Howdy Doody and Me

I have no clue why all these very early memories have hit me over the past few weeks, but this is another.

As in my entry entitled “Crayons”, this memory takes me back to kindergarten.

There was a very popular kid show running on television at the time called the Howdy Doodie show.

(Following is how Wikipedia describes the show)

“Howdy Doody is an American children’s television program (with circus and Western frontier themes) and telecast on the NBC network in the United States from December 27, 1947, until September 24, 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.”

I was a HUGE Howdy Doody fan and only severe sickness would keep from watching the weekly show on our small black and white television.

A guy by the name of Bob Smith was the host of the show. All of us kids that watched the show ( it is my understanding that it remains the most successful kids show in television history) knew Bob Smith ad “Buffalo Bob” . This was a reference both to the historical American frontier character Buffalo Bill and Smith’s hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.). At first, the set was supposed to be a circus tent but soon was changed to a western town. Smith wore cowboy clothes, as did the marionette and star Howdy Doody.

As stated above, I was addicted to this show, as was my only friend at the time, Richard Z. In addition to Howdy and Buffalo Bob, there was quite the “cast of characters “ that made up this show including:

Phineas Bluster, Princess Summer FallWinterSpring, FlubaDub and Clarabell the Clown. There were many others, but these are the ones I remember the best. Howdy and Buffalo Bob had two nemeses, so to speak, Phineas Bluster and the Mysterious Mr. X. They would cause all kinds of havoc on the show and many episodes ended with Howdy and Buffalo Bob in some kind of predicament because of the antics of these two. Obviously, this kept us kids waiting in high anticipation for the next episode to see how our hero’s got out of the “fix” they were left in.

An ongoing struggle for the good guys would be finding that the props or the set had been “messed with” at the close of the show. This would leave Buffalo Bob and Howdy befuddled as to what happened to a chair, their cowboy boots, desk, curtains…. anything that was a fixture. One such series in the case of tampering with the shows set had to do with the curtains.

At the start of every show (as with most live variety shows of the day) the host would emerge from behind some plush stage curtains that would open after the host was announced. In this case, it was something like; “and now, kids all across America ….. HERE’s Buffalo Bob”!!! Loud cheers from the kids in the live audience and Buffalo Bob would step from behind the opening curtains revealing the set for the day.

Well, the set up for the this particular “ end of show” challenge was that the mystery “bad guys” had taken down the beautiful, plush curtains and replaced them with old, shabby, torn curtains. The closing of the show was Buffalo Bob frantically pushing aside the shabby curtains, looking for the plush curtains that opened the show. This was the plot for quite some time, and those of us kids watching the show on TV (remember how young we were) were both amazed and frightened that some bad guy was messing with our heroes.

As I mentioned, the show itself was filmed at NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, literally in walking distance from our apartment at the time. I have no recollection as to how it came about, but somehow Richard Z’s mom got us tickets to be part of the live audience for an upcoming show! This was the promised land! I was going to be on the Howdy Doody show!!

Each week I would sit in front of our television and watch the live audience in awe. I wondered what it would be like to be one of those lucky kids in the audience clapping and cheering for Howdy and Buffalo Bob and booing and hissing at the bad guys. I was certain that it would never happen. Then one day, mom tells me I’m going to be one of those kids… Me and Richard Z were going to be in the live audience! I don’t think it registered at first, but when it did, I remember running around the apartment screaming; “ I’m going to be one on the Howdy Doody Show!!!! I’m going to be on the Howdy Doody Show!!!!”

In hindsight, I believe it was at this point Dad starting planning on having another child.

I can not describe the excitement I felt the day of the show. I know I didn’t sleep a wink the night before; the anticipation was incredible.

By the time we were actually there, in the audience with all the other kids, the excitement was at a fever pitch. I looked at Richard Z and he looked at me. We didn’t exchange a word, but the look said;

“We are really here, aren’t we!” When the lights went down I thought my heart would pop out of my chest. Then the announcer’s voice, booming across the set. “OK, kids everywhere! Are you ready??!” Screams from all of us… ancient television cameras panning the audience. Richard Z was screaming, I was screaming all the kids were screaming.

Announcer: “IT’s HOODY DOODY TIME!

Screams get louder.

Announcer: “KIDS ALL ACROSS AMERICA… HERE’S BUFFALO BOB SMITH!!!!”

The plush curtains open, and there, right in front of us, live, not on television was Buffalo Bob! I could not believe it and I don’t have a clue when I stopped screaming.

The rest of the show was a fog, I remember nothing of it other than Buffalo Bob, and of course, Howdy on stage. I was mesmerized.

However, I do remember the end of the show. Please recall the plot of the nice curtains being replaced by ragged ones by the “villains?” This was highly anticipated; would we, the live audience, see the bag guys ripping down the nice curtains and replace them with rags???

This was the one thing about being in the live studio audience that proved to be negative. After the last commercial, before Buffalo Bob came out to say goodbye and to find the curtains again ruined and replaced, we witnessed the stagehands simply draw back the nice curtains and, open, in their place, the ragged ones.

Buffalo Bob came out to say goodbye and was, as usual shocked and dismayed to find the torn and patched curtains. He frantically looked all over the set, completely confused. As I mentioned, it always had us who were watching on television amazed and frightened…., but now….. we saw what really happened. A bit of the magic was gone.

Even in kindergarten, growing up came with some consequences.

But! Here we are… a lifetime from that day at NBC studios. I still see the set, I still hear the excited screams of the kids, I still see Richard Z’s face.

All in all, a wonderful, beautiful, unforgettable Cobblestone Dream.

 

Don.

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