy Doody we were repeatedly impressed with the incredible
and often hilarious obstacles the staff of talented individuals overcame in
order to produce a daily live show with a studio full of small children. The
evening of the debut program started the pattern by dumping 24 inches of snow
in a blizzard that blanketed New York City. Clarabell the Clown couldn't make
it to the studio, but "Buffalo Bob" Smith was still able to work his
magic on the enchanted children who were watching. America at that time had
approximately 15,000-20,000 TV sets, and they were concentrated in the northeast:
New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and Schenectady -- the home of GE. On that first
show Bob Smith's guests were puppeteer Frank Parris and Toby Tyler, Prince Mendez,
Nino the Sketch Artist and the Galshint Brothers and their dogs. Howdy Doody's
voice coming from a drawer in a desk was explained as his being shy.
At the beginning none of the crew had an inkling their modest beginnings would
lead to the cultural phenomena of Howdy Doody, but less than a year later, on
September 1, 1948, the American Magazine endorsed Howdy Doody for President
and in January 1949, Howdy Doody was inaugurated President of All the Kids in
the U.S. With the help of the exploding popularity of television, Howdy's popularity
skyrocketed and in December of 1953 Howdy and "Buffalo Bob" were lighting
the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree for the fourth consecutive year, leading
the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades, winning the coveted Peabody Award, presiding
over and conducting the Boston Symphony, collecting record amounts for the March
of Dimes, and on and on. Over 13 years and 2,534 shows, they initiated color
programming, Gumby, Davey and Goliath, and super saturation of merchandising
and cross promotion. All retrospective documentaries about the history of television
include a clip from the very last Howdy Doody Show in September 1960 when Clarabell
the Clown spoke his very first, and last, words on camera, "Goodbye, kids"
causing sobs in front of television sets across the nation, Canada, South and
Of course they earned NBC TV hundreds of millions of dollars, but more importantly
in the opinion of NBC's chief, General Sarnoff, Howdy Doody secured the establishment
of television as a mainstay in the American culture. "Howdy Doody and Milton
Berle were his two best salesmen for the television set sales" Executive
Producer Roger Muir quoted him as saying.
Seeing the approaching 50th anniversary of the debut of television's most influential
(because it was the first) children's show, Dr. Bob sought out and interviewed
"Buffalo Bob" Smith, Clarabell the Clown (Lew Anderson), and the core
group of talent who created the Howdy Doody program: Executive Producer Roger
Muir, Producer and Director Bob Rippen, actor and "the funniest man alive"
Dayton Allen (Mr. Bluster, Ugly Sam, The Inspector, Flubadub, and many, many
other characters), writer Eddie Kean (whose imagination brought these characters
to life), character artist Milt Neil (whose artistry gave them faces), puppet
sculptor and prop creator Scott Brinker (whose skill gave them physical existence),
and several others. We decided to pay homage to these people who used their
television program to make children feel listened to and that they had friends
in high places.
Of course the star of the show was "Buffalo Bob" whose charming believability
can still turn your home into a theater of joy. Many of us who grew up in dysfunctional
families adopted "Buffalo Bob" as honorary parent and Howdy as faithful
friend. We found that the sincerity of "Buffalo Bob" was a reflection
of the strength of his own family life, married to his childhood sweetheart,
Mil, for over 54 years.
He also recalled the origins of Howdy Doody on his radio program, "The
Triple B Ranch", where Howdy Doody was known as "Elmer". "I
came to New York in 1946 and I got my big break to do the early morning radio
show on then WEAF, later WNBC, the flagship station of the National Broadcasting
Company in New York. It was in March of '47 that the boss said that he wanted
to dedicate the entire Saturday morning radio schedule to kids. Paul Winchel,
Jerry Mahoney were to do a half-hour, Ed Hurlihey, he did a half-hour, and I
did a half-hour. My writer, Vic Campbell, said, "Let's do a quiz show for
kids," and I thought that was sort of a cute idea so we called the show
"The Triple B Ranch Program", the three Bs stood for "Big Brother
Bob". And we had four kids from one school vying against four kids from
another school, the whole show had a western flavor and the kids were seated
on wooden horses. I asked the kids the questions and if they got the correct
answer they stayed on the wooden horses, if not they were knocked off like in
a rodeo show. So the writer said to me one day, "Bob could we do some comedy
on the show?", he said, "Do you do any voices?" He went into
the control room and I did a couple of voices and we sort of settled on this
Mortimer Snurd-ish country bumpkin type character that we called Elmer. And
I'd say, "Oh here's Elmer, hi Elmer", and he'd say, "Howdy Doody!!"
And then we'd did a couple of corny Hee Haw type jokes and we'd always wind
up doing, "Well we'll see you later, so long Elmer," and he'd say,
"Well, Howdy Doody!!" This was radio and we had what they called "a
limited budget" -- we didn't have a dummy or a puppet or anything, I just
talked to myself. And the kids would come in and they'd see the show and they'd
be rooting for their four kids from their school and after the show they'd always
come up to me and they'd say, "Gee we're disappointed, we wanted to see
Howdy Doody." Well, this gave us two ideas: we won't call him Elmer anymore,
we'll call him Howdy Doody, it's a cuter name and if they want to see him, well,
let's talk to the television people, which we did. And they saw a couple of
our Saturday morning shows and they said, "Hey, this is a great idea. This
goes along with what we had in mind. We were 'gonna do a show for kids on television.
We have a puppeteer in mind, he has lots of puppets. We'll make another puppet,
we'll call him Howdy Doody." We bought some old time silent films, a whole
library I guess, from Warner Brothers, they paid $50,000 for it, and they made
probably $50 million [from it]. And "We'll have some kids on and you host
the whole thing." So... we learned about this show on December 23, 1947,
and believe it or not, the first show was the following Saturday, December 27th,
when we didn't even have a Howdy Doody."
Which is why they thought of putting him in a drawer. "They said, "Well
you 'gotta have Howdy on the show." And I said, "But we don't have
a puppet," so we pretended that Howdy was in my desk drawer for the first
three shows. And when I talked to him the camera would take a shot on the empty
drawer and I'd say, "Are you in there buddy?", and he'd say, "Oh,
yeah, I'm here, but I'm too bashful to come out." Well, Howdy was too bashful
for three weeks until we made him. When we finally made him we started that
third show with Howdy in the drawer and when we opened the drawer he was no
longer bashful and that was the beginning of Howdy.
"...The first Howdy was very ugly. It was a fast job that this Frank Parris
did, and I guess the kids accepted him because it was practically his voice
and what he said that made him sort of lovable in an ugly way. But then we got
into an ownership dispute. ...[Parris] was ill-advised, I guess, by some attorneys,
and he thought he should share in the ownership of the property even after he
was paid a good sum for making it. NBC told him, "No, this is Buffalo Bob's
character. This is Buffalo Bob's voice, Buffalo Bob's idea, his name and everything."
So anyway the thing was settled out of court, the original Howdy was actually
incinerated, and we ...found this puppeteer, this lovely gal by the name of
Velma Dawson, who was not only a puppeteer, but she also made puppets. Now Frank
[Parris] walked out of the studio with his puppet at about 2:00 in the afternoon,
and we had to come up with a story on why Howdy wasn't here.... We had to stall
on the show, and this was 1948, the year that Howdy was running for President
of All the Kids in the United States, and we wrote in the body of the show that
Howdy was out campaigning in, I think it was Portland, Oregon. We picked the
farthest place we could and he met his adversary, Mr. X, who was very handsome,
and he knew that Mr. X would get all the votes from the kids. [Howdy wondered]
what could he possibly do to get the votes from the girls, particularly? So
he decided to have a face lift, but don't worry kids it's not 'gonna hurt...
it's not any worse than having your tooth fall out, it's nothing, he's just
'gonna have a face lift.... So to get on with what we did about Howdy, we got
on the telephone, I talked with Velma Dawson, and [they] said, "Now here's
Bob and he'll tell you what Howdy sounds like." I gave her the voice, and
what do you think he should look like? Within a couple of days she sent along
several drawings, and the minute we saw that face we said, "Oh my Heavens,
that's it, that's Howdy, that's it. Good. Make him immediately." And she
did, but in the meantime we're stalling for the Howdy to come back and then
the sponsors said, "We 'gotta have Howdy on the air to do commercials with
you, Bob." So we just took any old puppet and we wrapped him in bandages,
and for the next week or so we had a puppet wrapped in bandages and it was supposed
to be Howdy Doody, and "Don't you worry kids, I'm fine, everything is great.
I'll get these bandages off in a week or so." Finally we got the puppet
from California. The body, I think, was made in New York, the head was made
in California. We put the two of them together, wrapped him in bandages, and
did the unveiling on the air. I'll never forget, we took the big scissors, cut
off the bandages and there was Howdy as we know him today."
Indeed it sounds like an extraordinary procedure, but it seems to us that almost
every time the Howdy Doody crew had a big problem over their 13 year run, not
only did they solve it, but they solved it in such a creative way that most
of us at home had no idea that there was a big problem going on.
Buffalo Bob gives the credit right way to their brilliant writer, Eddie Kean,
and Roger Muir, their producer who together came up with a lot of the solutions.
For example, the well-remembered Howdy Doody for President campaign happened
surprisingly early in the show's existence -- before even a full year had passed.
It turns out Eddie Kean came up with the idea because the sponsors wanted to
find out how many people were in their viewing audience. Kean said, "Let's
run Howdy Doody for President, print up 10,000 buttons and see what happens."
They got over a quarter of a million letters. "It so far exceeded any expectations,"
said Keen, "that it was as if we HAD no expectations."
Roger Muir recalled how his responsibilities to The Howdy Doody Show evolved
along with the show itself. "When we started we were one hour on Saturday
afternoon. Then NBC, because of the success of the show, said, "We want
you to go Thursday afternoon and Saturday afternoon." So, now it's two
hours a week. For a very short time they said three hours a week, Tuesday, Thursday,
and Saturday. Well, we didn't have enough time to get the material ready to
put together for an hour show. So, although I was the original Producer/Director,
I finally hollered for help and got NBC to hire one of my old buddies from the
Army days, Bob Rippen. He was first brought in as director and I was only producer,
then after a very short time of trying three hours a week I went to my boss
and said, "This is too tough. Couldn't we try a Monday through Friday half-hour.
Five half-hours would be an awful lot easier to put together than three hours.
NBC had never done a strip of program in television, but he said, they do it
in radio, so maybe it will work, let's try it. The big question then was what
would be the ideal TIME for a half-hour strip? We finally came to the conclusion
that 5:30-6:00 Eastern Time would be ideal, because the kids could come in from
play and settle down and see a half-hour show and then be ready for dinner at
6:00. At that time on television, NBC used to have just a test pattern that
was up on screen all day long for the people that were installing television
sets. They'd have to go and put the set in your home and then line it up, so
they had a test pattern on. So, from test pattern all day long, we were the
first thing on television at 5:30. So we devised a test pattern with Howdy Doody's
head in the center," something Dr. Bob Hieronimus recalls seeing as a youngster
and assuming Howdy Doody owned the whole network.
Since this was one of the very first television programs ever, some of their
solutions were very crude as they had no one to learn from. One of the ingenious
solutions was how to film Howdy Doody speaking when it was "Buffalo Bob"
who provided his voice. At the beginning Bob talked for Howdy live and they
had three cameras, one trained on Howdy, another on Bob and the third on the
two of them together. "As I looked at Howdy I was also looking at a television
monitor which was behind Howdy, so that I could see that only Howdy was in the
picture when I talked for him and I'd give him direct cues so that the technical
director would have no problem in which camera to punch up. So I'd give him
a cue like, "Well what do you think Howdy?" and then boom, they'd
take camera 3 in which Howdy was alone and I'd see this in a monitor as I looked
toward Howdy and Howdy'd say, "Ho Ho, I think you're right Buffalo Bob,"
and then back to me. Well we did this several weeks until [we noticed] the kids
coming in would be very confused, they'd look back and forth to Howdy and me
- well who's talking for whom, you know, so Roger Muir our producer said, "Look
Bob, we've 'gotta do something about this. Could you possibly record Howdy's
voices?" Well back then, there was no tape as we know it today, there wasn't
even wire recording. There was just acetate disks. So when we started every
show's rehearsal at about noon, the very first thing we did was go through the
script from beginning to end and record the puppet speeches, just the puppet
speeches with maybe a two or two and a half second pause between each speech
because these speeches were recorded on 16" acetate. This is a big victrola
record, if you will, but on a 16" disk that went around on a 331/3RPM,
and the turntable would go around but the record would stop when the engineer
would hold his finger on it. So I would say, "What do you think, Howdy?"
and then the engineer would lift up his finger and he'd say, "Ho Ho, I
think you're right Buffalo Bob," and bang he'd hold the record again until
it was Howdy or the next puppet's turn to speak."
A lot of the behind the scenes creators worked around the clock to make the
half hour live program seem natural and spontaneous. Puppet sculptor Scott Brinker
recalls many a night spent up until very early hours creating props needed on
the next day's show. Eddie Kean remembers usually writing "in my pajamas
till I was through, because while I liked writing, I hated HAVING to write,
there's a lot of difference. I rented a piano to do a song to fit into a story
line and often, you can tell, to just get away from the typewriter. It was very
tedious and unglamorous to do that part and I tried to get finished to get out
of the studio by 4:30 or so, an hour before the show, to enjoy the fun down
there and I usually made it."
"We started rehearsal at 12:00," said Producer Bob Rippen. "Generally
for the first hour... after a year or so once the show got into its routine
we spent the first hour recording all of the puppet voices, not only Howdy's
but Dilly Dally's and the other puppets who might be in that particular script.
Camera rehearsal started at 1:00 and we rehearsed until 5:00. Generally we rehearsed
the commercials towards the end starting roughly maybe 3:00 or 3:30 (all of
the commercials on Howdy were live, mostly done by Bob but they had to be fully
scripted and fully rehearsed), and finishing up at 5:00. Everybody broke for
make-up and so forth and we went on the air at 5:30."
The Peanut Gallery
The Peanut Gallery was often referred to as a built-in research organization,
as Executive Producer Roger Muir says "We weren't experts in child psychology
or what is right for the kids or what they'll react to. We kind of stumbled
into it.... The Peanut Gallery started out with a dozen or two kids that came
in and participated in games and what-not, and eventually it grew into a regular
feature where we had 50-75 or 100 kids in the Peanut Gallery, and ...if the
kids reacted to something, then we knew we were on the right track. If they
reacted negatively to it, we quickly changed whatever it was because in those
early days we didn't have experts on staff.... When Clarabell used the seltzer
bottle and spritzed "Buffalo Bob" or anybody, the kids would go wild
so we knew we had something there. [Although] a lot of the early critics said
the show was noisy, the show was raucous, there were lots of negatives from
the professional experts, but we knew that with Clarabell and the seltzer bottle
the amount of violence that could erupt was certainly within bounds. So, we
found 99 ways for Clarabell to use that weapon." Writer Eddie Kean often
"went up to the 9th floor where the viewing room was where the parents
were sent after they dropped their children off in the studio. And in those
10 minutes before the show began I'd hear one mother say, "Oh, my son's
favorite character is Dilly Dally," another one would say, "Oh, the
Mystery of the Five Ls is driving us all crazy," and I could tell from
the quoting of the children when I had caught the children's fancy and that
would make me run a story longer or shorter, as the case might be."
But the dream of so many kids to become a member of the Peanut Gallery, was
in actuality a pipe dream, since tickets to get in were scarcer than hen's teeth.
Buffalo Bob explained how difficult it was. "When we first started, we
had a Peanut Gallery that seated maybe 40 kids and everybody got his allotment.
I think I got four a day, but my gosh I had a list as long as your arm. Everybody
hit me for tickets. Every cast member got like four a week, each client got
ten a day and there were two clients; we had two sponsors every week so that
was 20 gone right there, and the rest of tickets went internally, like to NBC
affiliates who were coming to New York, they wanted their kids on Howdy Doody,
'cause Aunt Minnie in Cleveland could see them in the Peanut Gallery. The sad
thing is that hardly anybody who wrote in for tickets ever got any tickets...
It was terrible and what happened then was we would say, "Well don't worry,
bring them to my dressing room, I'll sneak them in." Well it got to the
point where we had 40 seats in the gallery, we had 40 tickets issued and about
40 kids the cast would sneak in, they'd be sitting on newspapers in front of
the gallery. And a fireman came in one day and saw this and he really raised
cane and he said, "Look this is not going to happen. This is against all
fire rules. You'll have to have a ticket or you don't get into the Gallery,
I don't care WHO it is." So 40 tickets went out, 40 kids went in and that
Some of the luckier kids eventually became famous on their own, for example,
Sigourney Weaver as the daughter of Pat Weaver, the President of NBC, got to
sit in the Peanut Gallery many times, as well as Johnny Bench, John Ritter,
Joe Namath, and a host of people that are very famous in the business world
today. But they all had a ticket! Even the First Grandkid, Andrew Hoover, wasn't
allowed in without a ticket, as "Buffalo Bob" recalled. "I got
a call at the studio one day right in the middle of rehearsal and they said,
"Bob come into the control room right away. Niles Trammel (sp?) is on the
phone." Well Niles Trammel was God, he was "Mr. NBC", he was
the reason that NBC was THE ONE network for so many, many years in that era.
And I said, "Yes Mr. Trammel?" and he said, "Hey Bob, what kind
of show you got there anyway? I 'gotta get a kid in the gallery tonight and
they tell me there's no tickets and you can't get in without a ticket."
And I said, "Well I'm sorry Mr. Trammel." And he said, "I don't
have any trouble getting people into ...any other show we have, I can walk right
in, I don't need tickets. What am I 'gonna do? His father's 'gonna bring him
here, he's 'gonna be in the office and watch with me, and his grandfather's
'gonna watch with him in Washington but, how am I 'gonna get him in?" And
I said, "Mr. Trammel tonight we're doing a commercial for Welch's Grape
Juice and ...if you promise me that this guest of yours will like Welch's Grape
Juice, I'll just tell the fireman in charge that this little kid is part of
a commercial." He said, "I promise he'll like Welch's Grape Juice."
So I said, "Okay, have him at my office at 5:15 we're on the air at 5:30,"
and he said, "You might want to know his name..." I said, "Yes...?"
and he told me it was Andrew Hoover whose father would be in his office and
grandfather, President Herbert Hoover, watching from the White House. Thank
God... he liked Welch's Grape Juice!"
And although it seemed they thrived on tight schedules filled with the unexpected,
it eventually took its toll physically, resulting in more creative solutions.
The aspects of the Howdy Doody Show that we most admire are the creative acts
of fortitude the crew demonstrated to ensure "the show must go one"
when obstacles seemed to block their way, such as four of the major cast characters
quitting simultaneously over a salary dispute. "Buffalo Bob" had a
heart attack in 1954 putting the nucleus of the show out of action for months.
And yet Doodyville survived only to be chosen a few months later to become the
first television program in color, necessitating big changes in costumes and
How Doodyville Survived for almost a year without its two main characters: Howdy
Doody and Buffalo Bob
Roger Muir worked with Buffalo Bob on Howdy Doody from show #1 through #2,543,
and says their hectic schedule of two radio shows and a television show, 16
shows a week "almost killed us all." Writer Eddie Kean who wrote "It's
Howdy Doody Time" and over 125 other well-remembered songs from the show
said in each case the songs came about as a result of his having to leave "the
typewriter to get away from it. I went to the piano to just change my atmosphere
of typing, typing, typing day and night, day and night." When the star
of the show was ordered to several month's bed rest after his heart attack,
"a number of things happened," said Roger Muir. "First of all,
since Buffalo Bob supplied Howdy's voice we had to scramble and get a replacement
voice for Howdy and we tried a lot of good voice people and finally found one
of the people that was on the staff was able to supply us with a reasonable
voice. So, we got Howdy back on. Of course, initially Howdy disappeared. It
was a secret mission and all that stuff. But in a short time we got Howdy back
with a voice. Then, the big problem was, how do we satisfy the sponsors who
were using BOTH Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob in commercials?" Roger managed
to convince NBC to put a special At&T link into Bob Smith's little radio
studio down in the basement of his home. They used substitute hosts for the
first three or four months, and Bob sent secret messages and so forth, but eventually
"We had a single camera down in Bob's basement, in what was originally
a radio studio ...and dubbed the studio in Bob's basement as "Pioneer Village".
So he was out in Pioneer Village doing all kinds of good things for everybody,
and what happened was, the camera was linked by a microwave to the RCA building
and it was like a fourth camera in our studio. We would rehearse segments of
the show with Buff still in his basement because the doctors wouldn't think
of letting him into the city, so we did weeks and weeks of the shows from there.
I think that it was the first time that there had ever been a permanent part
of a show originating from another town."
And then Disney premiered The Mickey Mouse Club on ABC, the first show in almost
10 years to even attempt competing for the audience of Howdy Doody who had all
the ratings from 5:30-6:00 PM. Howdy Doody was the first program aimed directly
at children from ages 2-11 and "Buffalo Bob" recalls figuring ABC
decided the only way to beat Howdy would be to get on the air before him and
hold the ratings. So they started at 5:00 and were on from 5 until 6... "and
of course they had a great show, they had great cartoons, they had great people,
wonderful talented people and they had all the ratings from 5-5:30... We did
have our faithfuls that would watch a half an hour of Disney and then come over
to watch a half hour of us, but it certainly did cut in on our ratings.... until
all the networks decided... why have shows from 5:00-6:00 that appeal just to
kids from 2-11 when we can put talk shows like Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and
whatever. All the kids shows were farmed from that late afternoon period to
Saturday morning" after that, but The Howdy Doody Show ended up outlasting
The Mickey Mouse Club.
Trivia experts will tell you that other famous children's shows had their origins
on the Howdy Doody Show. The first person to play Clarabell the Clown, the famous
menace with the seltzer bottle, was Bob Keeshan, later to become known as "Captain
Kangaroo". Bob Keeshan was just a Page delivering props on the stage of
Howdy Doody when the producer declared if he was on camera, he needed to be
in a costume. Eddie Kean says they decided he should be a clown, "and since
he wasn't an actor, a MUTE clown," and the first Clarabell was born. Lew
Anderson, who became Clarabell in 1955 and continues it today, remembers wanting
to study for the role, only to be dismayed to find there was nothing to read
up on. "Buffalo Bob" believes Lew Anderson "was the greatest
Clarabell we ever had... he was a great talent. His facial expressions were
the best, played great clarinet, saxophone, and he was just a great guy to be
The program was originally called The Howdy Doody Circus, and they brought many
animals on the show which obviously left some interesting things behind every
now and then. "Buffalo Bob" is a wonderful story-teller and related
for us "one of the mysteries of the show was the mystery of the five Ls,
and we were trying to figure what the mystery of the five Ls was. We learned
that it was some kind of an animal... and we had an outfit in Jersey that used
to rent animals and ...we called this outfit and said could you send a Lamb
over to the Howdy Doody Show? Oh, yeah fine. Well this lamb turned out to be,
I'd say about 150 pound sheep, the biggest sheep I ever saw in my life. And
I was standing on the puppet stage talking with all of the puppets and this
lamb was right in front of me and I guess with the hot lights or something,
he was nervous and he let go on my boot, and everybody saw it, the kids saw
it, the puppeteers above me saw it, but I didn't see it. I had this big job
on the toe of my boot until finally I "got wind of it". I looked down
and I saw this big job there and I was convulsed, I was absolutely convulsed,
the whole studio was convulsed, and when I laugh, all 200 pounds laughs, and
I kicked it off and walked off stage. But the funniest part of it is, nobody
cleaned it up! It wasn't the prop man's job, Junior, 'No, I'm not supposed to
do it', cameraman, 'no, I'm not supposed to clean it up.' It wasn't anybody's
job to clean it up, so "Buffalo Bob" got a piece of newspaper and
a stick and I had to clean it up as best as I could and get on with the rest
of the show as best as I could." "Buffalo Bob" laughed as he
remembered how the composure of actor, Dayton Allen, whom he calls "the
funniest man that ever lived," frequently saved the show in situations
like that, while at other times he was the cause of Bob's losing control.
One of producer Bob Rippen's favorite stories involved Dayton Allen playing
Sir Archibald, an African explorer character complete with pith helmet and the
khaki gear and full Gabby Hayes type beard. In this particular show Sir Archibald
made his appearance on the set by coming down from the ceiling of the studio
on a rope ladder and he came down along side of Bob and as soon as they started
talking the elastic on his beard started to give way. And about every six words
or so the beard would drop an inch, and within a very very short time the beard
was down to about 6 inches or so and Bob started to break up and finally when
the elastic gave almost completely and the beard went down to about a foot below
Dayton's chin, Bob broke up completely and collapsed on the floor. I kept the
camera off Bob but the closing shot is Dayton leaning over Bob, the only thing
the audience saw was Dayton waist high with a beard one foot below his chin
and he said, "What's the matter Buff, is there something wrong?" and
I faded out and we went to an old time movie."
Dayton Allen, who may be better known for his "Man on the Street"
interviews which he did later on The Steve Allen Show, immortalized such characters
on The Howdy Doody Show as Mr. Phineus T. Bluster, Flubadub and The Inspector,
giving them not only their voices, but their personalities as well. Executive
Producer Roger Muir called Dayton Allen "a real talent and a find. We recognized
it early on and there was hardly any type of character that we couldn't throw
at him and have him come back with something that was usable."
"Yeah," Dayton responded on the air, "I used to come back with
my laundry, but then I stuck with the characters." Bob Smith remembered
in his book, Howdy and Me (Plume Books, 1987), "We needed a puppeteer who
could do voices. Dayton could do a million voices but didn't know a puppet from
a horseball." But he grew into a great puppeteer, and later the Buff said
that Dayton Allen "made Mr. Bluster BREATHE".
Phineas T. Bluster, Whose Stomach Was Half a Volleyball
A daily show needed an ever-present conflict to keep a semblance of a plot going,
and writer Eddie Kean imagined "that the ideal heavy for a 10 year old
boy, Howdy, would be an 80 year old man who envies his circus and had ridiculous
ambitions for his age. I made Mr. Bluster a heavy who was silly and therefore
"The name Phineus T. Bluster," said Roger Muir, "was P.T. Barnum,
there's no question about that, but the physical design of the character was
really our immediate boss, Warren Wade, who was the guy in charge of programming
for television in the early days.... a big blustering kind of a guy, but P.T.
Barnum was the reason we ended up with P.T. Bluster."
Another of Dayton's characters, the imaginary animal known as the Flubadub,
demonstrated how much of their ideas were a result of trial and error. When
the Flubadub first came on the show he had a hat with flowers on it and the
Flub loved to eat the flowers. Until they began hearing from mothers that their
kids were copying the Flubadub and eating flowers. In a hurry the Flubadub's
favorite meal became meatballs and spaghetti. "It was an Italian puppet,"
laughed Dayton. And "Franco American became very grateful to us,"
Writer Eddie Kean delights in the tale of coming up with the name Flubadub,
which began with an earlier invention he had named the Flapdoodle, "a word
that I thought I made up [until] ...I was fishing for a name for the new creation
that was nine or ten animals in one.... I started fingering through the dictionary
to get ideas and, son of a gun, I come across the word "flapdoodle"
and the definition was flub-dub. I stuck an "a" in the middle and
it became Flubadub. In other words Flapdoodle meant nothing, really, and so
did flub dub. Nonsense maybe, but isn't that funny?"
Who Was Who on Howdy Doody
Sometimes Dayton Allen made "Buffalo Bob" laugh so hard that he would
have to walk and sometimes crawl off the stage. When asked if that was true,
Dayton replied "He liked to do that anyway. He had a better class of friends
on the floor, I guess.... One story that was a perennial was about the kid who
had to go to the bathroom and he used one of the pumpkins on Halloween. And
Bob fell down and I came down and I ended up doing the balance of the show....
and you know, everything was ad libbed because the program was live. You carried
it with you, because we often went away from the script." He laughs, "we
could have gone away from the studio and it wouldn't have done anybody harm."
Dayton Allen was also the voice of The Inspector, Don Jose Bluster, Lanky Lou,
Pierre, Sir Archibald, and Ugly Sam, and after leaving the Howdy Doody show,
he went on to several more successful careers including The Steve Allen Show,
Lancelot Link Secret Chimp, and Winky Dink.
Executive Producer Roger E. Muir has been active in the film and television
production fields for over 50 years beginning with the U.S. Army Signal Corp
before joining the NBC Television Department where he executive produced, produced
or directed over 5,000 television shows. He produced the entire 2,543 Howdy
Doody shows on the NBC Network and eventually headed children's programming
for NBC. When he resigned from NBC, Roger Muir formed Nicholson-Muir Productions
with Robert Nicholson and created, developed and produced television programs
like The Newlywed Game, The Readers Digest Specials and Head Line Hunters. Staying
active in television he worked on projects related to UNESCO and the U.S. Department
of State, was a member of the White House Council on Food, Nutrition and Health,
during the Nixon Administration, served as Director of the Academy of Television
Arts and Sciences, was a member of the National Association of Television Program
Executives, the National Cable Television Association, and the International
Radio and Television Society.
Edward George Kean, the father of the word "Cowabunga" was a composer,
author, pianist, co-producer and writer of over 2,000 scripts and over 100 songs
including all the music and lyrics on the Howdy Doody TV Show for nearly the
entire run of the program. After leaving Howdy Doody, Eddie wrote for the Gabby
Hayes TV Show, Super Circus TV and Merv Griffin's Going Places. He wrote jingles
for Quaker Oats, Mars Candy, Merchandising for Jackie Gleason and Lassie. Eddie's
other careers include stock brokering on Wall Street '56-'70 and Public Relations
and Advertising Executive '70-'81. You'll remember many of his song titles from
the Howdy Doody Show: Where is Sam?, It's Howdy Doody Time, Be Kind To Animals,
Brush Your Teeth, Hooray For Santa Claus, Howdy For President, I'm For Howdy
Doody, It's A Howdy Doody World, Laugh And Be Happy, Meatballs And Spaghetti,
Please, Thanks, Yes, Your Face May Not Be Handsome and others. Artist Milt Neil
said "when we worked together, things really popped and I enjoyed doing
it... Mr. Bluster, Dilly Dally, and ALL the characters came out of Eddie's little
mind. Between us I think we created a lot of characters that gave me a lot of
All of the puppets, with the exception of the original Howdy, and the props
and marvelous gadgets were the handiwork of renowned puppeteer, Scott Brinker,
who had an amazing talent for receiving late night distress calls from script
writer Eddie Kean and presenting finished creations the next day for the live
show. This included the creation of the beloved creature called The Flubadub,
which was composed of 10 animals in one (a dog, elephant, cat, etc.---name them
all or none here). In praising his inventive genius, Eddie Keen said "If
Scott Brinker had run World War II, we'd have won it in one year instead of
Bob Rippen, Howdy Doody's first Director and later Producer stayed at NBC for
four years after Howdy as producer, director and public service programmer.
He then joined the Ford Foundation as director of production for the Mid-West
Program for Air Born Televised Instruction. The last 20 years before retirement
in 1985 were spent at Rutgers University as Director of the Division in Instructional
Milt Neil was a professional artist at Walt Disney for 14 years ("They
called me "The Duck Man" for awhile because I worked on Donald Duck
stuff for quite a long time when he first came out in 1934-5... [as well as]
everything from Snow White all the way up to Fantasia.") In 1947 he was
freelancing and designing children's toys for The Unique Art Manufacturing Company
in Newark, New Jersey when Howdy Doody burst into glory. He suggested to his
company it would be a great show on which to advertise their toys and sure enough
they became one of the first advertisers. Milt Neil went on to design practically
all the products that came out under the Howdy Doody name working with the Milton
Bradley Company, all the toys, games, clothing and anything else the Kagran
Corporation could promote.
What Happened After Howdy Doody
When Howdy went to once a week on Saturday mornings in 1956, "Buffalo Bob"
found himself with a lot of extra time on his hands. They would tape five programs
in one week and then take off for four weeks. Bob Smith became a businessman,
he bought a liquor store and three radio stations and enjoyed life fishing and
playing golf until 1970 when the Howdy Doody Revival began. "Buffalo Bob"
thought they were putting him on when he was asked to do a show at the University
of Pennsylvania for the graduate students, but they convinced him they really
wanted to re-live their happy care-free childhood days, and the same was true
for over 500 colleges that followed and some of them three or four times. He
and Lew Anderson as Clarabell still perform in colleges and in malls with some
slap-stick and some fantasy and some good solid entertainment for kids, and
the Howdy Doody alumni enjoy the shows with their own children.
With the knowledge that NBC and its sponsors and promoters made hundreds of
millions of dollars selling the Howdy Doody Show and related products, it is
hard to understand why they haven't shown more respect to its living icon, "Buffalo
Bob" and acknowledged how much they owe him for their start. Granted NBC
is now owned by General Electric and run by a different generation of people,
but they refused to participate in the 40th anniversary show and they probably
won't participate in the 50th, according to Bob Rippen. "I guess they don't
see any way of making money out of it anymore," he lamented.
Jeff Judson, founder of the Howdy Doody Historical Society, informed us of plans
for a U.S.P.S. Howdy Doody postage stamp, however. Although not officially announced
yet, the club's inside information indicates plans for a series of stamps on
great American puppets, perhaps with Kermit, maybe Kukla, Fran, and Ollie and
"Buffalo Bob" also informed us about a feature length film in the
works right now at Universal Studios, which he anticipated coming to the movie
houses within the next two years.
We hope Howdy does receive such honors and as a result more people can flash
back to their days of innocence when they believed a kid could run for president
and own the television network. The moral of the story is the same as that of
many American icons: use creativity and non-violent solutions to overcome your
obstacles and you will grow and evolve beyond your wildest expectations. The
talents who put together the Howdy Doody Show broke ground with their unprecedented
product. No single person could have overcome all of the difficulties they encountered
and it's obvious that there was a real cohesive force among the crew.
For more information:
Buffalo Bob's autobiography Howdy and Me, Plume Books, 1987, currently out of
print, but still available from the Howdy Doody Historical Society, phone: 908-782-1159,
The Howdy Doody Times, published by the Howdy Doody Historical Society, cost
$18.00 a year. Filled with historical data, updates and members advertising
their wares. Founded by Jeff Judson: 8 Hunt Court, Flemington, NJ 08822-3349,
The American Dream Museum, Famous Neil Robert Sakow, owner and curator, 124
Raymond Road, West Hartford, CT 06107, phone for appointment: 203-561-5311.
Incredible collection of thousands of pieces of Howdy Doody memorabilia in mint
or near mint condition.