“Say kids, what time is it?” If you didn’t answer, “Howdy Doody time!” at the top of your lungs then you might want to turn back now because we’re joining the Peanut Gallery and traveling to Doodyville to visit Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, and all of their friends.
And just like proper members of the Peanut Gallery, we’re going to start off with Howdy’s theme song. In case you might have forgotten a word or two, here’s some help:
It’s Howdy Doody time!
It’s Howdy Doody time!
Bob Smith and Howdy too,
Say “howdy do” to you.
Let’s give a rousing cheer
’Cause Howdy Doody’s here
It’s time to start the show,
So kids let’s go!
Like so many early television shows, Howdy Doody began as a radio program. Radio producer Jim Gaines approached Bob Smith to develop a children’s quiz show for Saturday mornings. With co-writer Vic Campbell, Smith developed the Triple B Ranch Show where the silly questions were designed to get funny responses from the children. The show was a success but became a genuine hit when Smith voiced a ranch hand character named Elmer.
“Kyuk, howdy doody, hohoho,” was a typical greeting from Elmer, who quickly became more popular than the questions on the quiz show. Radio audience members were soon disappointed to learn that they couldn’t actually meet Elmer because he was just Smith’s voice.
Smith then made television history when he changed Elmer’s name to the more friendly Howdy Doody, and pitched a live show to NBC featuring Howdy as a puppet that interacted with human actors. Frank Paris was contracted to build the puppets for the show. With only five days of preparation, the hour-long Puppet Playhouse show aired at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 27, 1947 and was the first nationally televised children’s show.
Puppet Playhouse became the Howdy Doody Show in 1949 and enjoyed an unprecedented 13-year television run that produced 2,343 episodes. Popular characters including the silent Clarabell the Clown, Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka-Tonka Tribe, Phineas T. Bluster (the cranky mayor of Doodyville), and Howdy’s friend Dilly Dally became popular culture icons for children and adults alike. The last show aired on September 24, 1960 when Clarabell the Clown spoke, “Goodbye, kids.”
The incredible success of the beloved show is apparent to today’s collectors through the variety and scope of the merchandising efforts that featured Howdy Doody and his pals. Like so many other western stars, Howdy Doody appeared on everything from ice cream containers and cereal boxes to wrist watches, clothes, pins, toys and more.
Artist Milt Neil animated Donald Duck for the Walt Disney Studios and also designed Howdy Doody toys for the Unique Art Mfg. Co. in Newark, N.J. and the Milton Bradley Company. His designs (including Howdy’s smiling face) are evident on a number of board games, toys, clothing and other items.
There is a considerable demand for items that cross over into other collecting areas. Items like Howdy Doody lunch boxes, cookie jars, advertising items, comic books, Little Golden Books, pinback buttons, and premiums are a few of the most popular categories. Competition for these categories will keep both demand and prices up, but because they were produced in great quantities these items won’t be difficult to find.
Many collectors consider a Howdy Doody marionette to be the pinnacle of Doodyana, and the good news is that the Kagran Corporation through the manufacturing facilities of Peter Puppet Playthings offered several versions of Howdy Doody wearing different outfits and eye types. Howdy was 17 inches tall and originally sold for $3.49. Clarabell was 15 inches tall, Princess Summerfall Winterspring was 14 inches tall and Mr. Bluster was 13 inches all. Flub-A-Dub was 7 inches tall and originally sold for $2.98 and Dilly Dally was 13 inches tall. They also released Heidi Doody.
A Howdy Doody Marionette from Peter Puppet Playthings. Produced in large quantities, these aren’t particularly rare and can be found in the neighborhood of $300-$500.
Produced in large quantities to keep up with the enormous demand, these marionettes aren’t especially rare and you can find Howdy in nice condition for $300-500. Prices for the other marionettes are fluctuating with Flub-A-Dub among those fetching prices exceeding $800.
Every popular television show had to have a game, and Howdy Doody games were very popular. Good luck finding one that hasn’t been played with by adoring children. Milton Bradley released Howdy Doody’s T.V. Game in the early 1950s and a mint example is worth $100.
This Howdy Doody Wristwatch from Ingraham was released in 1954 and is still in its original store display. It is worth more than $750 today.
Was the Howdy Doody Show the first television show you ever watched? What was the first Howdy Doody piece in your collection? If you can’t remember, it’s time to start shopping – Doodyana is alive and well in the 21st century.
One of the pinnacles of tin-wind up collecting is this Howdy Doody Band from Marx in 1950. Howdy dances a jig while Buffalo Bob plays the piano. Finding one in mint condition will likely set you back $1,450 or more.
What’s It Worth?
• Howdy Doody Marionette, Peter Puppet, circa 1950, $500.
• Princess Summerfall Winterspring Marionette, Peter Puppet, $700.
• Howdy Doody Lunch Box, Adco Liberty, 1954, $750.
• Howdy Doody Costume, Collegeville, 1950s, $200.
• Howdy Doody Ukulele, Emenee, 1950s, $250.
• Howdy Doody Coloring Books, Whitman,
set of six, 1955, $300.
• Howdy Doody Wristwatch, Ingraham, 1954, $750.
• Mr. Bluster Bank, Strauss, 1976, $75
• Howdy Doody Band, tin wind-up, Marx, 1950, $1450.
What’s It Worth?
O’Brien’s Collecting Toys, 11th Edition (Krause Publications, 2004).
Toys & Prices 2006, 13th Edition (Krause Publications, 2006)
Howdy Doody Collector’s Reference and Trivia Guide by Jack Koch (Collector Books, 1996)