Ramblings & ephemera

Clarabell the Clown’s final – and only – words

From The New York Times‘ “Lew Anderson, 84, Clarabell the Clown and a Bandleader, Dies“:

Lew Anderson, whose considerable success as a musician, arranger and bandleader paled before the celebrity he achieved as Clarabell the Clown, Howdy Doody’s sidekick on one of television’s first children’s shows, died on Sunday in Hawthorne, N.Y. …

“Well, his feet are big, his tummy’s stout, but we could never do without,” Buffalo Bob Smith and the Kids of the Peanut Gallery sang in appreciation of his character, in a baggy, striped costume, who communicated by honking a horn for yes and no, Harpo Marx style.

Other times, Clarabell the Clown made his feelings known by spraying Buffalo Bob with seltzer, or playing a trick on him that everybody but Bob figured out immediately.

Before there was Big Bird, Barney or SpongeBob, there was Howdy Doody and his friends in Doodyville. Baby boomers grew up with “The Howdy Doody Show,” which began in December 1947 at a time when only 20,000 homes in the country had television sets. It was the first network weekday children’s show, the first to last more than 1,000 episodes and NBC’s first regularly scheduled show to be broadcast in color.

When it ended on Sept. 24, 1960, after 2,243 episodes, it was Clarabell who had the show’s last words. Since until then he had only honked, they were also his first words.

The camera moved in for a close-up of Mr. Anderson, who had a visible tear in his eye. A drum roll grew louder and then died. With quivering lips, Clarabell whispered, “Goodbye, kids.” …

In the late 1940’s, he joined the Honey Dreamers, a singing group that appeared on radio and early television shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The group appeared on a musical variety television show Mr. Smith produced for NBC.

When the Clarabell part opened up on Mr. Smith’s other show, “Howdy Doody,” Mr. Smith and the other producers asked Mr. Anderson if he could juggle. “No.” Dance? “No.” Magic tricks? “No.” What can you do? “Nothing.”

“Perfect, you start tomorrow,” Mr. Smith said.

Comments are closed.