When the 1950s voice barked the question, "Hey kids, what time is it?", there was only one answer.
It was Howdy Doody time across America for more than a decade starting in 1947. It in the opinion of Jane and Michael Stern, the authors of The Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, this "freckle-checked, wood-bodied marionette from Doodyville scaled unprecedented heights of fame" to become television's first nationally-known celebrity.
Buffalo Bob Smith hosted the show and used puppet Howdy and others to entertain children in the Peanut Gallery. Later, artist Charles Shultz would borrow the term to name his comic strip, Peanuts.
Howdy and pals, Clarabelle, Flub-a-Dub, Dilly Dally, Hedi and the rest were an immediate success, and by 1948 items with their name and image began appearing in the marketplace. There was a red plastic mug from Ovaltine, one of the show's early sponsors. With a full-color decal, it looked very much like the Captain Midnight mug from the same sponsor.
Another sponsor, Poll-Parrot Shoes, offered a premium, 8"x10" photo book in the late 1940s featuring Howdy, Buffalo Bob and the whole gang. During the same period, there was a small wooden Howdy Doody doll from an unknown maker, and one from Effanbee with a hard plastic head and cloth body.
From 1948 to 1951 most of the Howdy-related material was marked Bob Smith or Martin Stone Associates, along with a copyright symbol. From 1951 through 1956, as the amount of character merchandise from the show swept coast to coast, most bore the Kagran Corporation mark.
"Howdy would be immortalized by the Kagran company," observed Robin Sommer, the author of the book Toys of Our Generation. "They produced seven of the show's characters, strings and all, so that kids could put on their own shows. In addition to the Kagran marionettes, you could get Unique Art's Howdy Doody Band."
That Unique Art wind-up band was very similar to the litho tin Dogpatch Band which became much more popular in the early 1950s.
Also during early 1950s, Ideal marketed a Howdy Doody ventriloquist doll, complete with scarf, pull-string mouth, cloth body, and hard plastic head. The 20-inch size sold for $5.98, and the 24-inch version retailed at $9.98.
At the height of the television show's popularity, there vast numbers of manufacturers who had acquired licensing to sell Howdy Doody merchandise in one form or another. Royal Jello Pudding packages had Howdy Doody trading cards on the back, Peter Puppet Playthings offered a marionette of wood composition, and there was even a cookie jar with Howdy's image on it.
There were numerous Howdy chairs for children during the 1950s, including a folding aluminum chair, platform rocking chair, and a rocking chair with a music box that played the TV show's theme.
"There were also the wood and plastic animated toys," adds Sommer, "including the Howdy Phone-a-Doodle and the memorable Clock-a-Doodle, in which Howdy swung from the pendulum, and the disheveled Flub-a-Dub popped out on the hour, like a cuckoo. It was fun."
By 1954 the commercial sponsors of the show who offered Howdy-related products had grown to not only include Royal and Poll Parrot, but Blue Bonnet Margarine, Wonder Bread, Campbell Soups and Kellog's cereals as well.
"There were Howdy Doody card and beanbag games, dolls, paint sets, swim rings, boxed puzzles, sewing kits, and stuffed animals," note Gil Asakawa and Leland Rucker in The Toy Book. "Six million Howdy Doody comics were sold a year, and RCA Victor had best-selling Howdy hits."
That same year the number of Howdy memorabilia manufactures grew to 70, and Ideal brought still another Howdy Doody doll--this time in three different sizes ranging in height from 18 to 25 inches. Each came with plaid shirt, boots, and a scarf with the TV hero's name on it.
Little Golden Books issued nearly a dozen titles during the 1950s to capture the fame of the show including It's Howdy Doody Time, Howdy Doody in Funland, and Howdy Doody's Circus.
There were also children's dishes, bubble pipes from the Lindo Toy Company, a trapeze toy made in Western Germany by Toy Novelty Associates, a wrist watch from Ideal Watch Company, and even bubble bath sold by Champrel Company of New York.
Marx featured a wind-up jeep driven by Howdy, Emenee had a plastic ukulele, Nylint offered a wind-up Howdy Doody Pumpmobile, Parker Brothers sold Howdy Doody's Own Game and still another company sold Howdy Put-in-Head fashioned after the very popular Mr. Potato Head.
"The colors on Howdy Doody toys were so wonderful that was an absolute shame that kids couldn't see the actual (more) show in such brilliant color," comments David Longest in the comprehensive book, Character Toys and Collectibles, 2nd series. "But since the televisions then were black and white, at least the toys let th~ buying public know what Howdy was really supposed to look like in person."
From 1956 to 1960 much of the Howdy Doody material bore the copyright mark of California National Products, a marketing division of NBC television.
From the early 1960s to the present most such products were marked simply NBC with a copyright mark.
The delightful characters of Doodyville began to give way to the even more creative forces of the Mickey Mouse gang during the latter 1950s. The stringed marionettes could not compete with full-color animation.
The Howdy Doody show ended in September of 1960 when Doodyville citizens literally packed their bags and left. Today the original Howdy remains in a private collection while his brother model, Double Doody is housed in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Howdy wrote TV entertainment history during the 1950s, and perhaps just as importantly pioneered the art of TV-product merchandising.
"After Howdy Doody and all his gang were turned into not only a successful TV program but also a marketing bonanza," (more) concludes author Longest, "it was clear to see that more programming for children and more toy marketing geared toward the television audience were soon to follow."