Friday, March 22, 2013

Say Kids! What Time Is It?

1987, first edition, from Little, Brown and Company
Stephen Davis
Say Kids! What Time Is It?: Notes from the Peanut Gallery
Original price $16.95, purchase price $6.00
Good condition hardcover

This very personal look at The Howdy Doody Show was written by the son of one of the writer-directors, Howard Davis.  Stephen and Howdy were "born" the same year, late 1947, so by the time the show left the air in 1960, Stephen was an adolescent who had outgrown the show.  But as a little boy he adored the show, especially Judy Tyler, who played the beautiful Princess Summerfall Winterspring.  She died tragically young, shortly after costarring in Jailhouse Rock.  So this is a bittersweet reminiscence, and one I enjoyed more than I expected, considering I didn't grow up watching the show.  (In contrast, I'd catch episodes of The Mickey Mouse Club, the program that "killed" Howdy in the ratings in the second half of the '50s.)  I think I originally got this book because Baby Boomers were always referencing Howdy Doody.  And I clearly remember Jeff Greenfield's tongue-in-cheek 1983 article in TV Guide that claimed the show was responsible for the upheaval of the 1960s, with its effects on Baby Boomers.  The "Cowabunga" of surfers (and later Bart Simpson) did actually come from the program, although Abbie Hoffman denied being inspired by Clarabell's Yippie-like antics.

Davis talked to all the surviving cast and crew, including his father of course, and got some great stories, although some of them are unhappy, as with the firing of "untalented" Bob Keeshan, the original Clarabell the Clown, who later found fame and success as Captain Kangaroo.  Davis does his best to be even-handed, sometimes offering multiple versions of stories, letting the reader decide what really happened.  Yet, he also gives his opinion on what did and didn't work on the show.  He watched old kines (kinescopes), from the beginning to the end, sometimes remembering moments clearly, other times seeing things for the first time (as with the episodes from his preteens).

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