No Strings Attached: A Survivors
By Daniel Radosh
Howdy was so successful that Mr. Smith commissioned a stand-in,
whom he called Double Doody, and a third puppet with no strings attached
who posed for photos. He was called Photo Doody. From
the New York Times obituary of Howdy Doody creator Buffalo Bob
There are some stories you cant tell at the time. Too many reputations
are at stake. But now Im the only one left. Me? Youve probably
never heard my name. Youd know my face in a second, though. I was
called Photo Doody.
Howdy was my big brother, and whatever happened, I never forgot that.
Between us was Double Doodyor Double Trouble, as they called him
in the tabloids. Both were strong personalities, so I played the role
of peacemakermessaging egos, negotiating truces and always, always
putting on a happy front for the public.
We all worked for Mr. Smith. (We never called him Bob or Buffalo Bob off
camera. It was always Mr. Smith, and it couldnt hurt to follow up
with a sir.) But Howdy was the star. People loved him, and
on TV he was lovable. What didnt come across on the screen was his
complexity. Howdy Doody was, I believe, the most complicated puppet who
ever livedand yes, Im including Alf. Howdy was a visionary
whose ideas couldnt always be shoehorned into easy entertainment.
I still recall his reaction when Mr. Smith nixed his modern dance interpretation
of Eugene Onegin in favor of another Iggly Wiggly Spaghetti
sing-a-long. Theyre always jerking my strings! he cried.
And it was true.
Yet Howdys self-importance sometimes made him insensitive. Fishing
for gratitude once, I remarked to Howdy what a pain some of those still
photographers could bebelieve me, I felt for the Princess. Howdy
just snorted, Try lip-synching sometime. I learned to shrug
off his imperiousness, but poor Double Doody took it hard. Howdy never
showed any appreciation for Doubles work, sweating before the peanut
gallery so Howdy could hit the links with Bogey and the rest of the original
Rat Pack. Yes, Double resented Howdy, plain and simple.
The common belief is that Mr. Smith named him Double Doody because he
did double duty for Howdy. In fact, Mr. Smith originally christened him
Stand-In Doody, a moniker that generated much snickering among the potty-minded.
Double came about from those Fridays after taping, when the
whole crew would convene across the street at Marionettes, a dive
bar that catered to dummies. This was before the days when
people of ventriloquism mingled with mainstream society. Every week, Stand-In
would be the first through the door. Whiskey, Mac! hed
roar to the bartender. Double, Doody? the knowing Mac would
Double could slam em back, thats for sure. He had that Irish
sap in him. He was a bitter drunk, but a funny one. Wed laugh ourselves
silly at his impressions of Chief Thunderthud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring
and Benito Mussolini. Then wed giggle when, completely sloshed,
he would stumble out to pick up a whore on Tenth Avenue warbling his familiar,
Its Howdy Doody time
Its Howdy Doody time
It only costs a dime
To get your booty shined.
Howdy loathed Doubles coarse behavior, but the more he tried to
curb it, the more fiercely Double lashed back. As Howdys fame and
Doubles shame grew in tandem, my attempts at conciliation became
more and more futile.
Doubles worst rupture with Howdy took place in 48, when Howdy
was running for president of all the boys and girls. Walter Winchell ran
into Double at a pub one night at the tail end of the election, when it
was beginning to look like Howdy had a shot. The next day, Winchell famously
reported that Double had said to him, I dont know about the
girls, but hed sure like to be president of the boys. Howdys
poll numbers dropped precipitously and editors of the Chicago Daily Tribune
scrambled to change their front page headlineDOODY DEFEATS TRUMANthough
in hindsight they didnt scramble enough.
Finally I gave up trying to mend fences, partly because I had my own falling-out
with Double. Ah yes, it was over a woman. Neither of us ever lacked for
female companionship. Groupies flocked to the puppet scene in a way that
makes the NBA look like a kiddie show. But Double didnt believe
in true love, and when I told him that I had met my soul mate, my Lamb
Chop, he scoffed in a way I could never forgive. Do you have to
get a woody for every slab of meat you see? he hissed cruelly.
By the end, Doubles boozing lost its charm. One night at Marionettes,
Clarabell the Clown snuck up on Double and got off an epic blast with
his seltzer bottle. We all laughed except for Double, who spat, Anyone
ever tell you you got a girlie name? and smashed his fist into the
clowns solar plexus, dropping him to the sawdust. Back then no one
understood the disease that is alcoholism.
Shortly after that, I left the show. I suspect that Howdy and Double both
ached to follow me, but they could never break free. They were bound too
tightly by their strings.