Howdy Doody" was the first television show I ever remember watching as a very young kid. I hadn't seen it in about 55 years so, at first, it was kind of shocking to view a few episodes just the other day. A new DVD by Mill Creek Entertainment came out last last year (2008) and contains a number of episodes from 1949-1952 and all of them with pretty good transfers.
The show is not something I could enjoy now as a 60-plus-year-old man, but it was interesting to see the principal characters again. I viewed three of the episodes and, frankly, that was enough. It was fascinating to look back, though. I can't believe how the plugs they did for their sponsors, like Halo Shampoo or Three Muskateeres candy bar, were worked into an audience-participation thing. It's so different from what we've known the last 40 years. Instead of cutting away to a commercial, they plugged the products as part of the show.
Speaking of participation, I had also forgotten exactly how young the audience - the famous "Peanut Gallery" - was, the kids all looking about five years old. This was definitely a show for very young kids. The only part that I still enjoyed was the old silent film comedies. In each half-hour Howdy Doody episode, they showed a silent-film comedy with Buffalo Bob explaining some of the things going on. The old slapstick films are still funny, of course.
It also looked like the show did a lot to promote the American Indian. Yeah, they might have been white men dressed up as Native Americans, but there were a number of characters in this show and they were not portrayed negatively. They were live humans and puppets.
The other "live" people included a star of the show: "Clarabell" The Clown. Clarabell was like Harpo Marx, a silent pantomime figure who honked instead of spoke and made a lot of faces, many of them sad. He was first played by Bob Keeshan, who went on to big fame as "Captain Kangaroo."
The only thing that baffled me was seeing "Princess Summerfallwinterspring," whom I always remembered as a beautiful young women. Here, she's a puppet. I did some research, though, and found out she started out as a puppet on this show and then became a real-life human, played by Judy Tyler. By the way, Tyler played opposite Elvis Presley in the 1957 film, "Jailhouse Rock." Tragically, the woman and her husband were killed later that year in a car crash. Elvis said he could never watch that movie again, because seeing Judy would be too much to bear.
All in all, I still can't have anything but the fondest thoughts for this show, which first brought me the joys of television entertainment. Buffalo Bob Smith will always be a folk-hero of sorts to me, and millions of other Baby Boomers.
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