By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
If you’re a baby boomer, chances are the words “Howdy Doody” bring back fond memories. The friendly boyish marionette and his best friend Buffalo Bob were the superstars of children’s TV when TV started its broadcast day at 5 p.m. In Doodyville, Mayor Phineas T. Bluster and his sidekick Dilly Dally, pet Flub-a-Dub, sister Heidi Doody and Captain Windy Scuttlebutt were some of the marionette citizens, and Clarabell the Clown (originally played by Bob Keeshan, the future Captain Kangaroo), Ugly Sam the Wrestler, Sir Archibald the Explorer, Oil Well Willie and Chief Thunderthud were the human inhabitants.
Young viewers longed to be part of the Peanut Gallery-the on-stage and actively involved audience. Howdy Doody was such a popular cultural icon that a million voters wrote in his name for president in the 1948 election. (Harry S. Truman won.)
Sixty years later, Howdy Doody and his entourage are as good as gone. DVD purveyor Image Entertainment owned the rights up until two or three years ago, said a spokesperson, who noted that “Howdy Doody” DVDs are still on sale on Amazon.com and elsewhere.
Howdy Doody was a cross-platform brand before those words were first uttered. With its long list of branded consumer goods, the producers had clearly figured out how to make the most of a hot property. Top items include Wonder Bread’s toy version of the marionette, a cardboard marionette of Clarabell, hand puppets, a card game, Little Golden Books, jigsaw puzzles, wristwatches, T-shirts, records, paper placemats, Dell comic books, ice cream wrappers, decals and trading cards, and a series of Welch’s glasses with “Howdy Doody” characters on the bottom.
The closest thing to Howdy on the air today is SpongeBob SquarePants who some say bears an eerie resemblance to the marionette.