Kid Shows

Howdy Doody was an American children’s television program with circus and Western frontier themes that was telecast on the NBC network from December 27, 1947, until September 24, 1960. It was a pioneer in children’s television programming and set the pattern for many similar shows. Originally an hour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (at 5 p.m. Eastern), the show moved to Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 6 p.m. EST in September 1948. During part of its run, it was preceded by the 15-minute program The Gabby Hayes Show, hosted by the veteran cowboy sidekick actor George “Gabby” Hayes. In June 1956, it began to be shown on Saturdays only, in a morning time slot (10-10:30 Eastern time), continuing until its final broadcast on September 24, 1960.

The idea for Howdy Doody came from a radio program called The Triple B Ranch. The three Bs stood for Big Brother Bob Smith, who developed the country bumpkin voice of a ranch hand and greeted the radio audience with, “Oh, ho, ho, howdy doody.” Children loved the Doodyville inhabitants because they were a skillfully created, diverse collection of American icons. The new Howdy, who premiered in March 1948 was an all-American boy with red hair, forty-eight freckles (one for each state in the Union), and a permanent smile

The primary characters in the show were “Howdy Doody,” who was voiced by Buffalo Bob Smith. The Howdy marionette on the original show was operated with 11 strings: two heads, one mouth, one eye, two shoulders, one back, two hands and two knees. Three strings were added later—two elbows and one nose. The name of the puppet “star” was derived from the American expression “howdy doody”/“howdy do,” a commonplace corruption of the phrase “How do you do?” used in the western United States. Buffalo Bob Smith, “Buffalo Bob,” was the creator and alter ego behind the puppet character. He hosted the show and was largely responsible for its content. Buffalo Bob would start the show by asking the children in the audience “What time is it?” The children, who sat on stage in the gallery sitting section called “The Peanut Gallery,” then would respond loudly “It’s Howdy Doody time!” There were about 40 children in The Peanut Gallery ranging in age from 3-8. Clarabell the Clown, who communicated in mime, by honking horns on his belt and by squirting seltzer, was the show’s comic foil. Secondary characters included Phineas T. Bluster, the resident skinflint mayor of Doodyville and nemesis of Howdy; Chief Thunderthud, who greeted everyone with the nonsense word “Kowabonga”; and, Flub-a-Dub: a combination of eight animals that had a duck’s bill, a cat’s whiskers, a spaniel’s ears, a giraffe’s neck, a dachshund’s body, a seal’s flippers, a pig’s tail, and an elephant’s memory. One of the few female characters in the cast was the beloved Princess Summerfall Winterspring of the Tinka Tonka tribe, who was first introduced as a puppet, then transformed into a real, live princess, played by Judy Tyler.

Much of the mayhem was perpetrated by a lovable, mischievous clown named Clarabell Hornblow. Clarabell was played by Bob Keeshan, who later become Captain Kangaroo. His pratfalls were generally accidents, and the most lethal weapon on the show was his seltzer bottle. Moreover, educational material was consciously incorporated both into the songs and the stories; for example, young viewers received a lesson in government when Howdy ran for President of the kids of America in 1948. The educational features of the program made the Doodyville characters attractive personal promoters both for the show and for the sale of television sets.

The producers also recognized the potential for merchandising. In 1949, the first Howdy Doody comic book was published by Dell and the first Howdy Doody record was released, selling 30,000 copies in its first week. There were also Howdy Doody wind-up toys, a humming lariat, a beanie, and T-shirts, among other licensed products.

The most famous moment in the history of The Howdy Doody Show came during the closing seconds of the final show when Clarabell, who did not speak but communicated through pantomime and honking his horns, surprised the audience by saying, “Good-bye, kids.”

“Howdy’s Theme Song”

It’s Howdy Doody time,

It’s Howdy Doody time,

Bob Smith and Howdy, too,

Say “Howdy do” to you.

Let’s give a rousing cheer

’Cause Howdy Doody’s here.

It’s time to start the show

So kids, let’s go!

The Mickey Mouse Club (MMC) made its debut on TV in 1955, the same year that Disney World opened in Los Angeles. The program was first televised for four seasons, from 1955 to 1959, by ABC. This original run featured a regular but ever-changing cast of mostly teen performers. MMC was essentially a variety show for children, with regular features including newsreel, cartoon, a serial, musical talent and comedy performances. The Mickey Mouse Club was hosted by Jimmie Dodd, a songwriter and the Head Mouseketeer, who provided leadership both on and off the screen. In addition to his other contributions, Dodd often provided short segments which encouraged young viewers to make the right moral choices. These little homilies became known as “Doddisms.” Roy Williams, a staff artist at Disney, also appeared in the show as the Big Mouseketeer. Roy suggested that the Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears should be worn by the show’s cast members, which he helped create, along with others.

The main cast members were called Mouseketeers, and they performed in a variety of musical and dance numbers, as well as some informational segments. The most popular of the Mouseketeers constituted the so-called Red Team, which was kept under contract for the entire run of the show (1955–1959), and its members included: Sharon Baird, Bobby Burgess, Lonnie Burr, Tommy Cole, Annette Funicello, Darlene Gillespie, Cubby O’Brien, Karen Pendleton and Doreen Tracey. The Mouseketeers became household names for kids across the country. Particular fan favorites among the Mouseketeers were Annette, Darlene, and Cubby.

Each day of the week had a special show theme, which were: Monday – Fun with Music Day, Tuesday – Guest Star Day, Wednesday – Anything Can Happen Day, Thursday – Circus Day, and Friday – Talent Round-up Day. A popular part of the MMC show was the multipart “serials” stories that featured some of the Mouseketeers in different roles. The most popular of the serials were:

  • The Adventures of Spin and Marty starring Tim Considine and David Stollery in the title roles. The stories were set at the Triple R Ranch, a boys’ western-style summer camp. The first series of 25 eleven-minute episodes was filmed in 1955. Its popularity led to two sequels — The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty in 1956 and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty in 1957.
  • The Hardy Boys, based on the young adult novel series of the same name, starring Tim Considine as Frank and Tommy Kirk as Joe. The first serial “The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure,” was aired in 19 episodes of fifteen minutes each. The second Hardy Boys serial was “The Mystery of Ghost Farm.”
  • Walt Disney Presents: Annette ran on The Mickey Mouse Club during the show’s third season (1957–1958). It starred Annette Funicello as Annette McCleod, a poor, orphaned country girl who moves into town with her upper-class Uncle Archie and Aunt Lila. Most of the plot has to do with her experiences in her new high school trying to fit in with all the new kids she meets in her new community, while still remaining true to herself.

The opening theme, The Mickey Mouse March,”

Who’s the leader of the club
That’s made for you and me

Hey there, hi there, ho there
You’re as welcome as can be

Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse
Forever let us hold our banner high
High, high, high

Come along and sing a song
And join the jamboree

Mickey Mouse club
We’ll have fun, we’ll be new faces
High, high, high, high

We’ll do things and we’ll go places

All around the world
We’ll go marching

Who’s the leader of the club
That’s made for you and me

Hey there, hi there, ho there
You’re as welcome as can be

Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse
Forever let us hold our banner high
High, high, high

Come along and sing a song
And join the jamboree

And, the ending…

Now’s the time to say goodbye
To all our company
Through the years we’ll all be friends
Wherever we may be
Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse
Forever let us hold our banner high
M-I-C – See ya real soon!
K-E-Y – Why? Because we like you!

Other popular 1950s kids TV shows included space adventure (science fiction) shows, such as:

Captain Video and His Video Rangers was an American science fiction television series that aired on the DuMont Television Network and was the first series of its genre on American television. The series aired between June 27, 1949, and April 1, 1955, originally on Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, and then Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET. It was a live broadcast. A separate 30-minute spinoff series called The Secret Files of Captain Video aired Saturday mornings, alternating with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, from September 5, 1953, to May 29, 1954, a total of 20 episodes.

Captain Video was TV’s first space hero, “The Master of Time and Space” and an “e-lec-tronic wizard.” He was called Captain Video, no first name ever was mentioned. He was a private citizen who used his superior technological knowledge to help police the universe and keep the world safe from interplanetary bad guys like Hing Foo Sung, Nargola, and the nefarious Doctor Pauli.

As the “Master of Science,” Captain Video was a technological genius, who invented a variety of devices including the Opticon Scillometer, a long-range, X-ray machine used to see through walls; the Discatron, a portable television screen which served as an intercom; and the Radio Scillograph, a palm-sized, two-way radio. With public concerns about violence in television programming, Captain Video’s weapons were never lethal but were designed to capture his opponents: a Cosmic Ray Vibrator, a static beam of electricity able to paralyze its target; an Atomic Disintegrator Rifle; and the Electronic Strait Jacket, which placed captives in invisible restraints.

The long-running series, set in Earth’s distant future – the year 2254, tracked the adventures of a group of fighters for truth and justice, known as The Video Rangers, who were the children in the live audience, who would help Captain Video solve the problems he faced. The Video Rangers operated from a secret base on a mountaintop whose location was unspecified. Their uniforms resembled U.S. Army surplus with lightning bolts sewn on. Captain Video had a teenage companion known only as The Video Ranger. The Captain received his orders from “The Commissioner of Public Safety” whose responsibilities took in the entire solar system as well as human colonies on planets around other stars.

The audience was exceptionally involved in the show, often writing to propose plot developments or to suggest new inventions. For example, Tobor and Dr. Pauli were destroyed when their schemes backfired; however, the opposition of the viewers was great enough to bring them back in later episodes. Young viewers were also encouraged to join the Video Rangers Club and to buy Captain Video merchandise, including helmets, toy rockets, games, and records although the show was not as extensively merchandised as some of its competitors. The show was supported, however, by large sponsors such as Skippy Peanut Butter and Post Cereals. Fawcett also published six issues of Captain Video Comics in 1951. A fifteen-chapter movie serial, Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere (released by Columbia Pictures in 1951, starring Judd Holdren and Larry Stewart), was the first attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on a television program. DuMont also attempted to build on the popularity of the show by developing The Secret Files of Captain Video, a thirty-minute, weekly adventure complete within itself which ran concurrently with the serial from September 1953 until May 1954.

Scripts for the show were written by such science fiction luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The show was produced live on a low budget. Scenery was amateurish. Props depended on what was lying around and the actors’ imagination. The actors were paid so little they actually made more money from appearing in character at supermarket openings, county fairs and the like than they did from their salaries. This led to derision of the show by the critics of the day, although it always was wildly popular with kids and many adults. The show’s theme song was Richard Wagner’s “Overture to The Flying Dutchman,” .

The Adventures of Superman arrived on television in 1952 with a mythology already established through comic books (DC Comics/Action Comics), a novel, a radio series, two theatrical serials, and seventeen Max Fleischer animated shorts. None of Superman’s established foes like Lex Luthor appeared in the TV series, and the most potent element incorporated into the show from the established mythology was green kryptonite; the other varieties of kryptonite (red, white, blue, gold, etc.) didn’t appear. Several episodes featured the substance as a plot device. Another element appropriated from the mythology for the television series was Lois Lane’s suspicions regarding Clark Kent’s true identity and her romantic infatuation with Superman. Cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s sponsored the show. The show ran until 1958, notching 104 episodes over six seasons.

George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman, with Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane in the first season, with Noel Neill stepping into the role in the later seasons. Superman battles crooks, gangsters, and other villains in the fictional city of Metropolis while masquerading “off duty” as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Clark’s colleagues at the newspaper, often find themselves in dangerous situations that only Superman’s timely intervention can resolve. When danger arises, Clark removes his street clothes and puts on his iconic uniform and becomes Superman, the “defender of truth, justice, and the American way.”

The main characters were, of course, Superman, “the man of steel,” who was a being from the planet Krypton. His parents, Jor-El and Lara, rocketed the baby to Earth from the dying planet. He lands near Smallville, U.S.A. He grows to manhood under the adoptive parental care of Jonathan and Martha (in some versions Eben and Sarah) Kent, who raised him and named him Clark. As an adult, he moves from Smallville to Metropolis after the death of his father. In Metropolis, he becomes a Daily Planet reporter under his human name of Clark Kent.

Clark Kent is mildly assertive and authoritative during situations when he is not Superman. He frequently takes charge in emergencies and is not afraid to take reasonable risks. He puts his superpowers to work battling crime in Metropolis and is often called upon to rescue his associates Jimmy and Lois. Of course, he has to change into his super powerful, magic costume before he can act as Superman. The Superman of the television series developed superpowers that his forerunners in radio and comics did not have. On occasion, he separated his molecules to walk through walls, isolated a particular voice over multiple telephone lines long distance while flying, became invisible, and split in two while retaining his traditional powers of X-ray vision, microscopic vision, super-speed, super-hearing, super-breath, super-strength, flying, and a mastery of foreign languages.

Superman was introduced at the beginning of each show with these famous words: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”

Clark Kent’s supporting co-workers were often in the middle of all of the adventures. Lois Lane was a reporter with the Daily Planet and Clark Kent’s associate. She was a well-dressed, competent professional woman. She suspects Kent is Superman and awaits an opportunity to confirm her suspicions. Lane was stated as being 26 years old. Lois is infatuated with the Man of Steel and dreams of being united in marriage with him. Jimmy Olsen was a cub reporter and photographer with the Daily Planet and an associate of Kent and Lane. He served as the show’s comic relief. Though boyish in his tastes and sense of humor, Jimmy occasionally displays mature astuteness, courage, and judgment. Jack Larson played Olsen. Perry White was the blustering, impatient editor and publisher of the Daily Planet. He sometimes was a participant in the dangerous exploits of Lois and Jimmy as they pursued news stories. He treated crooks and thugs with disdain and lofty contempt—in one episode, he mentions that he was once a crime reporter. The Perry White character was fond of saying “Don’t call me chief” and “Great Cesar’s ghost.” Jimmy often teased White using these phrases. John Hamilton played Perry White.

The first season’s episodes usually featured action-packed, dark, gritty, and often violent story lines in which Superman fought gangsters and crime lords. To the dismay of the show’s primary sponsor, Kellogg’s, many characters met their deaths in these episodes. The second-season shows were still fairly serious in nature, retaining the film-noir/crime drama qualities while steering more in a science fiction direction. With most of the villains becoming comic bunglers less likely to frighten the show’s juvenile viewers and with only some occasional deaths, usually off screen, Kellogg’s gave its approval to the revised storylines and the show remained a success. Sentimental or humorous stories were more evident than they had been during the first season. The show began to take on the lighthearted, whimsical tone of the Superman comic books of the decade. The villains were often caricatured gangsters played in a tongue-in-cheek style. Violence on the show was toned down even further.

“Superman’s Song,” The Crash Test Dummies (1991) ( DC Comics decided to (temporarily) kill off Superman in the company’s infamous 1992 crossover storyline. A year prior, however, Canadian alt-rockers the Crash Test Dummies recorded a funeral song for Earth’s champion with “Superman’s Song.” Singer-songwriter Brad Roberts pays tribute in mournful lyrics that contrasts the last son of Krypton with the Lord of the Jungle, Tarzan, while marveling that Superman, who could do anything with his powers, instead “never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy.”

AXS writer Mark Schiff described the song as follows: “Contrasting the solemn responsibilities of Clark Kent with the carefree, dimwitted Tarzan, “Superman’s Song” presents the hero as a tragic orphan who easily could have turned to robbing banks but instead settled for a thankless career saving people and “changing clothes in dirty old phone booths.” The song insinuates that Superman has been killed (“sometimes I despair we’ll never see another man like him”), and the Crash Test Dummies penned a lovely eulogy to duty, responsibility and sacrifice.”

Tarzan wasn’t a ladies man
He’d just come along and scoop ’em
Up under his arm like that
Quick as a cat, in the jungle
Clark Kent, now there was a real gent
He would not be caught sittin’ around in no jungle scape
Dumb as an ape, doin’ nothing

Superman never made any money
Savin’ the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair
The world will never see another man like him

Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
Even though he coulda smashed through
Any bank in the United States
He had the strength but he would not
Folks said his family were all dead
Planet crumbled, but Superman he forced himself
To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep goin’

Superman never made any money
Savin’ the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair
The world will never see another…

“Superman Theme Song,” Five for Fighting (2000). This song about trying to fit in was written from Superman’s point of view. The superhero is portrayed as misunderstood and not as powerful as people see him: “I’m only a man in a funny red sheet.” Superman may be invincible, but he has feelings too, and while he’s off saving the world he sometimes wonders if anyone thinks about what he is going through.)

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird, I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me
Up, up and away, away from me
It’s all right, You can all sleep sound tonight
I’m not crazy, or anything? I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
Men weren’t meant to ride
With clouds between their knees I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me
It’s not easy to be me.

Flash Gordon was a super-hero derived from a science-fiction adventure comic strip by Alex Raymond. He came to television from prior careers in comics and films. In earlier movie serials Buster Crabbe played Flash Gordon. The TV series lasted from 1954 to 1955. Diverging from the storyline of the comics, the series set Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov in the year 3203. As agents of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation, the team travels the galaxy in their ship the Sky Flash, battling cosmic villains under the order of Commander Paul Richards. Steve Holland played Flash Gordon, Irene Champlin was Dale Arden, and Joseph Nash was Dr. Hans Zarkov.

Mong, the planet where most of the adventures take place, was the strange world where swords and ray guns are both used as effective weapons. It was populated by giant lizards, fire dragons and various races of people, i.e., the Lion Men, the Shark Men and the Hawk Men. The latter reside in a marvelous floating sky city held aloft by a laser-like beam. Presiding over this world was the evilest of tyrants, the Fu Manchu-like Ming the Merciless.

The series proved popular with American audiences and critical response, though sparse, was positive. Flash Gordon has garnered little modern critical attention. What little there is generally dismisses the series, although there has been some critical thought devoted to its presentation of Cold War and capitalist themes. In 1996, Flash Gordon was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

“Flash’s Theme,” Song by Queen, written by Brian Harold May (1980) (This song is from the opening scenes of the movie “Flash.” It has no particular reference to the old 1950’s TV show, although it does provide a general sense of both the TV show and the movie.)

“Klytus, I’m bored. What play-thing can you offer me today?”
“An obscure body in the S-K System, your majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet Earth”
“How peaceful it looks”

“Hahahahaha, hahahahaha”
“Hahahaha, most effective your majesty. Will you destroy this… Earth?”
“Later, I like to play with things a while… before annihilation”

Flash! Ah-ah
Savior of the universe

Flash! Ah-ah
He’ll save every one of us

Flash! Ah-ah
He’s a miracle

Flash! Ah-ah
King of the impossible

He’s for every one of us
Stand for every one of us
He saves with a mighty hand
Every man, every woman
Every child, it’s the mighty Flash

Flash! Ah-ah

Flash! Ah-ah
He’ll save every one of us

Just a man with a man’s courage
You know he’s nothing but a man
And he can never fail
No one but the pure at heart
May find the Golden Grail
Oh-oh, oh-oh


“My God, we’re moving!”
“For God’s sake, strap yourselves down”

Other popular 1950s space hero TV shows included Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe, Space Patrol. Buck Rogers, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Tales of Tomorrow, Atom Squad, and Johnny Jupiter.