"It's Howdy Doody Time!"...Literally!

February 14, 2008

The Howdy Doody Show is one of the most beloved children’s television programs in American pop culture history. With its Western theme and friendly marionette characters, children loved the adventurous fun that was always taking place in Doodyville. The concept for the show developed from a radio program entitled “The Triple B Ranch.” Those triple Bs stood for Big Brother Bob Smith, whose agent suggested that they transform the radio version for TV and pitched it to NBC executives. The show debuted on December 17, 1947 as Puppet Playhouse, but the name changed to The Howdy Doody Show less than a week later.

“Howdy Doody?” you might be asking. The name comes from the Western expression “Howdy do,” which was a colloquial version of the greeting “How do you do?” On his radio program, Big Brother Bob always greeted his fans with this expression, and it carried over into the TV show as the name of the main character, played by a red-haired, freckle-faced marionette. Howdy Doody was quite the all-American television show; Howdy even had exactly 48 freckles, one for each state in the union at the time!

The show also reflected the rapid advances in the field of technology that were taking place at the time with sill machines such as the Electromindomizer, which read minds, and the Honakdoodle, which instantly translated the Mother Goose character’s honks into perfect English. Howdy Doody reached an actual milestone in technology when it became the first NBC program in color in 1955.

Howdy’s activities with the other residents of Doodyville made for such quality entertainment for children that it went from being a one-hour Saturday show to the first daily show to be extended to five days a week. Monday through Friday, Howdy and his sister Heidi Doody, Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, Flub-a-Dub, Clarabell the Clown, Chief Thunderbird, and more interacted with the “Peanut Gallery,” a live studio audience of about forty children. At the beginning of each show, Buffalo Bob Smith would ask the peanut gallery, “What time is it?” and the kids would respond, “It’s Howdy Doody time!”

Kids loved the show so much that just watching wasn’t enough. Sponsors took notice of the power of Howdy Doody and they valued the success of the show so much that when Buffalo Bill had a heart attack in 1954, they insisted that he continue to be the one to promote their products, even though the show went on with a replacement. They went so far as to set up a film crew at his home; telling kids they were reporting from Pioneer Village, where Buffalo Bill was supposedly vacationing.

Howdy-themed merchandise took off into many licensed products. Dell began publishing Howdy Doody comic books in 1949; the same year a Howdy Doody record was released and sold 30,000 copies in the first week! Today, that merchandise is extremely valuable to baby boomers, to whom Howdy is an important part of childhood memories. Just two weeks ago, a Howdy Doody watch with die-cut display sold for $1,671.19, well-over what was anticipated in the Hake’s Americana and Collectibles Auction at Geppi’s Entertainment. The 1954 Ingraham watch came in a 1" tall box which read "Howdy Doody Wrist Watch/It's New/It Teaches Time" on the bottom. A slot at the top of the base holds a die-cut cardboard display figure of Howdy as a cowboy. Character portraits on base include Howdy, Clarabell, Princess and Dilly-Dally. The wrist watch itself came with the original blue strap. The dial shows the faces of Howdy, Clarabell, Princess and Dilly-Dally, and the watch still works!

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