Howdy Doody Ends After 2343 Shows – September 24, 1960

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 22•14

howdybigAfter 13 years on the air, and one of the first monumental hits on television, Howdy Doody, Bob 44b8a03b35b340d02854b95b4e97d541Smith, Princess Summerfall Winterspring,  Heidi Doody, and Clarabell the Clown closed shop. Initially a weekday program, Howdy Doody moved to Saturdays in 1956, and continued to have solid ratings to the end.  As with any TV show with longevity, the rising costs of production brought its ultimate demise. In 1960, the show was pre-recorded in color, unlike its earliest days of live shows and grainy kinescopes.  Not much was made of the cancellation of the show publicly, but the day of the broadcast, millions of unsuspecting children watched the final show, and it made a lasting impact!  Announced immediately at the show’s opening as the final show, Smith spent much of the hour recapping Howdy Doody‘s many escapes since 1948.  During that time, Howdy Doody ran for President of the United States, TWICE, in 1948 and 1952.  The 1952 run even including a “facelift,” publicly so that Howdy could run and win office, but privately due to sponsors unhappiness with the original Howdy puppet’s ugly appearance. (Both puppets are at the Smithsonian Institute.)  The show truly invented the framework for most children’s programming to follow.  Live actors with puppets, educational cartoons, and a zany cast of characters, influenced all of children’s television, most notably Sesame Street, PeeWee’s Playhouse, Blue’s Clues, and Romper Room, yet hundreds more.  Howdy Doody was to children’s programming as I Love Lucy was to situation comedy! And like all those shows, Howdy Doody paved the way for mass product marketing, from dolls, comic books, to selling millions of jars of Ovaltine! In actuality, Howdy Doody, Milton Berle and Lucille Ball were the trifecta of mass television sales in the United States.

All things must pass, however, and certainly, in those TV golden days, no network executive ever imaged a 13-year run for any show, much less a last minute thrown together segment to fill air time in the late 1940’s!  So at the close of the 1959-1960 season, on Saturday, September 24, 1960, Howdy Doody, the first true television phenomenon,  said goodbye.

It was the first important finale in TV history.  No show had wrapped up their series with a nod to the past, nor said goodbye to their audience with such heartfelt appreciation.  The thread of the final show was Clarabell the Clown.  Clarabell had a big surprise for the kids.  And, after 13 years of pratfalls but not ever uttering a word,   Clarabell’s big surprise was that he could talk, and he had a message.  Looking straight into the camera, teary-eyed, the favorite clown of the 1950’s, spoke softly, “Goodbye kids!”  The camera faded to black for seconds before NBC announced their replacement next week, Shari Lewis and Lambchop. For the first time since 1947, Howdy Doody was off the air!

Here is the Howdy Doody series wrap-up, an edited 6 minute version of the final show, fondly yet sadly remembered by kids watching on September 24, 1960.

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