Howdy Doody’s Laughing Circus
Howdy Doody and Bob Smith
RCA Victor WY-414
Total Time: 14:50
Howdy Doody is an American children’s television program (with circus and Western frontier themes) that was created and produced by E. Roger Muir and telecast on NBC in the United States from 1947 until 1960. It was a pioneer in children’s television programming and set the pattern for many similar shows. One of the first television series produced at NBC in Rockefeller Center, in Studio 3A, it was also a pioneer in early color production as NBC (at the time owned by TV maker RCA) used the show in part to sell color television sets in the 1950s.
Howdy Doody himself is a freckle-faced boy marionette with 48 freckles, one for each state of the union (up until January 3, 1959, when Alaska was admitted as the 49th state), and was originally voiced by Buffalo Bob Smith. The Howdy Doody show’s various marionettes were created and built by puppeteers Velma Wayne Dawson, Scott Brinker (the show’s prop man) and Rufus Rose throughout the show’s run. The redheaded Howdy marionette on the original show was operated with 11 strings: two heads, one mouth, one eye, two shoulders, one back, two hands and two knees. Three strings were added when the show returned—two elbows and one nose.
The original Howdy Doody marionette now resides at the Detroit Institute of Arts. There were duplicate Howdy Doody puppets, designed to be used expressly for off-the-air purposes (lighting rehearsals, personal appearances, etc.), although surviving kinescope recordings clearly show that these duplicate puppets were indeed used on the air occasionally. Double Doody was the Howdy stand-in puppet, now on permanent display at the Smithsonian. Photo Doody is the near-stringless marionette that was used in personal appearances, photos, parades, and the famed NBC test pattern. He was sold by Leland’s Sports Auction House in 1997 for more than $113,000 to a private art collector, TJ Fisher. Other puppet characters included Heidi Doody (Howdy’s sister), Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Inspector John J. Fadoozle (“America’s number 1 private eye”), Sandra the Witch, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, Capt. Windy Scuttlebut and the curious Flub-a-Dub (a combination of eight animals: a duck’s bill, a cat’s
whiskers, a spaniel’s ears, a giraffe’s neck, a dachshund’s body, a seal’s flippers, a pig’s tail and an elephant’s memory). The show is also known for its animals like Hyde and Zeke the bears, Mambo the Elephant, Tizzy the dinosaur, Paddle the Gnu, and Tommy Turtle. Howdy Doody dolls were also sold commercially, as well as marionettes of Howdy Doody and Flub-a-dub.
In addition to the original vintage puppets, puppetmaker Alan Semok (at the request of Bob Smith in the early 1990s) created several exact replicas of Howdy, including (thanks to improved materials and new moulding techniques) a more exact marionette replica than had ever been produced in the past, as well as a new Photo Doody which Smith used in personal appearances until the time of his death. One of Semok’s marionette duplicates appears on a 2005 cover of TV Guide magazine as part of a series recreating classic covers from the magazine’s history. The cover featured Howdy with Conan O’Brien dressed as Buffalo Bob Smith. Another of the Semok duplicates resides in the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, the private museum owned by renowned illusionist David Copperfield.
Bob Smith, the show’s host, was dubbed “Buffalo Bob” early in the show’s run (a reference to the historical Buffalo Bill). Smith wore cowboy garb, and the name of the puppet “star” was derived from the American expression “howdy doody”/”howdy do”, a commonplace corruption of the phrase “How do you do?” used in the Western United States (The straightforward use of that expression was also in the theme song’s lyrics.) Smith, who had gotten his start as a singing radio personality in Buffalo, New York, used music frequently in the program. Cast members Lew Anderson and Robert “Nick” Nicholson were both experienced jazz musicians.