The tearful first and last words uttered by the heretofore mute Clarabelle the Clown on the final Howdy Doody television show in 1960.
Howdy Doody was the first baby boomer television superstar. The all-American puppet boy did more to bring the new medium to American families than any character, real or imaginary. He was the NBC color test pattern in 1954.
The program had an unabashedly Old West flavor, with a big dose of hokey. The name of the freckled-face kid dressed in cowboy garb was taken from the bumpkin “Howdy Do” greeting. His human buddy, Buffalo Bob, was partial to a classic Kit Carson look.
Indians were an important part of the show, and their portrayal was hardly “politically correct.” Heck, in those days, “politically correct” meant spelling the word right. The head of the mythical Ooragnak (kangaroo spelled backwards) Native American tribe was Chief Thunderthud. As soon as he appeared on set he would chant this mantra: “Me, heap big chief, Thuderthud, need-um squaw.”
Actor Bill Le Cornec could be a stunt double for Frank Sinatra
He originated the phrase “Kowabonga.” His main rival was Chief Thunderchicken, who would counter with “Kowachicken.” Chief Bungathud was one of the founders of Doodyville but apparently had gone to join his ancestors before the Show began. But we did get to see Chief Featherman
who looked like Sid Ceaser with his patched on nose and Groucho Marx eyebrows.
And the there was the Indian for all seasons, Princess Summerfall Winterspring. She sported faux Native American clothes, was a member of the Tinka-Tonka tribe, and wore a lot of Hollywood makeup, including very arched eyebrows. Judy Tyler went on to co-star in an Elvis movie.
Originally, television shows designed for boomer youngsters were provided as a public service. When the “Howdy Doody for President of the Kids” campaign received 60,000 requests for buttons in 1948 (he should have been Tom Dewey’s running mate), exec ears perked up. Within a week, all the advertising time on Howdy Doody had sold out to Colgate. Kowabunga! Baby boomers were consumers.
When Hoody Doody ended in 1960, it had logged a record busting 2,543 episodes.
• Howdy sported 48 freckles, one for each state in the union.
• Flub-a-Dub was a combination of eight animals—a duck’s bill, a giraffe’s neck, a spaniel’s ears, cat’s whiskers, a dachshund’s body, a seal’s flippers, a pig’s tail and an elephant’s memory.
• Clarabelle the Clown was born when producers decided that a studio go-fer who ran on stage in front of cameras to deliver props to Buffalo Bob should be dressed as a clown. A young intern named Bob Keeshan defined the role before wiping off the make-up and turning into the legendary Captain Kangaroo.
Who didn’t have a Howdy Doody product as a kid? There were plenty to choose from:
Apple Package Wrappers
Bread End Labels (Wonder)
Cut Out Cards (Jello)
Juice Covers (Welch’s)
Little Big Books
Toothbrushes and Holders
Today, baby boomers are chasing down their childhood collectables – at greatly increased prices.