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Monday, April 20, 2009

"Hey, kids! What time is it?"

The year is 1949. It is a cold, dark, December afternoon and it is almost 5:30. I’m running full speed on my eight year old legs to Carol Whetsel’s house a block up the street from my home in Cincinnati. Carol’s house was the place to be on Monday through Friday afternoons in those salad days of youth because 5:30 pm meant only one thing: Buffalo Bob asking the kids in the peanut gallery: "Hey, kids! What time is it?" Their reply? "It’s Howdy Doody Time!"

Carol Whetsel sure had nice parents. Since they had the only TV in the area, they had to tolerate having every kid in the neighborhood pack their living room with its own peanut gallery to sit in front of their 12 inch, black and white, table model Admiral television to watch Howdy Doody. I’m sure that scene was repeated in Phoenix and about every city in the country on a daily basis. I wonder who sold the most TV sets in those days: Howdy or Milton Berle. Both were extremely popular in 1949.

It was an exciting era for kids who were old enough to have listened to kid’s programming on the radio following the exploits of Superman, Red Ryder, Tarzan, and Terry and the Pirates. When TV came along in the late ‘40s, it was magical to think of seeing those characters on TV. Howdy Doody was an example of that magic as it lasted on TV from 1947 until 1960.

Children loved the Doodyville marionettes which included Howdy, the mayor Phineas T. Bluster, the naive Dilly Dally, and Flub-a dub, a mixture of eight animals. Live characters included Clarabelle the Clown, played by future Captain Kangaroo, Bob Keeshan, Chief Thunderthud, and Princess Summerfall Winterspring played by cute Judy Tyler, who went on to star with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock in 1957. Sadly, on July 4 of that year she was killed in an auto accident in Wyoming. She was 24.

The Howdy Doody Show was great for kids and was not only funny but educational as when they got a lesson in government when Howdy ran for President of the kids of America in 1948. Unfortunately, by 1960 Howdy’s early evening time slot was being coveted for older viewers and the show was moved to Saturday mornings. After a short run, it was canceled after 2,543 episodes.

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember Howdy Doody and other good kid’s shows of the time like Smilin’ Ed, Fury, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and any of the many local kid’s shows around the country like Wallace and Ladmo. It was a nice era for kids and TV, today’s kids missed some good shows.

"Buffalo Bob" Smith and Howdy Doody
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