Sunday, July 10, 2011

Say Kids, What Time Is It?


That's the way he always started the show. Then the boys and girls in the Peanut gallery and kids at home would sit in front of the TV and sing along. “It's Howdy Doody time, it's Howdy Doody time...”

“He” was Buffalo Bob Smith.

Bob Schmidt was from Buffalo, NY.  He started out as a singer, worked his way into radio and at one point beat the almighty Arthur Godfrey in New York. On a fluke in 1947, he performed a one-time TV puppet show during a blizzard which shut down the entire east coast. With nothing else to do, kids sat in front of the TV and The Howdy Doody Show was born.

Like many kids of the era, I watched the show. It was a bawdy, raucous hodgepodge of vaudeville style comedy, old movies and Bob getting squirted in the face by Clarabell the clown played by Bob Keeshan... later Captain Kangaroo. Little boys wanted to be Buffalo Bob, little girls wanted to marry him.

There was a cast of puppets a mile long, Dilly Dally, Mr Bluster, Flub-A-Dub, Inspector John J Fadoozle, Amerca's Number One (BOIIIING) Private Eye.  The live cast included Chief Thunderthud of the Sigafoose Indian tribe, Corny Cobb the town store keeper, and Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring, the most wonderful creature I'd ever seen.  She was played by Judy Tyler, who later went on to co-star with Elvis in "Jailhouse Rock."  She and her husband were killed in a car accident on the way back to New York from L.A.  Elvis would never watch that movie, he thought the world of her and just couldn't stand to see it.

Here's the thing about Judy, like Annette Funicello and even Darla of "Our Gang" fame, and completely contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day,  it wasn't some pseudo sexual appeal that had little boys captivated, it was the idea that these girls wouldn't hesitate a second to light a bag full of dog poop and throw it on the town busy-body's doorstep.  In other words, they weren't just beautiful, they could easily be your best pal.   

I imagined myself, in front of the cameras doing my OWN show. WOW, what a gig!

Years later, in the 70's, I was assigned to MC a show at the Canadian National Exhibition with Buffalo Bob. By this time I was a CHUM DJ. There was no higher calling. I drove a Mercedes sports car, I had my own wine stash at George's Spaghetti House, I had my hair styled at Salon Afif... the hippest clip joint in Toronto. Looking back at pictures from that era, I think I should've SHOT that guy! At any rate, what in the hell was I doing on stage with an old, washed up character like Buffalo Bob?

Looking out from the CNE band shell I noticed quite a crowd beginning to assemble. Hippies, little kids, parents... all ages and types. “How's the crowd buddy?” Buf asked me. “Pretty good I guess” I replied. “Tell you what buddy... get the hands to go down and set up about 30 chairs in front of the stage, we're going to have a PEANUT GALLERY!!”

Oh brother, a peanut gallery... PUL-EEZE just shoot me now!!!!

A few minutes go by, Buf is quietly tooting on his clarinet, Lew Anderson (the last Clarabell) has his costume and makeup on and looks like... well... Clarabell. Suddenly it's show-time! Buff goes out, sits behind the piano and cuts loose with the Howdy Doody theme. Now the crowd, which by this time has grown to several hundred, is singing along at the top of their lungs “It's Howdy Doody time, it's Howdy Doody time...” Then it's “Who's the funniest clown you know?” “CLARABELL” “And who's the clown on Howdy's show?” “CLARABELL.”

From behind the wings, up sneaks Clarabell with a seltzer bottle. The crowd is screaming “Look out Buffalo Bob... Look out Buffalo Bob!” and WHAM Buf gets it right in the kisser!!


The audience goes NUTS. Hippies, parents, little kids... all of 'em laughing like crazoids. I sure learned a lot about show biz that day!!

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