Friday, May 19, 2006


My favorite Doodyville Citizen was Clarabell the Clown. Clarabell always communicated through "The Box." Clarabell's peanut -vendor-style box contained two horns and a seltzer bottle. Clarabell always answered our questions by honking one horn for "yes" and the other for "no." Clarabell also made his feelings known from the non-business end of a seltzer bottle or two. Fortunately for me, Buffalo Bob was the usual target.
- Howdy Doody

Lew Anderson, the last in a long line of actors to have played one of the most beloved TV characters from the early days of television, has passed away after a long illness. Lew Anderson died on May 14th having just reached his 84th birthday.

He was the leader, composer and arranger of the “Lew Anderson All American Big Band” and was famous for his portrayal of “Clarabell the Clown” on NBC – TV’s 'Howdy Doody Show'. (The role was originated by Bob Keeshan of 'Captain Kangaroo' immortality. On the episode of 'Happy Days' in which Clarabell appeared, Robert Brunner played the part.)

He was born on May 7th In Kirkman, Iowa, the son of Lloyd Anderson, a railroad telegrapher, and Nell Whisler, a stay at home mother.

In the late 1940’s Lew joined the popular singing group “The Honey Dreamers” as both vocalist and arranger. With this group he appeared on Dave Garroway’s 'Garroway at Large' TV show, The Kay Kyser TV and radio show, 'The Steve Allen Show' and 'The Ed Sullivan Show'.

Their hit records brought them to the attention of Bob Smith who asked them to be part of an NBC-TV musical show he produced. (Mr. Smith at the time was also hosting the children’s TV show “Howdy Doody”.)

When the fellow playing Clarabell decided to move on, the producers spotted Lew’s Midwest sense of humor and asked him to take over the part.

They inquired, “Do you juggle?”
Lew answered “No.”
“Magic tricks?”
“What can you do?”
“Perfect. You start tomorrow.”

(That sounds like the perfect TV job for me.....)

Lew became Clarabell the Clown and stayed in the role for many years. Clarabell never spoke except with his two bicycle horns – one for “yes”, the other “no”. He also became a master of the seltzer bottle spraying all targets – especially Mr. Smith during the broadcasts.

One of TV’s most memorable moments occurred when 'Howdy Doody' finally went off the air on September 24, 1960. At the end of the show, the camera came in tight to Lew’s face and with a tear in his eye finally spoke saying “Goodbye Kids”.

That scene has played over and over in TV highlight programs.

A memorial service will be held at the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, CT on Monday, May 22 at 4:00 p.m.

"[People] tell me how important we were to their growing-up years," Anderson once said. "People tell me what an impact the show had on their lives, and that they wish they could have a show like that today. It is very gratifying, of course. I'm sure glad that something good came out of that thing."

[cobbled together from various online reports]


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