"SAY KIDS! WHAT TIME IS IT?" He wore a plaid shirt, bluejeans, and cowboy boots. Forty-eight freckles--one for each state then in the union--dotted his face. Fifty years ago this month, Howdy Doody began his 13-year run on television. He would become the first children's TV superstar.
Doody calls. During the show's heyday, almost 30,000 pieces of mail arrived each week addressed to Howdy. In 1948, he ran for president and received over 1 million votes--more than independent candidate Henry Wallace. The studio audience, or "Peanut Gallery," seated 40 children. Ticket demand was so strong that pregnant women requested seats four years in advance for their unborn children.
Chip off the block. In 1950, Howdy-licensed items, including comic books and records, earned $15 million, or $100 million in today's money. Three Howdy albums were simultaneously on the Billboard Top 20 list. He became NBC's top moneymaker. By 1953, Howdy's daily audience was 15 million, more viewers than Barney currently attracts weekly--and four times more American households now have television sets.
Timeless. There were three Howdy Doodys. The original resides in a display case in "Buffalo" Bob's North Carolina living room. Twin brother Double Doody is in the Smithsonian. The third, Photo Doody, used for publicity pictures, recently sold for over $113,000.
Sources: Howdy and Me: Buffalo Bob's Own Story by "Buffalo" Bob Smith and Donna McCrohan (Penguin Books, 1990); Glued to the Set by Steven D. Stark (Simon & Schuster, 1997); Say Kids! What Time Is It? by Stephen Davis (Little, Brown & Co., 1987)
This story appears in the December 15, 1997 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.