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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.

The Life & Times of Howdy Doody -  Part 5

We all know that childhood can’t last forever (unless your name is Bart Simpson). So too, for our favorite childhood television shows. The last network telecast of The Howdy Doody Show took place on September 24, 1960. The following Saturday on NBC, many of us were entertained by Shari Lewis, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse.

But whatever happened to Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob? Keep reading and find out.

Imagine a TV series where Miss Hathaway from Beverly Hillbillies, Alice from The Brady Bunch and Dobie Gillis all hung out together. There was such a series in the 1950’s, originally called The Bob Cummings Show, but better remembered due to the name it adopted for its far longer tenure in syndication, Love That Bob!

Bob Cummings starred as Bob Collins (continuing the long-standing but frankly puzzling sit-com tradition where the lead actor uses their real first name but a fictitious last name).

Cummings played a glamour photographer who was always surrounded by stunningly gorgeous models, many of whom he loved and left. Back then, he was a rakish playboy. Today, we’d call him commitment-phobic. Bob’s character was also interested in aviation.

In real life, photography and flying private planes were two of Cummings’ major interests. We suspect dating beautiful women was also an interest as he was married five times.

Beach Party movies, why limit them to summer? That must have been the thinking among the brain trust at American International Pictures. Apparently, nobody in the room said, “Because most of the drive-ins in America are closed during the winter!”

That’s how we wound up with this unalloyed gem of a movie, a combination of Some Like It Hot  and Beach Blanket Bingo – only in parkas – called Ski Party.

The 6th entry in the Beach Party series has everything – except Annette. Or at least Annette is only around for two quick scenes in the beginning. She is there in the beginning of the movie as a college sex ed professor (!) who gets into some inappropriate behavior with one of her students.

Her replacement on this ski trip is Deborah Walley, who clearly lacks two of Ms. Funicello’s major attractions. I mean Annette’s singing voice and big helmet of black hair (really, get your mind out of the gutter).

Even the biggest of American pop stars were nerdy teenagers at one time and had to pose for yearbook photos.

And so this is what Madonna looked like in her pre-Material Girl days.

Every Baby Boomer remembers Mister Ed, the talking horse who caused trouble for his owner Wilbur Post. But Ed was actually a rip-off, a cheap TV imitation!

Before Ed ever opened his mouth there was Francis the Talking Mule!

Frances was created by U.S. Army Captain David Stern III. He was in charge of an Army newspaper during WWII. Bored by a lack of news one afternoon, Stern wrote four pages of fanciful dialogue between a U.S. solider and a stubborn Army mule. Intrigued, he expanded the idea into a series of short stories that were subsequently published by Esquire magazine. Stern wrote the stories in the first person and adopted as a pen name, Peter Stirling, the 2nd lieutenant who Francis befriended in the stories.

Think there are some bad reality TV shows on the air now?

Back in the summer of 1950, Toni Home Permanents (remember those?) actually sponsored a 15-minute prime time show that featured twins with the audience having to guess which one had had her hair styled professionally and which had used Toni’s home hair care products. In other words.

The only reason anyone should remember this show is its host – a young guy named Jack Lemmon!

Ah, how soon we forget!

Gambit was an A-list caper film that starred Michael Caine as the thief and Shirley MacLaine as his initially unwitting accomplice.

Caine is out to steal a priceless statue from the world’s richest man (Herbet Lom). MacLaine bears an uncanny resemblance to Lom’s dead wife, whom he adored. (Hey, if she looked like Shirley Maclaine, what’s not to adore?)

The film’s main gimmick is that we first see the caper play out flawlessly. In the film’s first of several twists, we then find out what we’ve been seeing is merely the way Caine has described his plan to his partner, an art forger (John Abbott).

In television’s early days, the hands-down, most popular, can’t miss genre was Westerns. Especially when it came to kids’ programs.

One of the many lies that TV peddled so easily in those more innocent days was that the American West was somehow virtually unchanged from its post-Civil War heyday. Sure, there might be telephones and here and there a jeep to help with the ranching, but people still preferred to ride horses and settled their disputes with a good ol’ six-shooter.

One Western that bucked that trend was Sky King, who not only didn’t ride a horse; he didn’t even ride in a car. No sir. Sky King help keep law and order along that still untamed frontier in an airplane! Not just any airplane – but in the legendary Songbird!

Right off, how fortunate was it that his parents thought to name him Schuyler (a.k.a. “Sky”) and that his last name was King? I mean, talk about wacky coincidences!

Local TV Horror Hosts – most of us had ‘em.

In New York and northern Jersey, it was Zacherley (aka John Zacherle). In L.A., it was Vampira. Milwaukee had Dr. Cadaverino and Tampa had Dr. Paul Bearer. They were the “creatures” who brought us monster movies, good and bad, usually on the weekend and ideally late at night.

For Halloween, here’s a look at some of the men and women who brought us Monster-Horror-Shock-Chiller-Nightmare-Theater!

GORGON (1964)

We were born too late to experience the great Universal horror films in first run theaters. Instead, we watched them on our local TV station’s “Shock-Horror-Monster-Chiller-Nightmare Theater.” You remember. Those late night weekend shows where the TV weather guy dressed up as a vampire or mad scientist and showed all those great Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi movies that had scared our parents.

In fact, those old black & white monster movies created such a sensation on TV that British movie studio, Hammer Films, made a tidy sum remaking endless variations of “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Mummy” so we’d have some color horror to see at the drive-in ourselves.

But one of their films featured a totally original monster and is still tremendous fun to watch today, The Gorgon from 1964.

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