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1940s / Original Howdy Doody Puppet
The Howdy Doody Show was one of the most iconic, popular, and enduring kids' programs ever. When it first aired in 1947, however, star marionette Howdy Doody looked far different than he did for most of the show's run. In this NBC publicity photo, Howdy is the puppet on the far right. Why the change? By 1948 the show had become so popular that merchandisers were clamoring to sell Howdy Doody paraphernalia. Macy's Department Store was especially eager to carry any and all Howdy Doody merchandise. This presented a major ownership problem: Buffalo Bob Smith had used the unmistakable Howdy Doody voice for years (beginning on the radio) and owned the rights to the character, but the puppet was created for TV by Frank Paris. No agreement could be worked out between Smith and Paris, so one day, about four hours before a live broadcast, Paris walked out of the NBC studio and took his puppet with him. The producers came up with a quick and brilliant gimmick to explain Howdy Doody's absence. Howdy had gone on a nation-wide road trip to campaign in the 1948 election! A large map of the USA showed viewers where Howdy had travelled during his absence from the show. Furthermore, it was announced that Howdy was undergoing plastic surgery to look better in his public appearances. This gave NBC's Velma Dawson plenty of time to create a totally different--but more familiar--Howdy Doody marionette that was used until the show ended in 1960. The new, more appealing Howdy Doody was an immediate hit. Apparently nobody missed Paris' original marionette too much. Smith himself declared it to be "the ugliest puppet imaginable."