My wife and I love the Coachella Valley in California. So much so, that we spent time looking for a house to buy there. At one of the open houses I got to talking to the lady friend of the realtor. In our conversation I mentioned that I was working on a series of blog posts on the history of the Howdy Doody Show.
She then mentioned that her father was an actor; and when he was working in New York he was able to get her in the Peanut Gallery. I was suddenly star struck! The “Peanut Gallery” was the one place in the whole wide world where every Baby Boomer wanted to be sitting. And now, I was in the presents of someone who had actually sat there.
In this post I’ll give the history of the famous Peanut Gallery. After that I’ll tell of the other Howdy Doody shows that were franchised in the 1950s, and of the mostly unknown, Howdy Doody radio show.
(Updated on September 1, 2020)
The Peanut Gallery
As with many aspects of the original Howdy Doody Show, it’s “Peanut Gallery” was yet another evolution. What finally ended up being the Peanut Gallery had its very beginnings on Bob Smith’s Triple B Ranch children’s radio show.
The Triple B Ranch Contestants
Bob Smith’s Triple B Ranch was a pre-Puppet Playhouse and pre-Howdy Doody kid’s radio quiz show. The Triple B Ranch was broadcast on Saturday mornings on NBC’s WNBC radio. This program was also the first radio show to feature a live studio audience made up of children. According to Smith in an interview, the show was a competition program between two schools. Each school would send four of its students, between the ages of eight and eleven years of age, who competed by answering simple questions asked by Smith.
The theme for the Triple B Ranch was western; the contestants from each school would sit on one of two wooden horses, which had four seats each. If they answered incorrectly, off they went, like in a rodeo. The last one to remain on the horse won the contest for their school.
Also, besides the contestants, according the Smith, there were two to three hundred classmates in the studio to watch and to root for their school’s team.
The Fun House Kids
When Smith transitioned the Triple B Ranch over to television, becoming the Puppet Playhouse, he again included a group of kids as part of the show. From one of the videos on YouTube that I watched, it looks like they had eight young people sitting on benches. Also, their ages seemed to be about the same as those on the Triple B Ranch.
One of the segments on Puppet Playhouse was puppeteer Frank Paris’s “Toby Tyler at the Circus;” because of that, they gave the show a circus theme. It was only natural then to call where the youngsters sat as “the Fun House.”
When the program’s name changed to that of its star, Howdy Doody, so did where the kids sat.
The Peanut Gallery
The audience for the Howdy Doody Show was expanded to forty kids. Also, their ages were much younger than those of the Fun House; as young as five years old. How the name “The Peanut Gallery came about, according to Bob Smith, was that parents would call their children, lovingly, “peanuts,” and that the term fit perfectly with the shows circus theme. So where these peanuts sat became the now famous, Peanut Gallery.
The Peanuts in the Peanut Gallery were very inclusive in the show’s storylines. Many of the live characters regularly interacted with the peanuts: having them sing songs, watching out for what Clarabell was doing, and to help in promoting the sponsors products.
But most of all, for us watching at home, those forty lucky boys and girls got to answer Buffalo Bob’s daily question as to what time it was, with an excited, “Its Howdy Doody Time!” Then they, along with us at home, would join in singing Eddie Kean’s timeless theme song, which went:
(Sung to the tune of Ta-ra-ra- Boom-de-ay)
It’s Howdy Doody Time.
It’s Howdy Doody Time.
Bob Smith and Howdy too,
Say Howdy Do to you.
Let’s give a rousing cheer,
Cause Howdy Doody’s here,
It’s time to start the show,
So kids let’s go!
The New Howdy Doody Show Peanut Gallery
When the syndicated New Howdy Doody Show aired in 1976, they expanded the Peanut Gallery even more. One source says that the number sitting there was around 400.
And it wasn’t just young children sitting there; they let their parents join them. Some say that this took away the closeness that the 1950s show had between the citizens of Doodyville and the Peanuts. Having watched the New Howdy Doody Show, I agree.
Another legacy of the Howdy Doody Show’s Peanut Gallery, and its Peanuts, is that Charles M. Schulz adapted it for his comic strip, “Peanuts.”
There were other Howdy Doody Shows
Besides NBC’s five day a week Howdy Doody Show, NBC franchised the rights to other markets outside of the United States; as well as a weekly radio show. The most successful of these franchises was the one broadcast north of the US border.
It’s Howdy Doody Time, eh!
Even today I remember it well; I was either six or seven years old and had just gotten home from school. I turned on the TV, and something really, really strange was on. There he was, Howdy Doody, but where was Buffalo Bob? Where we lived in Michigan was really close to Canada, and we were able to receive the local Canadian television station. What I was watching was the franchised Canadian Howdy Doody Show.
The Canadian Howdy Doody first aired on November 15, 1954, and it had some differences from its American cousin. The show had Howdy and Clarabell, but their Buffalo Bob was called Timber Tom; and its Doodyville was in the Canadian north woods.
Peter Mews, Canada’s Timber Tom
Since there is only ONE Buffalo Bob, and in keeping with its north woods theme, the Canadian Howdy Doody Show’s MC was called Timber Tom.
Timber Tom was played by two Canadian actors. The one longest in that role was Peter Mews, who played the part for five years.
After the Canadian Howdy Doody went off the air, Mews appeared in the films: The Unforeseen, Folio and First Performance. He also appeared on TV in the 1954 production of Delilah, and the 1974 mini-series The National Dream. One of his most notable works was as Matthew Cuthbert in the Charlottetown Festival’s production of Anne of Green Gables, which he played for over twenty years.
Peter Mews passed away on November 24, 1984, at the age of 63.
As I stated, there was another actor who played the Timber Tom character, and you’ll be surprised as to whom that was.
To Boldly Go!
In doing research for this section I came upon some very interesting tidbits of information. One was who first played Timber Tom; and that was Vancouver British Columbia born actor James Doohan.
Although sources credit Doohan as playing Timber Tom, it’s not clear how long he was in that role. One source says that he was cast for the part, but never appeared on TV. In fact, Doohan doesn’t even credit himself in the role in his autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty. But what we know for sure is that Doohan would go on to become Scotty on the original Star Trek.
James Doohan passed away in Redmond Washington on July 20, 2005, at the age of 85.
There was also another familiar Canadian actor to “boldly go” on the Canadian Howdy Doody Show, and that was William Shatner.
A couple of my sources said that Shatner appeared on the US Howdy Doody Show, but the ShatnerWeb website disputes this. They say that Shatner was living in Toronto in 1954, and that it would have been more likely for him to get a spot on the Canadian Howdy than in New York. They also state that Shatner wasn’t in New York until 1956, and although the US show was still being broadcast, they feel it very unlikely he was on that show. However, I will also mention that the ShatnerWeb theory goes against what Shatner himself wrote in his autobiography.
As for me, I support what the ShatnerWeb says, and that’s for a couple of reasons. First, most of my sources do not include Shatner as being part of the US Howdy Doody cast, but does include him on the Canadian. And second, the name of the character he played, Ranger Bob. That doesn’t fit the western character names of Doodyville; but it fits perfectly with the Canadian north.
Alfie Scopp, the Canadian Clarabell the Clown
Alfie Scopp was born in London England in 1919, and came to Canada with his family when they immigrated to Montreal.
Scopp has had a long career in both television and film; one of his most notable roles was the bookseller Avram in the 1971 film, Fiddler on the Roof. He is also known for being the voice of “Charlie-in-the-Box” on the 1964 television Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Scopp was the only actor to play Clarabell on the Canadian Howdy Doody Show.
As of this writing Alfie Scopp is still with us at the age of 101.
The Canadian Princesses
As with the US, the Canadian show also, obviously, had Indian Princesses of its own. While not called Summerfall Winterspring, they served the same role on the show; offering songs and puppet interactions.
Princess Pan of the Forest
There were two actresses who appeared in this role:
Maxine Miller was born in Minnedosa, Manitoba Canada in 1928. From what I’ve been able to gather, her appearance on the Canadian Howdy Doody Show as Princess Pan of the Forest in 1954 would have been one of her first acting jobs.
Maxine’s career after Howdy was very, very successful, appearing in over 119 movies and television shows. Miller is still an active actress having performed in: Love Happens (2009), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) and Fifty Shades of Freed (2018).
Besides having a principle role on Howdy Doody she also appeared in another iconic children’s television program. She was Nurse Farmer in the first three seasons of Misterrogers. This brought up another, “ah, ha; I didn’t know that?” moment for me.
I had no idea that Fred Rogers had launched what would become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on the CBC in Toronto Ontario in 1962. At that time the show was called, Misterrogers. In 1966, Fred Rogers purchased the rights to Misterrogers from the CBC, and moved back to the United States. The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that we all know debuted on February 19, 1968 on WQED in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
The other person in the role of Princess Pan was another accomplished Canadian actress by the name of Toby Tarnow.
Tarnow was born in Gravelbourg Saskatchewan Canada in 1937. She started studying acting at the Lorne Green Academy of Radio Arts at the age of eight, and by the age of ten she was already performing professionally on CBC radio. In 1954, she became the first actress to play Anne, in the live televised production of the musical adaptation of Anne of Green Gables.
In addition to playing Princess Pan on Howdy Doody, she also had a recurring role on the CBC children’s program Mr. Dressup (the spinoff from Fred Rogers’ Misterrogers, after he took his neighborhood to Pittsburgh). Tarnow’s wide career encompassed radio, television, film, theater, and writing.
After moving to the United States she founded the Riverbend School of Theater Arts for the Boys and Girls Club in the State of New Hampshire. In 2010 she was awarded the Children and Youth Theater Award by the New Hampshire Theater Awards.
Caryl McBain, Princess Haida
The Canadian show had one other Princess named Haida; who had the powers of a Medicine Man. The character of Princess Haida was played by actress Caryl McBain. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any further information on McBain’s career, other than her being on Howdy Doody.
Larry D. Mann, Capt’n Scuttlebutt
Larry Mann was one of those character actors whose face and acting you’ll always recognized. Mann was born in Toronto Canada on December 18, 1922. Before he began acting Mann was a disc jockey on the Canadian radio station 1050 CHUM.
In his four decades of preforming his many credits include : Get Smart, Gunsmoke, The Mann from Uncle, Hill Street Blues, The Dukes of Hazzard to mention just a very few of his TV appearances. Two of his most prominent movie roles were In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Sting (1973).
On the Canadian Howdy Doody he played a live Capt’n Scuttlebutt (rather than a puppet as the US character) who was a good natured pirate. He was also the voice of Flub-a-Dub on that show.
Larry Mann past away in Los Angeles California on January 6, 2014, at the age of 91.
More Canadian Howdy Trivia
Another famous person that appeared on the Canadian Howdy was the famous singer and Broadway star Robert Goulet. He played the character Trapper Pierre.
There’s another interesting piece of information that I discovered about the Canadian Howdy. One of the shows characters was named Mr. X. This character shouldn’t be confused with the early US Howdy’s character with the same name. The Canadian Mr. X would teach history to the children watching. But what’s interesting is how he got his historical information. Mr. X would travel through space and time in what he called his, “Whatsis Box.” If this sounds familiar, I would point out that one of the Canadian show’s creators was Sydney Newman. Newman would move to England, where he’d help to create the BBC program, Doctor Who.
Saluting the Unseen Voices of the Canadian Howdy
The actors who voiced the different characters on the Canadian Howdy were: Claude Rae (Howdy Doody, Phineas T. Bluster and Mr. X), Jacqueline White (Howdy Doody), Norma MacMillan (Heidi Doody), Donna Miller (Prunella Bluster and Heidi Doody), and Jack Mather (Dilly Dally, Pereival Parrot and other characters).
The puppeteers who worked the strings were Hal and Renée Marquette. There were two different Howdy Doody marionettes used on the Canadian show. The first was made by the prop department at the CBC. Although it looked like Howdy, it wasn’t the quality that the network wanted.
The second puppet was made by the Roses from Velma Dawson’s original. Although this Howdy was slightly shorter than Dawson’s, he is identical in every other way. In addition, according to the Lelands auction website, this Howdy was also used as a backup on the US show before going to Canada. If this Howdy indeed appeared on the US Howdy Doody Show, he would have been the only of the shows original Howdy Doody marionettes to be auctioned. He sold for $39,701.13 in 2002.
The Canadian Howdy Doody’s last broadcast was on June 26, 1959.
Oye, niños, ¿qué hora es? ¡Es hora de Howdy Doody!
There were also two versions of the Howdy Doody Show produced for the Mexican and Cuban markets.
La Hora de Jaudi Didi
In 1953, a Spanish version of Howdy Doody was produced in Mexico City; the title was, La Hora de Jaudi Didi. Besides having a Howdy Doody puppet, there was another principal puppet character on the show named Don Burro. Due to production issues the show ended after only six months.
There was also a version of Howdy Doody that was broadcast in Cuba called Chiriltin. This show would last until the late 1950s.
Howdy Doody on the Radio
Here’s a little piece of Howdy Doody history that many may not know, I for one didn’t. There was actually a Howdy Doody national radio show.
Bob Smith, as I wrote before, got his start in radio, and his passion for that medium never left him. In fact, while he was deep in the production of the Howdy Doody television show, he began a daily half-hour morning radio program for adults, the Bob Smith Show. So it was only natural for him to convince NBC into doing a radio Howdy Doody.
The Howdy Doody radio show debuted on December 19, 1951, as an hour-long Saturday morning children’s program. The radio show was almost a duplicate of its television counterpart, except for the ad-libbed silent movies. The script for radio wasn’t done by Eddie Kean (he was too wrapped up in the TV show) but by writer Bob Cone.
The program featured all of the television’s cast members: Bob Smith, Judy Tyler, Dayton Allen and Bill LeCornac, doing their characters as on TV. And although the character Clarabell was on the radio show, Bob Keeshan, the actor who played the clown at that time, was not. To save money the show’s soundman did Clarabell’s horn honking.
As with the TV Howdy, there was a Peanut Gallery of young fans; and this must have caused an issue for those kids. For the radio show the cast appeared in suits and ties; no character costumes or puppets. The Peanuts would witness the actors deliver his or her lines, and then answer in the voice of Flub-a-Dub, Dilly Dally or one of the other characters that LeCornac and Allen did. And then there was Howdy Doody’s voice coming from Buffalo Bob. Although there are no clinical records, I’m sure that those Peanuts suffered deep trauma.
The Howdy Doody radio show was a fantastic hit on the east coast, but struggled to get enough sponsors for a permanent schedule out west. In September of 1953 the show moved to Sunday mornings. One of my sources has the radio show ending on April 18, 1954, but I’m not sure about the April date. What we do know, is that Bob Smith suffered a near fatal heart attack on September 6, 1954. It was that event that ended the also popular Bob Smith Show, and it may have very well been what also caused the end of the Howdy Doody radio show.
Even though the Howdy Doody Show ended its broadcasts on Saturday September 24, 1960, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and the other citizens of Doodyville. My next post will tell what happened to the cast and crew of the show after it went off the air.
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