Howdy Doody is a children's television program (with a frontier/western theme, although other themes also colored the show) that was broadcast on NBC in the United States from 1947 until 1960. It was a pioneer in children's programming and set the pattern for many similar shows. 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.
Howdy Doody himself is a freckle-faced boy marionette (48 freckles, one for each state of the union), and was originally voiced by Buffalo Bob Smith. The Howdy Doody show's various marionettes were created and built by puppeteers Velma Wayne Dawson, Scott Brinker (the show's prop man) and Rufus Rose throughout the show's run. The redheaded Howdy marionette on the original show was operated with 11 strings: two head, one mouth, one eyes, two shoulders, one back, two hands and two knees. Three strings were added when the show returned - two elbows and one nose. This gap-toothed puppet in cowboy boots remains a favorite baby boomer childhood memory and popular culture icon.
The original Howdy Doody marionette now resides at the Detroit Institute of Arts. There were also duplicate Howdy Doody puppets, designed to be used expressly for off-the-air purposes (lighting rehearsals, personal appearances, etc.), although surviving kinescope recordings clearly show that these duplicate puppets were indeed used on the air occasionally. Double Doody (Howdy) was the Howdy stand-in puppet; now on permanent display at the Smithsonian. Photo Doody (Howdy), is the near-stringless marionette that was used in personal appearances, photos, parades, and the famed NBC test pattern. He was sold by Leland's Sports Auction House in 1997 for more than $113,000 to a private art collector, TJ Fisher. Other puppet characters included Heidi Doody (Howdy's sister), Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and the curious Flub-a-Dub (a combination of eight animals - a duck's bill, a cat's whiskers, a spaniel's ears, a giraffe's neck, a dachshund's body, a seal's flippers, a pig's tail, and an elephant's memory). In addition to these original vintage puppets, in the early 1990s puppetmaker Alan Semok (at the request of Bob Smith) created several exact replicas of Howdy including (thanks to improved materials and new moulding techniques) a more exact marionette replica than had been produced in the past, as well as a new "Photo Doody" which Smith used in personal appearances until the time of his death. One of Semok's marionette duplicates appears on a 2005 cover of TV Guide magazine as part of a series recreating classic covers from the magazine's history. The cover featured Howdy with Conan O'Brien standing in for and dressed as Buffalo Bob Smith.
The show's host was Bob Smith (November 27, 1917 - July 30, 1998), who was dubbed "Buffalo Bob" early in the show's run. Smith wore cowboy garb, and the name of the puppet "star" was derived from the western U.S. expression "howdy do", a familiar form of the greeting "How Do You Do?" (The straightforward use of that expression was also in the theme song's lyrics.) Smith, who had gotten his start as a singing radio personality in Buffalo, New York, used music frequently in the program. Cast members Lew Anderson and Bobby Nicholson were both experienced jazz musicians.
There also were several human characters, most notably the mute Clarabell the Clown, who communicated by honking horns on his belt and squirting seltzer, and Chief Thunderthud, head of the Ooragnak tribe of Native Americans (kangaroo spelled backward, possibly from Bob Keeshan), who originated the cry "Kowabonga!" Princess Summerfall Winterspring, originally a puppet, was later played by the actress Judy Tyler. The characters inhabited the fictional town of "Doodyville." Several characters were also voiced by comedian and voice actor Dayton Allen, who later went on to become a cast regular on NBC's primetime Steve Allen Show. The Howdy show's non-televised rehearsals were renowned for including considerable double-entendre dialogue between the cast members (particularly the witty Dayton Allen) and the puppet characters.
Howdy Doody became very famous. A distinctive feature was the peanut gallery, on-stage bleachers seating about 40 kids. Each show began with Buffalo Bob asking, "Say kids, what time is it?" and the kids yelling in unison, "It's Howdy Doody Time!" Then the kids all sang the show's theme song (set to the tune of "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay").