December 27 – Howdy Doody Day

Posted on December 27, 2014

What do you get when you mix puppetry, Western frontier themes, creative imagination, and a fight over rights to “intellectual property”?

Apparently, you get a popular kids' TV show called Howdy Doody! Starring a character known as (you guessed it!) Howdy Doody.

The creator of Howdy Doody was radio and TV personality Bob Smith. He created the voice-only character on his radio show, and when there was demand for a visual character, a puppeteer named Frank Paris was asked to make a Howdy Doody puppet.

This is the original
Howdy Doody puppet.
Recognize him?
No, neither did I!
Bob Smith first dressed up in Western garb to match his puppet, donned the name Buffalo Bob, and took center stage on this date in 1947. The TV show was a big hit, and the show lasted for 13 years!

So...where did the fight over rights come in?

The show became known and popular quickly, and within the year toymakers and department stores were getting requests from customers for Howdy Doody dolls, puppets, and other merchandise. Macy's department store contacted the puppeteer, Frank Paris, asking about the rights for a Howdy Doody doll. But Paris didn't hold the rights to the character or name – remember, it was all the creation of Bob Smith. Paris got angry and felt that he was being cheated out of his own rights as the puppet's maker.

So Paris made an immature flounce – just four hours before the show was to air live, he left the TV studios in anger. And he took the puppet with him!

Actually, it was not the first time that Paris had taken his puppet and left the show with no star. But it was the last.

Someone created a quickie prop – a map of the U.S. – and everyone else decided how to explain the puppet's absence. Soon, Buffalo Bob was on the air, explaining that Howdy Doody was gone because he was on the campaign trail, touring the nation with the candidates.

Buffalo Bob even added that, while Howdy Doody was on the road, he was getting some plastic surgery.

In the real world, the studio hired another puppeteer to make a better, handsomer version of the Howdy Doody puppet. It is Velma Dawson's version of Howdy Doody that was used and seen and loved all those years – and it is her version that old folks remember fondly – and it is her version that most people think is “the original.” The actual original, Paris's uglier puppet, has been mostly forgotten.

I think that this should teach us all NOT to take our ball (real or metaphorical) and flounce home!

Howdy Doody by the numbers

  • Howdy Doody had 48 freckles: one for every state in the nation. (Shortly before the show ended, Alaska became the 49th state, and the freckles count became outdated.)
  • The original Paris-version Howdy Doody was controlled by 11 strings. The new Dawson-version Howdy Doody had 14 strings.
  • Actually, there were three of the new Dawson-version Howdy Doody puppets: Howdy Doody (for close-ups), Double Doody (for long shots), and Photo Doody (the near-stringless marionette that was used in personal appearances, photo shoots, and parades).
  • Photo Doody was sold in 1997 for more than $113,000.

Also on this date:

Kwanzaa (from 12/26/11 to 1/1/12)

Astronomer Johannes Kepler's birthday

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