“SAY KIDS, WHAT TIME IS IT?” THE HISTORY OF HOWDY DOODY, PART 9: HOWDY’S BACK ON TV!

Although Buffalo Bob’s college circuit tours were winding down, he, along with Lew Anderson as Clarabell, were still very popular doing grand openings and shopping mall appearances. The nostalgic 1950s craze that they helped to start was still very popular, and also profitable.

Ron Current

Capitalizing on this craze was the 1972 Broadway musical Grease, George Lucas’s movie American Graffiti in 1973, and Garry Marshall’s 1974 television show Happy Days, all set in the 1950s. But the most successful in bringing that period to the masses was Happy Days.

Premiering on January 15, 1974, Happy Days would run for 11 seasons with 255 half-hour episodes. Starring the Andy Griffith Show and American Graffiti alumnus Ron Howard, Happy Days would be the most popular nostalgia show on TV. So, it was only a matter of time before the fictional 1950s Happy Days would feature the most popular kid’s show of that time.

The positive response to this Happy Days episode would be the catalyst in putting Howdy back on TV.

This post was undated on November 7, 2021

Happy Days: Season 2, Episode 17: “The Howdy Doody Show”

On Tuesday, February 18, 1975, we baby boomers were given a wonderful surprise. Our childhood friends Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell made an appearance on one of our favorite sitcoms, Happy Days

Buffalo Bob, Howdy and Richie (Ron Howard). Photo from Wikipedia.

This half-hour episode has Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) trying to keep his job on the school’s newspaper. As the story went, it just so happens that the Howdy Doody Show was taping in Milwaukee at the time. To help Richie his editor assigns him to interview Howdy.  

When Richie tells his friends of his assignment, Ralph Malph (Donny Most) makes the comment that no one has ever seen Clarabell without his make-up. Richie thinks that a photo like that would be so much better than an interview. Also, as Richie tries to figure out how to get a makeup-less Clarabell photo, two other subplots unfold; Buffalo Bob announces a Howdy Doody lookalike contest and Richie’s sister Joanie (Erin Moran) is to present the ”Junior Chipmunk of the Year” award to Howdy Doody.

Richie (Ron Howard) getting his make-up less photo of Clarabell (Bob Brunner). Screen shot from YouTube.

When Joanie goes on TV to present the award she freezes. Trying to help, her parents Marion (Marion Ross) and Howard (Tom Bosley) come out on stage, but they also freeze; this creates a funny problem for Buffalo Bob. Meanwhile, Richie is helped in his photo quest by “the Fonz” (Henry Winkler), who suggests that Richie enter the look-alike contest to get close to Clarabell. Even though Richie doesn’t win, Howdy comments that “It’s like looking in a mirror.”

Richie gets his photo, but when Buffalo Bob hears that Richie might sell it he and Clarabell decide to visit the Cunninghams. In that special Buffalo Bob way, he tells Richie that having that photo published would destroy the “mystique” of Clarabell, and could end his career. This convinces Richie, who then rips the photo in half. 

This Happy Days episode was a walk down memory lane, and it was great to see Howdy, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell back on TV. But what’s really interesting is the back story of this episode.

Convincing Richie not to sell his Clarabell photo. Photo screen shot off YouTube.

According to Burt Dubrow, who was instrumental with Howdy Doody’s revival in the 1970s and 80s, the person responsible for this Howdy Doody Happy Days episode was one of the show’s head writers, Robert “Bob” Brunner. According to Dubrow, Brunner was a fan of the original Howdy Doody Show and had dreamed of playing Clarabell the Clown.

With Happy Days set in the same period as the original Howdy Doody Show, both Brunner and producer Garry Marshall knew that an episode featuring the Howdy Doody Show would fit right in.

When you watch this Happy Days episode on YouTube or DVD the Clarabell you see isn’t Lew Anderson, or any of the others who’ve played the role, it’s Bob Brunner, fulfilling his dream.

Bob Brunner as Clarabell, with Buffalo Bob.

Robert “Bob” Brunner

Bob Brunner. Photo from Fandom.

Besides Happy Days, Brunner is also known for his work on The Bad News Bears, Diff’rent Strokes, Webster, as well as many others. Brunner is also credited for creating one of Happy Days, and televisions’ most beloved characters, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzararelli.

Robert “Bob” Brunner passed away from a heart attack at his home in Northridge, California on October 28, 2012, he was 78.

It Is The “Original” Howdy Doody!

In 1970 Buffalo Bob borrowed the original Velma Dawson Howdy Doody from Rufus Rose, the Howdy Doody Show’s last puppeteer. So, the Howdy Doody that appeared on that Happy Days episode was the actual Howdy Doody that was used on the original show from 1948, and until the show ended in 1960.

Another piece of Howdy Doody trivia is the puppeteer who handled Howdy’s strings on Happy Days. That puppeteer was Sky Highchief, aka Ralph Emory. If you read my Howdy Doody’s Mom, you’ll know that it was also Highchief who operated the “bandaged” Howdy Doody that was used between Frank Paris’s “ugly Doody” and the appearance of Velma Dawson’s Howdy Doody on the original show. 

With the wide positive public response to the Happy Days episode, Roger Muir, the Howdy Doody Show’s original producer, and Bob Smith felt that it was time to bring the Howdy Doody Show back to TV.

The New Howdy Doody Show (1976-1977)

The cast of the New Howdy Doody Show. Photo from Pinterest.

After acquiring the rights to Howdy Doody from NBC Bob Smith and Roger Muir, along with Muir’s producing partner Nick Nicholson (who was Clarabell #2 and Corny Cobb on the original show) began putting together their new program. Their concept was to build on the foundation of the original 50s show, but also give it a more 1970s look. They hoped this would give the new show a wider appeal. However, from the start, they ran into problems getting their show on the air.

Buffalo Bob Smith and E. Roger Muir.

By the 1970s the three major television networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) had begun eliminating their daily children’s programming. So when the networks passed on the New Howdy Doody Show the trio was forced to release their program through syndication. The problem was, unlike today, in the 1970s the syndication of television programs was a new concept. But this didn’t stop Smith, Muir and Nicholson, they believed that Howdy’s popularity would support a whole new generation of fans hearing Buffalo Bob asking the question, “Say kids, what time is it?” 

Buffalo Bob doing his opening before the expanded “Peanut Gallery” of the New Howdy Doody Show. Screen shot from YouTube.

In August of 1976, the New Howdy Doody Show began taping in Florida; and although this new production retained most of the 1950s format, as well as some of its originals characters, it also had a lot of differences from its predecessor. Some of these changes were good, but some were not.

One difference was the show’s budget. This new show had a much, much, larger budget than NBC had given the original show. This was reflected in the show’s set, which was HUGE compared to the originals. And as I mentioned in my post the Peanut Gallery & Beyond, this was most evident with the new show’s “Peanut Gallery.”

This new “Peanut Gallery” was gigantic! Instead of the small bleacher with 40 wiggly youngsters as the original show, this Peanut Gallery spread around three sides of the studio and held 400. Also, this new gallery had both parents as well as kids. But as the old saying goes, bigger isn’t always better.

That small group of the original show had a close intimacy with the characters. This was especially evident with Buffalo Bob. On the original Howdy Doody there was an almost magical interaction between Smith and that small group of children. Sadly, that magic was noticeably missing with the new show.

The New Howdy Doody Show’s Live Characters

Bill LeCornec as Nicholson Muir. screen shot from YouTube.

The New Howdy Doody Show kept most of the original shows’ live characters: Buffalo Bob (still played by Bob Smith), Corny Cobb (still played by Nick Nicholson) and Clarabell the Clown (still played by Lew Anderson). However, gone where two of the 1950s most popular characters, Chief Thunderthud and Princess SummerFall WinterSpring.

In the New Howdy Doody Show, Bill LeCornec wasn’t cast as his much loved Chief Thunderthud, but rather as a new character named Nicholson Muir, the fictional flamboyant producer of the show. Another new character that replaced Princess Summerfall Winterspring was called Happy Harmony, Doodyville’s Schoolteacher.

Happy Harmony was played by Marilyn Patch ( Arnone). Her character provided the musical sing-a-longs as Princess Summerfall Winterspring had done on the original show. Although Happy Harmony was billed as the proper Doodyville Schoolteacher, her “Hot Pants” outfit showed what audience the producers wanted her to appeal to.

Marilyn Patch Arnone as Happy Harmony with the NEW Howdy Doody. Photo from HK and Cult Film News Website.

Besides her Happy Harmony work on camera, she also contributed to the show in other ways. According to Doodyville Historical Society member and puppeteer Jack Roth, she was also the voice for the show’s new “Princess” marionette. In addition, Roth says she also worked as a marionette operator on the puppet bridge.

Dr. Marilyn Patch Arnone

Marilyn on the set of her TV show. Screen shot from YouTube.

Marilyn Patch already had her own children’s TV show on Boston’s WHDH-TV, the Marilyn and Calico Show, when she was only eleven years old. After the New Howdy Doody Show ended she appeared on the children’s show Pappyland from1996 till 1999.  

Dr. Arnone. Photo from her website.

Arnone went on to get her doctorate from Harvard and became the director of educational media for Syracuse University’s Center for Digital Literacy. Dr. Arnone is the co-founder and president of Creative Media Solutions.

The New Howdy Doody Show Orchestra

Bob Smith was a musician, and he always wanted music to be a part of the Howdy Doody Show. But NBC’s budget only covered Smith on the piano and occasionally Lew Anderson’s Clarabell on the clarinet. However, the new show could afford a full orchestra, which was conducted by jazz musician Jackson “Jackie” Davis.

Jackson “Jackie” Davis

Jackie Davis. Photo from Disogs website.

Jackie Davis was already a well-known musician by the time he joined Howdy Doody, having contracts with both Capitol and Warner Brothers Records. Davis was famous for playing jazz on one of the most unlikely instruments, the Hammond electric organ.  Davis accompanied the legendary Ella Fitzgerald on her album “Lady Time” in 1978. Davis also appeared as Smoke Porterhouse, the club valet, in the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack.

Jackie Davis passed away from a stroke at his home in Florida on November 2, 1999, he was 79.

The New Howdy Doody Shows Non-Human Characters

The New Howdy Doody Show saw the return of some of the original marionettes used on both the U.S. and Canadian Howdy Doody Shows in the 1950s. According to Jack Roth, those originals were: Inspector John J. Fedoozle, Tommy Turtle, the Indian Princess, Sandra the Witch, Mambo the elephant (Canadian version), and Petey Bluster (with a new red-hair wig). The 50s Canadian Dilly Dally was also used in two episodes. These marionettes were made available by Margo Rose.

Buffalo Bob with the NEW Howdy. Photo from Pinterest.

Margo and her husband Rufus were the master puppeteers on the original Howdy Doody Show from 1952 until the show ended in 1960. After the show ended the Roses’ had retained possession of all the puppets through a lawsuit with NBC.  For more on this see my posts: Howdy Doody’s Mom, Goodbye Kids and The Agreement.

Besides those originals, Margo and her son Jim also rebuilt Dilly Dally, Phineas T. Bluster and Flub-a-Dub. But the biggest change to the New Howdy Doody Show was Howdy himself.

This Howdy Doody was in no way EVEN close to our much-loved original. His cheeks weren’t as big; his dimpled and freckled face wasn’t as warm as our Howdy, and he had “actual hair” cut in a 70s style.

Why did Muir and Smith feel they needed to have a new look for Howdy? It wasn’t because the original wasn’t available, Smith still had him. Perhaps they felt the original was too old-looking and they needed a more 70s Howdy. Whatever their reason it just didn’t work for this old Peanut. Years later Smith would also remark that changing Howdy was a big mistake.

For the New Howdy Doody Show, Margo and Jim Rose took care of the marionettes’ maintenance, building the puppet’s bodies and costuming them. Puppeteer Paul Ashley was the one who constructed the puppets’ heads and animated them (making their mouth, eyes, and ears move). The puppet operators on the show were Marilyn Patch and master puppeteer Pady Blackwood.

Pady Blackwood

Pady Blackwood. Photo from West Puppets website.

Pady Blackwood had a career in puppetry that spanned over 60-years. Although Blackwood wasn’t one of the original shows puppeteers, he earned his place in Howdy Doody history by being the new Howdy’s sole operator.

In 2009 Pady Blackwood died from a heart attack at his home in Orlando Florida on October 13, 2009 at the age of 72. Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, said of Blackwood, “(He was) one of the most gifted and innovative artists in the field of puppetry.”

The New Howdy Doody Show Ends

Was it the look of the NEW Howdy Doody, or that the intimacy of the old show was missing, or that syndication just didn’t work? Whatever the reason, or reasons, the New Howdy Doody Show only lasted one season with 130 episodes. However, even though the New Howdy Doody Show failed to attract an audience, Howdy wasn’t finished with TV quite yet! A decade later Howdy Doody would make an encore, and this time it would be with the ORIGINAL Howdy Doody.

The 40th Anniversary Howdy Doody Special (1987)

The cast of Howdy Doody 40th Anniversary Special. Screen shot from YouTube.
Roger Muir and Burt Dubrow rehearsing for the 40th Anniversary Show. Bill LeCornec back as Chief Thunderthod is in the background.

The show opens with an older stagehand walking across a darkened set. He stops at a post and flips a large switch. When nothing happens he bangs his fist against the post and suddenly a flashing sign lights up over a row of bleachers that says “Peanut Gallery.” While all this is going on in the background you can hear a familiar voice singing. The camera follows the voice, back through a room filled with Howdy Doody items. The singing gets louder; soon you see his shadow on the wall. Then, there he is, standing in front of a mirror. Not the pretender from the New Howdy Doody Show of a decade before. No this is the one and only original Howdy Doody that we all grew up with.

In 1987, Roger Muir and motion picture and television producing legend Charles Fries again assembled the members of the original Howdy Doody cast. This time it was for a two-hour television special celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Howdy Doody Show’s first broadcast. This special was released thru Fries’ TV syndication company Chuck Fries Productions.

Judy Tyler as SummerFall WinterSpring singing “Say Howdy Doody” to the Peanut Gallery. Screen shot from YouTube.

Helping on this special were Howdy Doody alumnus, Eddie Kean, Scott Brinker and Burt Dubrow. But what was really memorable about this program was the return of all the characters we loved. Back again were Bob Smith’s Buffalo Bob, Lew Anderson as Clarabell, and Nick Nicholson as Cornelius Cobb. But the best surprise of all was Bill LeCornec, back as the much loved Chief Thunderthud.

The creative theme for this special was a takeoff on Ralph Edwards’ This Is Your Life.  Over the show’s two hours host Monty Hall, of Let’s Make a Deal fame, introduced members of the cast, both puppets and live actors, who performed songs and skits from the early days of the Howdy Doody Show.

Stevie Vallance as the princess’s granddaughter, with Nick Nicholson as Corny Cobb. Screen shot from YouTube.

Adding to the show were cameo appearances by other television stars of that time: Pee-Wee Herman, Dick Clark, Jerry Mathers (the Beaver), to name but a few. Another legend from television’s “Golden Age” was Milton Berle, “Mr. Television” himself. 

One segment in the show was a clip of Judy Tyler as SummerFall WinterSpring, singing “Just yell, Howdy Doody.” After the clip, Buffalo Bob stated that Judy Tyler was, “no longer with us.” But later Monty Hall tells Howdy and Buffalo Bob that he has a big surprise. It seems that Princess SummerFallWinterSpring has a granddaughter. This was played by Canadian actress Stevie Louise Vallance (credited as Louise Vallance).

Stevie Louise Vallance

Stevie Vallance. photo from Sonic News Network/Fandom

Although Vallance’s bio doesn’t list her appearance on the Howdy Doody special, she is credited with: Knots Landing, the Ropers, Bosom Buddies, Lou Grant, L.A. Law, and is best known for her role as Detective Stevie Brody on the TV series Night Heat.

“It’s time, to go, till our next show, goodbye, from us, to you.”

At the end of the program, each of the cast members said their goodbyes. Finally, in the closing minutes all the characters, Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, Corny Cobb, Chief Thunderthud, the Princess’s granddaughter, Dilly Dally, Phineas T. Bluster, and Howdy himself, stood around the 40th birthday cake singing the old show’s ending song, “It’s time, to go, till our next show, goodbye, from us, to you.”

Although Smith had hoped that this special would once again spark another revival TV series, it was however, the last time that the original cast of the Howdy Doody Show would ever appear together on television.

Buffalo Bob and Howdy’s Other Television Appearances

Howdy and Buffalo Bob on popular TV shows

Although there were no further attempts to launch another Howdy Doody Show, Buffalo Bob and the original Howdy Doody would continue to make appearances on popular television shows. Some of those shows were: The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and the game show Hollywood Squares. But making these guest appearances sometimes has unwanted consequences.

When Bob Smith was preparing Howdy for their trip to Hollywood Squares at his home in Florida he accidentally damaged Howdy. In a panic, Smith called his friend Burt Dubrow. Dubrow calmed Smith, telling him that Scott Brinker, the old show’s prop maker, puppet maker, and puppet repairer, was also in Florida. Dubrow contacted Brinker who quickly came and made the repairs, saving the day. However, Brinker did something that would have a major impact in the future custody battle over the original Howdy Doody. I go into detail on this in The Road to Detroit, The Battle for the Custody of Howdy Doody.

The Final Public Appearances of Buffalo Bob

Bob Smith with the original Dawson Howdy Doody at his home. Screen shot from YouTube.

Smith had always preferred a stringless Howdy Doody when making personal appearances. In the 1980s Smith would use two new stringless Howdy Doodys. One was built by Bob Kramer and the other by Alan Semok, also known as “The Dummy Doctor.” Both of these were used in his mall shows. As for the original Velma Dawson Howdy Doody marionette, which was still in Smith’s possession, it would remain in a glass case at his home.

Buffalo Bob and one of his new “Photo Doodys” a year before his death.

As Smith’s health deteriorated he retired to Hendersonville, North Carolina. He did continue to make infomercials promoting the sale of Howdy Doody memorabilia. Buffalo Bob’s last television appearance was on July 3, 1998, on the cable sales channel QVC. The much loved Buffalo Bob would pass away just a few weeks later on July 30.

Robert “Buffalo Bob” Smith died from cancer at his home in Hendersonville, North Carolina, he was 80. Buffalo Bob was cremated, and his ashes were interred in the Memorial Gardens of the Pinecrest Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Flat Rock North Carolina. There are no headstones or grave markers in the Memorial Garden; however, there is a large plaque that lists the names of those whose ashes are buried there. Buffalo Bob’s reads, “Buffalo Bob” Smith (1917-1998).

Buffalo Bob’s plaque marker in the Memorial Garden at the Pinecrest Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Flat Rock North Carolina. Photos from Find a Grave and Pinecrest Church.

The Story’s Not Finished Yet!

Although this post concludes my telling of the history of the Howdy Doody Show; from when the show started, its cast members, all the Howdy Doody characters, and what happened after the original show ended. However, the story doesn’t end here.

My next two posts will deal with: the agreement made between NBC and Rufus Rose for the possession of the show’s marionettes, including the original Velma Dawson Howdy Doody puppet.  And then I’ll cover the lawsuit between the Rose family and the Detroit Institute of Arts, over the ownership of the original Howdy Doody.

Special Thanks

I’d like to give very, very special thanks to Burt Dubrow and Jack Roth, whose personal knowledge of everything Howdy Doody was extremely essential in getting this story right. 

Also thanks to Doodyville Historical Society member Thomas Johnson, for helping to find Buffalo Bob’s final resting palce.

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