From the Archives of Early Television: Howdy Doody and Winky Dink

Buffalo Bob: “What time is it?”

Peanut Gallery: “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”

Buffalo Bob Smith and Howdy Doody, c. 1955

Buffalo Bob Smith and Howdy Doody, c. 1955

My age is showing, but what the %#@.  If you’re an American baby boomer the name Howdy Doody (1947-1960) is synonymous with seminal children’s television–perhaps the most recognized name of 1950’s kiddie fare.    If you happen to be be a boomer of a certain age–over sixty too many years old–you might just recall another oddball TV name from that era:  Winky Dink (1953-1957).

For you uninitiated, uncultured whippersnappers, I’ll elaborate.

Howdy Doody–In the 1940’s,  a Buffalo New York native, Bob Smith, created the character Howdy Doody for a WNBC radio program.  The popularity of the program led him to make the move to television in 1947.  the program featured both human and puppet characters, which included:

Flub-A-Dub. What happens wnen puppeteers get high.

Flub-A-Dub. What happens when puppeteers get high.

  • Heidi Doody–Howdy Doody’s sister
  • Phineus T. Bluster–The local mayor
  • Flub-a-Dub–an odd creature composed of body parts of 8 different animals
  • Inspector John J. Fadoozle, private eye
  • Dilly Dally–A circus performer
  • Clarabell Hornblower–a mute clown originally played by one Bob Keeshan of Capatain Kangaroo fame.




Phineas T. Bluster.  Politics hasn't changed.

Phineas T. Bluster. Politics hasn’t changed.

Perhaps the most interesting sidebar to the entire Howdy Doody run on NBC, was an ongoing battle between Smith and puppet-maker Frank Paris.   Paris made the original Howdy Doody puppet and complained constantly of being cheated out of royalties.  Howdy Doody dolls were all the rage, and Bob Smith owned the property rights to the character.  You’ve heard the phrase”I’ll take my football and go home?”  Well on more than one occasion, the irate Smith took his Howdy Doody puppet from the studio and went home.  Problem.  The show was aired live in those pre-video tape days, forcing a last minute plot and script change making excuses for why Howdy wasn’t around.

By the way, the term Peanut Gallery, actually dates to Vaudeville.  It referred to the cheapest seats where the cheapest snack–peanuts–were sold.  But most of us today know the term from The Howdy Doody Show, which resurrected the term for the live studio audience of kids.

Winky Dink–The name Jack Barry will forever live in TV infamy, for his roll in rigging the game show Twenty-One. It led to congressional hearings, national disgrace, and ultimately the book and movie Quiz Show.  What only a few of us who were watching kiddie TV in the mid-1950’s will remember, though, was that he was the host of a quirky live and animated program Winky Dink and You.

Long before twitter and other social media, Winky Dink was probably the first interactive TV show, though in the most lo-tech of manners.  The show featured Barry interacting with the cartoons projected beside him.  The interaction with audience was by means of a coded message or connect the dots puzzle, that could only be read by writing directly on the TV, or rather on a clear plastic film covering the TV.  Problem.  You had to send in to the network to get the clear plastic film.   I didn’t have one and I couldn’t bear the suspense of not knowing what that image or message was, so I took a crayon and wrote, sans clear film, directly on our ancient TV screen.   My mother was not pleased.  Let’s just say, Howdy Doody, I got my Winky Dinked!

More contemporary samples of my madness available on my own blog, The Millennium Conjectures.







About Mark Sackler

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."-Alan Kay; Let's invent a better future, together.
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12 Responses to From the Archives of Early Television: Howdy Doody and Winky Dink

  1. I love this post. I used to have my own Howdy Doody doll, but ventriloquism was not my strong suit. And who could forget Clarabell?

  2. Arto says:

    Whoops! Accidentally double-scheduled for today!

    Love the post, so much of that Dickensian fun naming stuff (which you also wrote about).

    Winky Dink, Flub-a-Dub, Howdy Doody…just saying the words puts you in a good mood.

  3. Dave says:

    Oh my goodness Mark!!!! My dad used to love Winky Dink, and my sister and Rob and I have all watched a few episodes. Winky Dink was awesome!!!! I can’t believe you’ve posted about it!

    Did you ever watch the Captain Fortune show? It was never recorded, but its catchphrase “Who’s That Knocking on the Barrel!” lives on through our family’s story telling!

    • marksackler says:

      Never heard of that one Dave. I’m guessing it was maybe local to where your father grew up? If it was national after 1954 or so it’s unlikely I would have missed it. As for Winky Dink, I’m impressed that you know it since even few if my generation recall it.

      • Dave says:

        My dad was born in ’44, and raised in the SF Bay area, so I’m guessing it was a time issue, rather than a regional one. Winky Dink is awesome! My sister and I used to rib my dad about writing on his TV with his deluxe Winky Dink set that he got for $1.

  4. ksbeth says:

    dilly dally is my fav )

  5. Pingback: Time Out: From the Archives of Early Children’s Television – The Millennium Conjectures™

  6. wdydfae says:

    “. . . those of us raised on Soupy Sales and Johnny Quest were just twinkie dinkies in our dads’ eyes when Howdy Doody reigned, but Mark brings it all to life as if we were really there . . .”

    “. . . a masterful romp through some of the most campy but also most endearing episodes in kid show history . . .”

    “. . . Howdy Doody may have been a doll, but he was no dummy . . .”

    “. . . that masterful Mark really hits the ‘mark’ with this re-‘mark’-able resurrection from TV land . . .”

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