Friday, July 29, 2016

Howdy Doody: some IP angles and "past as prelude"

History records the first Presidential inaugural to be televised as that of President Truman on January 20, 1949:

First Presidential Inauguration on Television

Lots of camera pans and animated live narration by NBC’s Ben Grauer. Includes complete Truman inaugural speech. Joint event from multiple networks (pool coverage by NBC CBS, ABC/DuMont). More than 10 million viewers on many shared home and tavern/public sets, as a viewing record for its time.


HOWEVER, six days EARLIER, on January 14, 1949, Howdy Doody was inaugurated as President of the Kids of America, being sworn in by Ben Grauer.

The backstory to Howdy Doody's campaign involves some interesting IP stories.

TVParty writes of the motivation for the campaign:

Howdy Doody announced his campaign on the 11th show, which aired March 4, 1948. The campaign tied in with a concern of NBC's; in those early days of television, the network wanted some way to measure the viewing audience. Roger Muir, the show's original producer-director, thought of offering a button that said "I'm for Howdy Doody" to anyone who wrote in and requested one. He ordered 10,000 buttons.


Wikipedia describes "how" the Doody Presidential campaign allowed NBC a convenient pathway out of a problematic situation involving the rights to Doody (the character) vs. rights to Doody (the physical puppet):

By 1948, toymakers and department stores had been approached with requests for Howdy Doody dolls and similar items. Macy's department store contacted Frank Paris, the creator of the puppet, to ask about rights for a Howdy Doody doll. While Paris had created the puppet, it was Bob Smith who owned the rights to the Howdy Doody character; an argument ensued between the two men, as Paris felt he was being cheated out of any financial benefits from having made the puppet. After one such disagreement, Paris took the Howdy Doody puppet and angrily left the NBC studios with it about four hours before the show was to air live; it was not the first time Paris had taken his puppet and left, leaving the live television program with no "star".

With Paris' past disappearances, impromptu excuses regarding the whereabouts of Howdy Doody had been hastily concocted. This time, an elaborate explanation was offered—that Howdy was busy with the elections on the campaign trail. NBC hurriedly constructed a map of the United States, which allowed viewers, with the help of Smith, to learn where Howdy was on the road. The explanation continued that while on the campaign trail, Howdy decided to improve his appearance with some plastic surgery. This made it possible for the network to hire Velma Dawson to create a more handsome and appealing visual character than Paris' original, which had been called "the ugliest puppet imaginable" by Bob Smith. Since Paris did not provide the voice of the character, Howdy's voice would stay the same after his appearance changed. The puppet which is remembered as the "original" Howdy Doody replaced the actual original made by Frank Paris


Howdy Doody's opponent in the campaign was a "Mr. X." Mr. X advocated the opposite of Howdy: that school should be seven days a week, that no child should ever get an ice cream sundae and that comic books should be banned. Finally, the show explained that Howdy and his brother Double Doody concocted the Mr. X plan to drum up support for Howdy. The negative campaign of Mr. X was to ensure the victory of his brother Howdy and to keep other potential candidates out of the picture. [Any relation to the negative/positive aspects of the 2016 campaign?]

**There was a Canadian Howdy Doody show which began in 1954, and had James Doohan {Star Trek's "Scotty"] as forest ranger Timber Tom. William Shatner sometimes appeared as Ranger Bob.


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