Eddie Kean, the sole writer for the first seven years of the classic children’s show Howdy Doody, has died at age 85. Kean also wrote the songs for the show. Out of Howdy Doody comes one of Kean’s most lasting contributions to pop culture — the creation of the word “cowabunga” (also spelled kowabunga) used by everyone from ’60s surfers to Bart Simpson.
Eddie Kean’s Archive interview was conducted on November 3, 2005. In the excerpt below from his interview he discusses “cowabunga”
Eddie Kean talked about his background growing up in a musical household. He discussed his early years as a songwriter that led to his meeting Bob Smith and working as a writer on Smith’s radio show. He described in great detail his subsequent work as the sole writer for Howdy Doody for over seven years, which starred Smith as “Buffalo Bob.” Kean talked about the launching of the show in 1947 as Puppet Playhouse and how it grew from a weekly to a daily program. He talked about some of the series memorable characters (and the performers who played them) including: “Clarabell,” “Mr. Bluster,” “Chief Thunderthud,” “Princess Summerfall Winterspring,” “Flubadub,” and “Howdy Doody” himself. He described the series as a “soap opera” for kids and discussed such memorable storylines as the “Howdy Doody for President” campaigns and the “Mystery of the Four Ls.” He talked about the music he wrote for the show, including the memorable theme song and such instructional songs as “You Don’t Cross the Road With Your Feet.” He described how he used to gauge the reaction that the show was getting by reading fan letters and also by anonymously sitting in the screening room in which the children’s parents sat during show time. He also discussed: the licensing for the show, the talented cast and crew, and the series impact. He spoke in detail about the legacy of a single word he created for Chief Thunderthud— “Kowabunga”— which has since outlived the show as a catchphrase in various forms (usually spelled “Cowabunga”), notably by Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. He talked about leaving the show that he felt was running him down (a daily grind of “type-puff-phone-coffee”) and running the cast down as well. Kean also talked about writing for The Gabby Hayes Show during his years on Howdy Doody, and such series as Going Places subsequently. He talked about his later pursuits including entertaining as a piano player. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman.