Memory lane over a marionette
You probably know that Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. It has a debt of $18 billion with assets of $24.38 coming from Tiny Tim’s paper route. The $18 billion is pocket change relative to what our national debt is. What took Detroit 50 years to do, our nation does each and every week.
So you fans of bankrupt cities might be asking the question: Does Detroit have any assets to sell off other than a paper route? You bet it does boys and girls.
One of Detroit’s Institute of Arts most valuable holdings is the original Howdy Doody. This 1950s wooden puppet (actually a marionette) is estimated to be worth $1 million. Marionettes are wooden-headed creations that are controlled with strings, you know like Washington Congress persons. Puppets, on the other hand, are usually manipulated by things going up their large behinds like the populace subject to the marionettes.
Howdy Doody was brought to show biz celebrity in 1947 by the real live human host of the show, Buffalo Bob. He was not controlled by any strings although I think Princess SummerFall WinterSpring could get his undivided attention.
Buffalo Bob dressed in a cowboy costume that no self-respecting cowboy would wear anywhere other than to an episode of Project Runway.. He would talk to the live on-stage audience of about 40 kids who were sitting in a bleachers known as the Peanut Gallery. Buffalo Bob would begin each show with ” Say kids, what time is it? ” And I’m ashamed to say but I, the little nerd sitting at home, would join in with the Peanut Gallery response, “It’s Howdy Doody time.” All right, I was 16 and what did I know.
Nerdy Nin was a fan of the show but, in my opinion, Howdy sort of had a goofball smile that was a bit too innocent. It did match his whining voice, though. Howdy had a face of exactly 48 freckles which at that time equaled the number of states in the U.S.
For my taste, Howdy was just too much of a wimp even with respect to the ’50s naivete. If he popped Mr. Bluster occasionally, that would’ve been a thrill.
There was actually a back-up Howdy known as Double Doody who did rehearsals and stunts that might endanger the original Howdy. Ooh, wow, God forbid that Howdy might break a string. In my esteemed opinion the stunt double did not have the same charm as the real Howdy. Maybe it was cheaper wood or a lower quality paint job.
A seldom seen character on the show was Heidi Doody, Howdy’s sister. I recall thinking that Heidi had some mighty nice looking porcelain, molded and fired in all the right places. The one thing I didn’t like about her was her blonde pigtails. An enticing layered wave would’ve provided more fertile grounds for my warped fantasies. Actually, her dress could’ve been more complimentary, too. Her ample niceties didn’t quite compensate for the southern Wisconsin cheesehead look.
I mentioned before a character named Mr Bluster. Actually he was Mister Mayor Phineas T. Bluster. How this unsavory puppet ever got elected as Mayor of Doodeyville is beyond comprehension. All he had on his political resume was experience as some kind of community organizer.
Of course what made him even more despicable was his ownership of The Bluster National Bank. He got elected Mayor of Doodyville even though he was caught sending pictures of his Woody Allen to strange women. One of little known laws of Doodyville was that anybody who was absent from the town for more than 10 days would not be allowed back in. Of course if they snuck back in, they would be availed of all assistance programs know to mankind.
I admit with embarrassment that there were times when I wanted to take Mr. Bluster out with my trusted Red Ryder BB gun. You’ve got to remember I was just young and immature back then. Now I can watch those reruns and merely want to break his little wooden neck.
I became especially outraged during one episode when Mr. Bluster interrupted Howdy’s song about being a pal. Several balloons dropped on stage with a sign demanding that Howdy pay him 500 marbles a day. To my complete dismay, I discovered that Howdy did admit to owing Mr. Bluster 9,950 marbles. What’s a guy doing with that many marbles in the first place? And what’s a nerd to do when he discovers that his hero has a vast marble debt to pay off? And what made the debt even worse was the ownership of The Flub a Dub was at stake. It was a bad day for me.
One of the strangest characters on the show was Flub-a-Dub who was Clarabell’s pet and we don’t want to go any further into that relationship. Clarabell had to be watched carefully according to Chief Thunderthud.
Flub a Dub was captured by Buffalo Bob somewhere in the Caribbean. Apparently there had been some DNA genetic engineering going on down there on some Island inhabited by Dr. Moreau. The Flub was a combination of duck, cat, giraffe, cocker spaniel, raccoon tail, dachshund. If he wasn’t the result of a DNA experiment gone bad, perhaps it was a lot of cousins eating wedding cake.
Those of you who were fellow fans remember that Clarabell wore a baggy striped costume of your typical clown types. He did not speak. He used a horn to communicate yes’s and no’s and double honks for a clownish statement more complex like” at this point what difference does it really make.” Today he would’ve been in a special federal program for Disabled Clowns Who Can Only Speak By Blowing a Horn.
A character that I favored was Chief Thunderthud. He was a guy that had no patience for any kind of nonsense that often prevailed on the show. That nonsense would often result in Clarabell’s seltzer spray. He would usually respond to anything that he delighted in, was surprised by, or frustrated with, by using a term “Cowabunga.” Today, the expression would likely be, “Cowabunga, Buffalo Bob, Obamacare.” Then he would be vilified for his political incorrectness.
Dilly Dally was a character never confused with being The Hulk. He had to be the delicate evil spawn of a transgender product from the conjoining of Pee Wee Herman and Flub a Dub. Frankly, Dilly was a soft spoken pain in the Woody Allen neighborhood. Shall we say he had a severe shortage of testosterone which would make him a very comfortable fit in today’s reality show The Bachelorette. Dilly was a naive simple-minded accomplice to Mr. Bluster’s schemes. Dilly was a tragic figure of Doodyville.
I always wanted to get a Fluffer Doodle. This was a canon-shaped device that emerged from the wall when Buffalo Bob and Howdy needed something like six crayons. Howdy would make his request into the attached microphone; Buffalo Bob would crank it, and voila, there were the six crayons when they opened the Flufferdoodle.
So, for all of you who grew up in the ’50s I hope you enjoyed this brief trip down memory lane. I’ll sign off now as I gaze at my poster of Princess Summerfall Winterspring.
Nin Privitera is a Fredonia resident. His column appears monthly in the OBSERVER.