A Guide to Howdy Doody Books and Video
For a show that ran for 13 years and was one of the mainstays of Baby Boomer culture throughout the entire 1950’s, there are surprisingly few ways we can relive those memories today.
There have been books and DVDs about The Howdy Doody Show released over the years, but few remain in print as of this writing. Nevertheless, here’s a rundown on what’s been produced.
Say Kids! What Time Is It? Notes from the Peanut Gallery by Stephen Davis, published in 1987 by Little Brown and Company. This is the first and best book about the show and what really went on backstage. Davis was the son of one of the show’s early writers and producers. Consequently, he got to sit in the Peanut Gallery multiple times during his childhood. As an adult, he was also able to draw on his father’s contacts to provide a fascinating look at all facets of the show, both in front of and behind the cameras.
Howdy and Me by Buffalo Bob Smith and Donna McCrohan, published by Plume Books in 1990. While there is no better witness to the entire Howdy Doody phenomenon than Bob Smith, he can’t really be called an impartial observer. Much of the backstage tensions and bawdy rehearsal shenanigans are glossed over. Still, the book is a comprehensive look at the show and what happened to Buffalo Bob when production ended in 1960. It’s also filled with dozens of rare photographs from Bob’s private collection.
Really only a small percentage of the more than 2,000 episodes of The Howdy Doody Show have been released on video.
Howdy Doody’s Christmas – This is probably the most widely seen piece because it fell into public domain some time ago, and has appeared on dozens of old VHS tapes and cheap “dollar DVDs.” Yet, it doesn’t really come from the TV show at all.
Back in the early days of TV, the numbers of homes that had even one television set was still relatively small. So in 1951, they produced this short film featuring Howdy to show in theaters during the holidays. The release date for Howdy Doody’s Christmas is often wrongly said to be 1957. Yet it contains performances by Bob Keeshan as Clarabell and Dayton Allen as Ugly Sam. Both of those actors were gone from the show by the end of 1953. Also, the extremely crude production techniques rule out 1957 as a release date.
The Howdy Doody Show: In 2000, Image Entertainment released a series of 4 DVDs, each containing 4 episodes of the show during its run as a Saturday morning show on NBC. The volumes in this set are:
Andy Handy: Contains “Mr. Bluster Is Up to His Old Tricks” (April 1, 1953 – not a Saturday morning show), “Easter” (April 13, 1957), “Andy Handy” (May 4, 1957) and “Water Fountain” (July 13, 1957)
The Bird Club: Contains “10th Anniversary Show (December 28, 1957), “The Bird Club” (February 1, 1958), “Shrinking Machine” (February 8, 1958) and “Tammy Returns” (March 8, 1958)
Scuttlebutt: Contains “King Yodstick Part 1” (May 24, 1958), “King Yodstick Part 2” (May 31, 1958), “Scuttlebutt” (July 18, 1958) and “Val Carney” (August 2, 1958)
Clarabell Speaks: Contains “Halloween” (October 28, 1958), “Mambo” (November 16, 1958), “Cy Clone” (August 25, 1959) and “Clarabell Speaks” (September 24, 1960)
All the shows except the final show, “Clarabell Speaks,” are in black & white. Both “Clarabell Speaks” and “The 10th Anniversary Show” are hour-long shows. The rest are 30 minutes.
Howdy Doody: 40 Episodes – Released in 2008 by Mill Creek Entertainment, this 5-disc set comes with 32-page booklet of photos from the show’s run.
This set mainly focuses on the show’s early days when it ran Monday through Friday in the evenings, featuring episodes that range from February 1, 1949 to December 31, 1954.
In addition, the show also includes the show’s final telecast, “Clarabell Speaks” (September 24, 1960) as well as interviews with Bob Smith, Bob Keeshan, and the show’s main writer, Eddie Kean and producer/director E. Roger Muir.
There was a less expensive 2-disc version containing 20 episodes that was marketed at the same time as the 5-disc set.
With only two episodes duplicated between the Image and Mill Creek collections (“Mr. Bluster Is Up to His Old Tricks” & “Clarabell Speaks”), these sets together can give you a pretty comprehensive overview of what the show was like during its entire 13-year run.
Howdy Doody - There has also been one “dollar DVD" from Digiview that collects 3 additional episodes from the show (“Howdy for President,” “Doodyville Band Uniforms” and “New Clubhouse”) along with the Howdy Doody’s Christmas film. The exact dates for these show’s can’t be determined, but this DVD is usually pretty cheap and well worth picking up if you just want to sample what the show was like or if you must have everything that’s been released.
While these DVD sets have been out of print from a few years now, they can be found through eBay, Amazon.com or other second-hand dealers.
It’s Howdy Doody Time: A 40-Year Celebration – A little harder to find, this 2-hour TV special was broadcast in 1987 and released only on VHS. It contains lots of vintage footage from the show’s original run as well as a new storyline that reunites Bob Smith and many of the original cast members along with celebrity guests.
BUYER BEWARE: There are a handful of DVDs that are sometimes advertised as Howdy Doody – “The Lost Episodes.” Beware! These are all from the short-lived Howdy Doody revival in 1976. These are not to be confused with the genuine article.