Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: Will the real Clarabell the Clown please stand up?

By Steve Crum

SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, in 1994, buckskin clad BUFFALO BOB SMITH appeared at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, Mo. as a featured celebrity at the annual auto show. Naturally, Smith brought with him his famed puppet and longtime Doodyville pal, HOWDY DOODY. Among the baby boomers standing in line to meet him (we who had grown up watching the Howdy Doody show on NBC, from 1947-60) was yours truly. Smith reminisced about those early TV years with me and posed (for a small fee) for photos. No doubt I was the 18 millionth fan who had told him how much fun and enjoyment he had provided during my childhood. I was but another “little buddy” of his from the other side of the TV tube.

What I recall most about my few minutes with Buffalo Bob is his anxiety regarding his wife back home in Hendersonville, North Carolina. That area had just suffered a vicious ice storm, and his wife was stranded in their house without electricity. He told me the road to his house was so icy no emergency crews could yet get to her. He was heading back home immediately after the Kansas City gig. I wished him and his wife the best, and got a “Thanks, little buddy” in response.

My regret is I never asked Howdy to speak, forgetting that Bob Smith supplied Howdy’s voice in the TV show. After all, Howdy was sitting there right between the two of us, smiling that wooden smile and silent as a cord of oak. Incidentally, the two similarly posed photos above were taken some 45 years apart. That is Clarabell the Clown (Lew Anderson) to the left in one, and me to the left in the other. I point out my identity since it looks suspiciously like Howdy’s twin brother cheesing beside him.

Sadly, Buffalo Bob died four years later, on July 30, 1998. Following his death, a custody battle for the original Howdy Doody marionette (pictured) ensued. Howdy now resides, ever smiling, in the Detroit Institute for the Arts. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]
Some HOWDY DOODY trivia
•BUFFALO BOB SMITH was born Robert Emil Schmidt on Nov. 27, 1917 in BUFFALO, New York.
•The HOWDY DOODY show featured puppets and real life actors portraying: Heidi Doody (Howdy’s sister), Dilly Dally, Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Chief Thunderthud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and Flub-a-Dub (a conglomeration of eight animals!).
•BOB KEESHAN (CAPTAIN KANGAROO) was the first to portray Clarabell the Clown.
•BOB SMITH and HOWDY DOODY had a career rebirth thanks to the nostalgia craze in colleges and universities during the 1970’s.
•HOWDY DOODY had 48 freckles on his face, one for each state--at that time.
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