Buffalo Bob: “What time is it?”
Peanut Gallery: “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”
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:
- 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.
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.