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Howdy Doody went off the air fourteen years before I was born. Until
today, I had never seen a single episode. Oh yes, I had seen the clip
of Clarabell crying on the last episode, but it was not until today--at
age 31--that I saw the show for the first time with my five year-old
I can't say that I have ever seen such a quality children's program. Maybe this is because Bob Smith & Co. were trained in radio and live television back in the 1940's, but there was something authentic about their performances. Their diction, their facial expressions, their chemistry, and their interaction with the kids... And then the story lines were not bad either. Plus, after seeing the live commercials, I was expecting my son to ask for Wonder bread.
All you have to do is compare their work product against any children's show today and you will see what I mean. They had a connection with the audience--something the Power Rangers don't have. Frankly, I feel sad for my son's generation, because there is nothing so real on television for him today. Instead of finding role models like Buffalo Bob on TV, all he has are impersonal cartoons; and if, God forbid, he should ever change the channel from these shows, he might find Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.
I first saw "Puppet Playhouse" at the age of 5 on a neighbor's 5-inch
GE TV (with a magnifying glass over the screen so that we could all see
it). At that time, I lived near Buffalo, NY. Buffalo Bob's constant
references to places around Buffalo brought the context a little
closer. Then there were the old time movies, featuring Mickey McGuire
and the Tons of Fun.
I also watched The Camel News Caravan, I Remember Mama, Milton Berle and all sorts of programs which stimulated my curiosity and imagination. And all this without the benefit of special effects that are now available. And, more importantly, a lot more imagination at play, than one would find in later years.
Years later when I'm watching my children watch cartoon characters flying around with devastating rays coming from their bare hands, I quickly devise ways to get the kids away from this stuff. My opinion is that (like another commenter) is that my kids missed some pretty neat stuff.
I watched this show everyday when I was a child in the '50s. I was even on the show once as a member of the 'Peanut Gallery'. Kids need more of this type of programming today and less of the pseudo violence and political programming that is labeled as 'kids TV' today. This stirs imagination, which in turn stirs creativity in children. The actors were wholesome people. Bob Keeshan who played 'Clarabell the Clown' for several years, later became successful as 'Captain Kangaroo'. Bob Smith who was also known as 'Buffalo Bob' did a lot of touring and public appearances. He was kind to children, I remember the day that I got to be in the 'Peanut Gallery', I was 8, Buffalo Bob was kind and not at all flustered by a bunch of young children. He seemed to really like kids.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the greatest TV series of all time, a stunningly
imaginative program filled with wonderfully quirky story-lines. Buffalo
Bob Smith, Flub-A-Dub, Princess Summerfall Windersping, Dilly Dally, Mr
Bluster and Howdy Doody himself all provided safe, quality
entertainment for children and even some adults. Though the in-show
advertising may seem awkward today, there was still usually less
minutes of advertising per an episode than many "current" children's
programs. Plus, one must be impressed by the clever ways the writers
managed to incorporate the products (Colgate Dental Cream, Royal
Gelatin, etc) into the story lines. Many episodes involved Mr Blusters
slightly evil schemes, which always failed. Comic relief was provided
by Clarabell the Clown, who always seemed to make a mess of things.
Overall, I'd give this show 9 out of 10, though I'm slightly biased since I really like kinescope recordings.
Back when Howdy Doody was aired at least you had characters that were
not done up in costumes that disguise what the actors looked like as
they are today.
I grew up during the early stages of children's programming on TV and watched Howdy Doody (Bob Smith), Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) and The Merry Mailman (Ray Heatherton). Now your children are watching Barney (a supposed stuffed toy who comes to life to play with the children). Does anyone know the actors name or know what he looks like?. You also are letting your children watch Bear in the Big Blue House (again, any idea who that is?). Our children, and in my case grandchildren, are watching Jim Henson-like characters in full body costumes and not seeing realistic characters who imparted the same moral standards (if not more so) on a daily basis!! I feel sorry for the person who thought that the characters on Howdy Doody were grotesque yet lets his children watch the Power Rangers and other shows that depict violence in every episode. At least those grotesque characters never threw lightning bolts, had to kick 15 ninja style characters into oblivion or otherwise teach children that violence is the only way to overcome evil.
Let me go back to the days when a children's TV host was seen as him/herself. I would be much more satisfied seeing the grandchildren learning lessons from a person rather than a purple dinosaur!!
This show is a good example of how children have changed since the halcyon
haze of the 1950s. Back then, this show and its characters were beloved to
seemingly most children, but now, children would be frightened by
evil-looking puppets and clowns.
It's hard to believe that a children's show, much less one like this, could endure for nearly 2500 episodes. Oh well. I suppose children's television hasn't changed that much since the 1950s, after all -- Mr. Rogers is still around, as he was in the 50s, and modern children's shows have retained their simple, mindless guile, while at the same time keeping kids glued to their TVs for a few hours each day.
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