Tagged: Howdy Doody

Dennis O’Neil: “Dell Comics Are Good Comics”

Beany and CecilO bitterness! O shame! I devoted a lot of bandwidth last recently to blathering about Howdy Doody, a marionette who had his own, pioneering, television show, a kiddie show back when I was, in fact, a kiddie. Nothing wrong with that. No bitterness, no shame.

Howdy DoodyBut… This bandwidth-waster is part of an enterprise devoted to comic books and I neglected to mention that our little bestringed buddy had his own comic book. It was published by Dell, which seemed to like puppets since it also had Beany and Cecil Comics, Rootie Kazootie Comics, and Charlie McCarthy Comics. (Okay, Charlie was a ventriloquist dummy, but isn’t that a kind of puppet?)

Charlie McCarthyBefore I knew much about the business that put food on my table for about a half-century, I was even less aware of Dell than I am now. Actually, I’m not sure I knew what a publisher was, but there were these comics that didn’t feature Superman or Batman or any of the other costumed heroes that gave pleasure to warm afternoons when I didn’t have to endure the leaden misery of school. During those vacation days I read comic books and it is likely that I read some Dells, probably the ones about funny animals, the same funny animals that I sometimes saw at the picture show before the cowboy movie of the week began entertaining me. I doubt that I read any that featured Howdy, Beany, et.al. because I was getting interested in puppets and ventriloquism and wouldn’t I have remembered comics that combined my enthusiasms? Well, maybe not.

Rootie KazootieBut about these Dells… they were different. And I wasn’t sure why then and I’m not sure why now, though if I actually examined one I might detect what give them their specialness. (I mean, I must have learned something all those years that I sat behind editorial desks.)

Later, after the witch hunting 50s, Dell’s titles seemed somehow above the fray, and in a way they were. Instead of sobbing mea culpa and joining the comics Code Authority like most of the other publishers that survived the persecutions – there weren’t many – Dell chose to ignore the censors. “Dell comics are good comics” the company’s slogan reminded its readers. This genteel rebellion had no effect, apparently, on sales. Dell continued to publish for years.

There is probably a lesson to be learned in all this, somewhere, but I’ll let you ferret it out. Whatever it might be, it probably has nothing to do with puppets, the ostensible subject of the current effort, and maybe nothing to do with bitterness and shame, but that might bear further investigation.

Why do people want to engage in censorship, anyway?

Dennis O’Neil: Howdy, Chief Thunderthud! Howdy, Princess Summerfall Winterspring!

Doodyville

Chief ThunderthudYou don’t really believe that Chief Thunderthud was a racist, do you?

Our man Thunderthud was called a “chief,” but he wore only a single feather on his head instead of the fully-feathered bonnet we were used to seeing perched atop guys who answered to “chief” in the cowboy pictures I saw before you were born. The (if I may) chief is most notable, not for something he wore, but for something he said. This was “Kowabunga,” sometimes spelled “Cowabunga” and used mostly, if memory serves, as an expletive you could say freely in front of your church-going grandma. Some of you – most of you? – thought that Kowa/Cowabunga originated with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of movie and comic book fame. Sorry, but no.

Beginning in 1947, Chief Thunderthud dwelt in Doodyville which, in turn, was located in midtown Manhattan in a studio owned and operated by The National Broadcasting Company.

He wasn’t necessarily lonely, there is Studio 3B. Doodyville had other inhabitants, some of them marionettes, such the town mayor, Mr. Bluster, a strange beastie known as Flubadub who seemed to be a mashup of eight different animals and, of course, Howdy himself. Human beings also called Doodyville home. There was the chief, and another member of Thunderthud’s tribe, Princess Summerfall Winterspring who was sometimes called Judy Tyler and who later made a movie with Elvis Presley. (Presley wasn’t a puppet, either.)

Princess Summerfall WinterspringAnd there was Clarabell the Clown, who spoke only three words in the show’s entire run and who communicated by blowing a horn and whose favorite prank was squirting seltzer into somebody’s face. That Clarabell! What a hoot! Though maybe I should mention that he was a male hoot, despite the name.)

We’ve saved the best for last. I refer to none other than Buffalo Bob Smith, who did a lot of things including but not limited to emceeing the proceedings, interacting with the studio audience, and – here comes a surprise – supplying Howdy’s voice. Bob wasn’t a ventriloquist the way, say, Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist, but who cared if his lips moved when Howdy talked? As long as a camera wasn’t aimed at him during Howdy’s chat, nobody except the kids and other performers and technical people knew exactly where the words were coming from. And did they care?

Why all this Howdy stuff now? Well, Howdy’s coming back! He’ll star in a Fourth of July video marathon that will incorporate old shows and new material, and maybe serve as a pilot for similar excursions into Doodyville. Which prompts us to ask: If Chief Thunderthud and the lovely princess were debuting today, would they run afoul of the defenders of political correctness? Will the antics of the Chief and princess, which could be seen as racist lampoons, be shown on July Fourth? Should they be seen as racist? I don’t know.

Final question: why? Has the world been yearning for a return to Doodyville?