In my last post I wrote about the live characters that inhabited Doodyville, in this one I introduce some of those fantastic puppets of that fanciful town.
For its time the Howdy Doody Show was a very unique television program. It was one of the first to integrate live actors with puppets and marionettes, decades before Sesame Street. And although the interaction between the live actors and the puppets seemed smooth and natural, those marionettes used for television caused difficulties for the puppeteers.
To better understand the issue I should point out, for those who may not know, the difference between puppets and marionettes. Puppets are defined usually as those characters controlled by the puppeteer’s hands, or with control rods; usually done from underneath. While marionettes are puppets that are manipulated by strings or wires, and controlled by a marionettist from a “puppet bridge,” which is from ten to twelve feet above the stage. Most marionettes used for TV, especially those that interact with actors, are larger than those used for small stage performances. The reason for this difference, as I mentioned in Part 2, was so the actors wouldn’t seem to dominate the marionettes because of their size differences. Another feature of TV marionettes is that their heads were much bigger. This was so that the camera could catch the characters facial movements; which were also controlled by wires from above.
The marionettes used on the Howdy Doody Show, especially Howdy himself, were a challenge for all the marionettists that worked on the show. Their talents in bringing all our friends to life can’t be overstated.
So, now that we’ve met the live actor citizens of Doodyville, let’s continue down Main Street and meet some of those stringed characters, which for me, are the most memorable.
(This Post was updated on September 2, 2020)
The Puppet Citizens of Doodyville
By 1949, the Howdy Doody Show had become the most popular program on TV, and Bob Smith was the very center of each broadcast. Smith badly needed a vacation, but just couldn’t up and leave for two weeks without a story that the kids would believe.
Eddie Kean created a story line, where Buffalo Bob had left for South America in search of a mysterious animal that had: a Duck’s bill, Cat’s whiskers, a Cocker Spaniel’s ears, a Giraffe’s neck, a Dachshund’s body, Seal’s flippers, Pig’s tail, and the memory of an Elephant. This animal Kean named, Flub-a-Dub.
This strange looking puppet became one of the most popular characters on the show, and was one of the most complicated puppets built by Scott Brinker. Besides that Flub-a-Dub would cause a “little” problem for the parents of the kids watching, and it had to do with Flub-a-Dub’s diet.
According to the story Kean had written, the Flub-a-Dub only ate flowers; a harmless storyline, right? But soon NBC’s switchboard went crazy and their mailroom over flowed with complaints from upset parents. It seemed we kids had started to eat flowers. To correct this, Buffalo Bob told the kids that Flub-a-Dub only ate special flowers from South America. Adding to the delight of the parents Kean changed Flub-a-Dub’s diet to Spaghetti and Meatballs; but then again, that’s all we kids ever wanted to eat.
The Flub-a-Dub was first voiced by Dayton Allen, them by Allen Swift, and finally by Bob “Nick” Nicholson.
Phineas T. Bluster
Phineas T. Bluster was the mayor of Doodyville, and a complete skinflint, as well as an evil person. Bluster hated the clean and honest Howdy, and would go to great lengths to undermine him.
Phineas T. was created by Eddie Kean and built by Scott Brinker. As with the Flub, Bluster was also voiced by: Dayton Allen, Allen Swift and Nicholson.
Dilly Dally first appeared on the show in October of 1949. Dilly was Howdy’s boyhood friend, but was also Phineas T. Bluster’s innocent patsy. The character was created by Eddie Kean, drawn by Milt Neil, and again built by Scott Brinker.
The one thing that separated Dilly Dally from all the other puppets was his squeaky voice. This unique voice was created by Bill LeCornec; and no one else could match Dilly’s voice the way LeCornec did it. This worked to LeCornec’s advantage (along with his Chief Thunderthud) in getting him rehired after the “Christmas Eve Massacre;” which I write about in my next post.
Inspector John J. Fadoozle, America’s No. 1 private eye
The John J. Fadoozle marionette was actually Velma Dawson’s second creation; and was to be Howdy’s original backup. As I wrote in Part 2, Dawson made this puppet to the specifications required by NBC, and it just didn’t work out. Scott Brinker re-purposed what was to be Double Doody into the inspector.
John J. Fadoozle was first voiced by Dayton Allen, then by Allen Swift and Bob Nicholson.
Double Doody, as was written by Eddie Kean, was Howdy’s evil twin. It turned out that Double Doody was the mysterious “Mr. X,” who ran against Howdy for” President of All the Boys and Girls” during the beginnings of the Howdy Doody Show. It was Mr. X’s good looks that caused Howdy to have plastic surgery, and thus leading to the new look for Howdy.
The first marionette to be called Double Doody, as I wrote above, was Dawson’s Howdy backup. That puppet appeared only once on TV as Double Doody before being re-purposed.
Later Rufus Rose would create a real backup Double Doody, which he modeled from Dawson’s original. Rufus’s Double Doody was used to set up the studio lighting and to appear on TV, when the original Howdy was off being repaired.
Cap’n Windy Scuttlebutt
The Captain was another creation of Eddie Kean and Scott Brinker. The Cap’n Scuttlebutt character was created to stall for time, as the producers looked for an actor to play Clarabell when Bob Keeshan left.
In Kean’s story, “Where’s Clarabell,” after searching for weeks for the missing clown, Buffalo Bob finally spots him imprisoned at the bottom of Doodyville Harbor. To get the effect of Clarabell’s watery entrapment, they used a Clarabell doll wearing a diver’s helmet, placed in a fish tank.
Buffalo Bob contacts Cap’n Windy Scuttlebutt, who uses his tugboat to rescue Clarabell. Kean’s story ends with Buffalo Bob removing the diver’s helmet to reveal Clarabell; but now in the person of Nick Nicholson.
Some of the Other Characters on the Original Show
Other puppet characters on the show were: Heidi Doody, Petey Bluster, Don José, Hector Hamhock Bluster, Tizzy the dinosaur, Tommy Turtle, Hyde, and Zeke, to list but a few. But there was one other character on the original show that wasn’t a puppet or a live human.
Zippy the Chimp
In 1953 Buffalo Bob, Judy Tyler and show producer Martin Stone were in New Orleans making a promotional appearance for Kellogg’s. While visiting Bourbon Street, they saw a sign at one of the many strip joints that promoted a show with a chimpanzee. This was something that they just had to see.
Smith was so impressed with Zippy that they worked out a contract with owner/trainer Lee Ecuyer to bring Zippy to New York and the Howdy Doody Show.
Zippy would appear on Howdy Doody over the next five years. But his fame didn’t end there; Zippy would be featured on the television shows: Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar, Arthur Godfrey, Mike Douglas, and even Bob Keeshan’s Captain Kangaroo. Besides these TV shows Zippy appeared in commercials and in movies, and according to one source, even a Tarzan film.
There were many Zippy the Chimps owned and trained by the Ecuyer’s through the years; the first Zippy, the one that started it all, was given to the Bronx Zoo in 1960, when at ten years of age, he became too large to handle.
On Christmas Eve, 1952, a major event took place that would shake Doodyville to its core. This event is known as “The Christmas Eve Massacre.” In my next post I’ll tell the story of this event, and how it changed the very character makeup of the Howdy Doody Show. Also, I write about the other Howdy Doody shows which grew from the most popular children’s show of its time.
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