"'Howdy Doody' was actually a soap opera for kids with a cliffhanger every night, just not the kind to keep a four-year- old, which was the median age of our audience, awake at night."
About This Interview
In his two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Eddie Kean (1924-2010) talks about his background growing up in a musical household. He discusses his early years as a songwriter that led to his meeting Bob Smith and working as a writer on Smith's radio show. He describes in great detail his subsequent work as the sole writer for Howdy Doody for over seven years, which starred Smith as "Buffalo Bob." Kean talks about the launching of the show in 1947 as Puppet Playhouse and how it grew from a weekly to a daily program. He recalls 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 describes the series as a "soap opera" for kids and discusses such memorable storylines as the "Howdy Doody for President" campaigns and the "Mystery of the Four Ls." He speaks 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 describes 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 discusses the licensing for the show, the talented cast and crew and the series' impact. He speaks 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 talks 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 discusses writing for The Gabby Hayes Show during his years on Howdy Doody and such series as Going Places subsequently. He speaks about his later pursuits including entertaining as a piano player. B-roll consists of photos from his Howdy Doody years and some recent Howdy Doody merchandise, as well as some other personal photographs. Karen Herman conducted the interview in West Bloomfield, MI on November 3, 2005.