For me, although I was sad, after that last Howdy Doody Show on Saturday September 24, 1960, Howdy became but a fond memory. I was totally unaware that there was a resurgence of Howdy Doody in the 1970s and after. It wasn’t until researching for this series, that I discovered the wonderful history of Howdy Doody in those post-original show years.
My first eight posts covered the history of: how the show started, how Howdy got his name, how the Howdy Doody puppet came about, who were the cast and characters on the show, the other Howdy Doody Show spinoffs, and those post-show years of the 1960s.
With this post, and those that follow, I’ll cover: the 1970s revival, the agreement between Rufus Rose and NBC, which led to the heated legal battle for the custody of the original Howdy Doody puppet, what happened to the shows other puppets, and Howdy’s journey to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
I’d like to give a special thanks to Burt Dubrow. Without his personal knowledge and insigh, this post would have been greatly lacking.
So join me now, because it’s Howdy Doody time again!
The University of Pennsylvania
When Bob Smith got the call from that University of Pennsylvania senior in January of 1970, he really believed it was just a joke. Smith thought, who would ever want to see an old TV star from a television show that’s been off the air for ten years? But he was told, “We want to relive our carefree childhood days, and Howdy Doody was a major part of that time.” Smith soon realized he was serious, so they scheduled him to appear at the University’s Irvine Auditorium on Valentine’s Day February 14, 1970.
Smith didn’t know what college students would want to see, so he decided to wear his old mustard colored suit from the show, play the Howdy Doody Show’s tenth-anniversary kinescope, sing a few songs from the show on a piano, and then end by taking questions. Smith had no idea how many, or if anyone, would show up. But boy was he surprised. There were so many crammed into Penn’s Irvine Auditorium that the police had to be called for crowd control.
When Smith walked out onto the stage the students went wild! There he was, their father figure, the idol from their childhood, standing right there in front of them. So he was a little heavier and a little grayer, but when he spoke there was no mistake, it was Buffalo Bob.
They cheered, screamed, whistled, stomped their feet, and a few cried, as the kinescope played, and Chief Thunderthud, Clarabell, the other Doodyville citizens, and of course, Howdy, danced on the screen. After the film ended, Smith played a couple of songs from the show. During the question and answer segment, the former Peanuts got very quiet when Smith told the sad story of Judy Tyler, their Princess SummerFall WinterSpring. Buffalo Bob would always get that same reaction whenever he told her story.
After that show concluded, Smith flew back to his home in Florida. For him it had been a fun little get together, but now it was time to get back to reality.
The College Touring Days
The story of his appearance at the University of Pennsylvania ran in the Philadelphia newspapers, and then was picked up by the wire services. Soon just about every paper in the country was telling of Howdy Doody’s Buffalo Bob’s return.
Back in Florida, while playing golf with his agent friend Jack Drury, Smith told how big the Pennsylvania crowd was, and the fantastic response he’d gotten there. Smith was also amazed at all the press coverage that his appearance had generated. Hearing this Drury looked at Smith and said, “Do you want to go back to work?”
Drury figured that if the students at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to see Buffalo Bob, so would those at other schools. And so began Buffalo Bob’s college tours of the 1970s. And from that point on, until his death in 1998, Bob Smith would never stop being Buffalo Bob.
Smith had a promotional brochure printed and Drury began booking him on the college lecture circuit. In addition Smith had song writer Willie Gilbert compose some new, should I say, more contemporary lyrics to some of the shows old songs.
Smith’s appearances were a true one man show. He alone, would go from one school to another; setting up, preforming, and then moving on. Even for a consummate entertainer like Smith, it was tough for a fifty-plus year old man. But, help would come from a young friend of his, named Burt Dubrow.
Burt Dubrow Joins the Team
Until I started writing this history on the Howdy Doody Show, I had never heard of Burt Dubrow. And while Dubrow was not involved with the original 1950s show, he was the one most instrumental in Howdy Doody’s rebirth. Dubrow’s connection with Howdy Doody began with his friendship with Bob Smith.
The interesting story of Smith’s and Dubrow’s friendship goes back more than ten years before the 70s revival. Burt Dubrow was like many of us, a Baby Boomer fan of the original show. Dubrow lived in New Rochelle, New York, as did Bob Smith. In 1960, he heard a rumor that Buffalo Bob owned a liquor store on the other side of town, in Wykagyl. So, he just had to go and check it out for himself.
Getting to Wykagyl was quite a feat for the ten year old young man. Getting to the opposite side of the city from where he lived meant that he had to take multiple buses to get there. Not really knowing if he had the correct liquor store, Dubrow walked in and asked the man behind the counter, wearing a plaid shirt and dark glasses, “Is Buffalo Bob here?” The man smiled and said, in that unmistakable voice, “I’m Buffalo Bob.”
From then on Dubrow would constantly make the trip across town to visit Smith. So much so that Smith would start hiding in the back whenever he saw the youngster coming; even Dubrow himself says he was a “pest.” Smith finally, to get relief, sent Dubrow across the street to his brother Vic’s shoe store. Vic and Burt became very good friends; in fact Dubrow became like a son to Vic.
One of Buffalo Bob’s early 1970 appearances was at the New England Life Hall, a theater near Boston, were Dubrow was going to school. Burt thought he’d go and surprise his old friend. Smith was ecstatic to see his old “pest,” and suggested that they have dinner after the show. Over dinner, Smith told him of the difficulties in doing a one man traveling show. Afterwards Dubrow called Vic with an idea, “Why not let me be Bob’s road manager.”
On the road Dubrow would make sure everything was set up at the different venues for Smith’s appearances, as well as being the show’s master of ceremonies. He would welcome everyone, and then play the old kinescope of the tenth-anniversary show. After that Dubrow would introduce Smith by saying, “And now, here’s the man every little boy idolized, and every little girl wanted to marry, BUFFALO BOB SMITH!” At that Smith would burst out of the doors of a small house set up on the stage.
Every place they played the college crowds loved them. They called out all the names of the show’s old sponsors, sang all the old songs, and those that had been changed with drug related words added. They laughed when Smith told them about some of the incidences that happened off camera during the show. To say the least, those shows were wildly successful. But not as wild as the two shows they did at the very epicenter of the counterculture movement at the time; the Fillmore East, on New York City’s Lower East Side.
New York’s Fillmore East
The Fillmore East, was where Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks, and the Grateful Dead had performed. And now Buffalo Bob. Dubrow said this was the only time he saw the seasoned performer nervous. What was Smith worried about? He was concerned that the location was too far removed for Howdy Doody fans. But, he shouldn’t have worried; the two Fillmore shows sold out in just two hours.
Even though the Fillmore was the heart of the counterculture, those who attended were no different than those of the college tour. They sang the songs, cheered the Doodyville gang up on the screen, and also got quiet when Smith talked about the Princess. They were, after all, still “Peanuts.”
For the Fillmore shows Smith had Bobby Nicholson (Clarabell #2 and Corny Cobb) compose a special song called “Ride On Through.” Accompanied by pianist Dick Hyman, Smith sang of his deep faith in the generation he had helped to raise. This was reflected in the songs opening verse, “You know, I once owned you kids.”
There was an album produced of the Fillmore shows, Buffalo Bob Smith- Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. This album is occasionally available on Ebay and Amazon.
Burt Dubrow would also be responsible for bringing back another one of Doodyville’s famous characters.
The Return of Clarabell the Clown
Dubrow also met Lew Anderson, the show’s last Clarabell, back in 1960. Because of his friendship with Smith, Dubrow became kind of a fixture around the NBC TV studio during the shows last months. The very outgoing ten year old quickly made friends among the shows cast and crew, Anderson in particular. After the show ended, Dubrow made sure he stayed in touch with both Smith and Anderson.
Next to Buffalo Bob and Howdy, the most popular character on the Howdy Doody Show was Clarabell Hornblow the Clown. During Smith’s college shows the crowds would go especially wild whenever Clarabell appeared on screen during the playing of the old tenth-anniversary show. In addition, Smith would often make references about the prankster clown, which also got a big reaction.
In 1971, while Dubrow was working with Smith on the college tours, he organized a benefit show for Muscular Dystrophy in Boston. To help draw attendance, Dubrow thought another Howdy Doody Show character could help: Clarabell.
Dubrow contacted Lew Anderson, telling him of the benefit show he was putting together, and asked him if he would be willing to reprise his famous role. Anderson agreed, making the trip to Boston, bringing along his original costume and make-up kit from the show. This would be the first time that Anderson put on his clown makeup since 1960, so both Anderson and Dubrow had to work on re-creating Clarabell’s distinctive look.
Clarabell and Buffalo Bob, Back Together Again!
Although Anderson never appeared with Smith on his college shows, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell did team-up later, after the college tours ended. Beginning around 1973, Smith and Anderson began making appearances together at shopping malls and grand openings. There they would do some of their routines from the old show: chasing each other and, of course, spraying plenty of seltzer water, to the screaming delight of all the old fans, and the new ones as well.
Dubrow would remain good friends with both Smith and Anderson, until their deaths.
Award Winning Television Producer
As for Burt Dubrow; he went on to become a major television producer; winning multiple Emmys and Cable Ace Awards.
Dubrow broke television norms when he discovered a small market radio personality, and built a television talk show around her. The Sally Jessy Raphael Show would be the first talk show, covering controversial issues, hosted by a woman. This successful program remained on the air for eighteen years. Speaking of controversial television shows, Dubrow also found a local news commentator named Jerry Springer. The Jerry Springer Show would be on the air for twenty-seven years. Dubrow was the Executive Producer for both of these programs.
Dubrow’s career also includes being Senior Vice President of Programming for Multimedia Entertainment, a producer for the Mike Douglas Show, and the Executive Producer of the Dr. Joy Brown Show, the Crook & Chase series, and the Dr. Drew Show on HLN/CNN. Dubrow’s oldest daughter, Ali, has followed in her father’s footsteps. Ali produces reality shows which are seen nationally, with many appearing on the Food Network.
Burt Dubrow lives in Denver Colorado with his wife Lynn and their younger daughter, Lisa. There he produces the syndicated talk show, Daily Blast Live, from the KUSA studios in Denver. Daily Blast Live is also available streaming on Youtube and Facebook.
Above everything else, Burt is the quintessential television historian, having a wide collection of television memorabilia, ventriloquist figures, videotapes and kinescopes. Since he cut his teeth on Howdy Doody, Dubrow has an extensive collection of Howdy Doody items, which includes: one of the few Howdy Doody marionettes made from Velma Dawson’s original, Lew Anderson’s Clarabell costume, his box with its horns attached and also his seltzer bottle, as well as Buffalo Bob’s mustard colored suit.
Can Lightning Strike Twice?
With all the enthusiasm that Buffalo Bob and Clarabell’s appearances were receiving, serious discussions began to take place between the old shows producer, Roger Muir, and Bob Smith. Their thoughts, could Howdy Doody make the ultimate return, back to the medium were it all began: television? My next post tells that story.
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