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Thursday, July 30, 1998

Howdy Doody.

Robert Schmidt was born with little or no fanfare on November 27, 1917, the son of a coal miner in upstate New York. His father had a year earlier survived a cave-in which killed everyone else in the mine at that time. So little Bobby started off, shall we say, as a special treat. And his life became a treat for all of us.

He learned to play the piano and the organ and by the time he was 15, he was singing and playing on a New York radio station. He formed a group called the High Hatters with Foster Brooks who later achieved fame with Dean Martin as his constantly drunken pal. Bob later became a disk jockey, and when he took over a morning quiz show, he changed his last name to Smith. In 1947, he conceived of the idea of a children's television show
, and it was not that popular with the bosses of the new visual media. But in the end, Howdy Doody, became so wildly popular that it was broadcast five days a week, for a total of 2,343 live performances, until its final episode on September, 30, 1960.

Imagine you are 6 years old. It's 1953. You are on the floor of the living room, waiting. On the small, round television screen is the ubiquitous test pattern because in those days shows didn't begin until late afternoon. Suddenly the pattern jumped a little, then again, and then there he was, smiling at you. "Hey, Kids! Do you know what time it is?"

In black and white, of course. We would sing along at the top of our lungs. Clarabell the Clown (Captain Kangaroo was the first Clarabell), who never said
a word until the last show, when he looked into the camera and simply said, "Goodbye kids," but usually he just honked his horn in agreement or disagreement with Bob. Then there was Chief Thunderthud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring (who began as a puppet and transformed into a human), Mayor Phineas T. Bluster and his family, the quintessentially famous Flub-A-Dub, a meatball-eating wild animal composite that Bob said he caught in a jungle of South America. Then there was the Super Talkscope, that enabled Bob and Howdy to instantly see any place and any time they wanted. And, then of course, there was the original peanut gallery. Did you know that Howdy had 48 freckles,
one for each state? There were actually three Howdy's: Howdy Doody, Double Doody, and Photo Doody (no strings, below).

The Howdy Doody Show. It wasn't fancy. It was very funny. It was just for kids. But, kids grow up, so it was for all of us.

So, remember, when someone asks, "What time is it?" It's still Howdy Doody Time. There's always time to smile, relax and sing the song. In your hearts, stay in the peanut gallery everybody. It's fun and safe there. See you next time?

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