Sunday, May 21, 2006


Lew Anderson passed away this week. I cobbled together a Hat Squad salute to him from various websites and an obituary or two which you can find by scrolling down the page.

He was best known for being the last of the actors to have played Clarabell the Clown during the long run for 'Howdy Doody' (or 'Puppet Playhouse'). Bob Keeshan, who went on to become Captain Kangaroo, was the first.

As such, Anderson was also known for having spoken the only words ever heard uttered by Clarabell - on the last episode of the show, at the very end, Clarabell waved to the audience viewing at home and tearfully said, "Goodbye, Kids."

Meaning no disrespect, but that would be a nice little quote for his tombstone.

Technically, Lew was not the last actor to have played Clarabell. In the 1970s, Robert Brunner assayed the role on an episode of 'Happy Days'. (Brunner was a writer and associate producer for the sitcom.)

In the episode, Richie sneaked backstage at a local appearance by Buffalo Bob and the Howdy Doody Gang and snapped a picture of Clarabell without his makeup. But Richie gave up the dreams of journalistic glory to help preserve the image Clarabell represented to millions of kids around the country.

We never saw the photo, or Clarabell without his makeup. In the lineup of the actors who played the role, Brunner's contribution would fit somewhere towards the end of the show's run for the Toobworld chronology.

Bob Keeshan
Bobby Nicholson
Alfie Scopp
Lew Anderson

Working within the framework of Toobworld's inner reality, the question might come up as to the splainin behind the differences caused by the various actors who played the role. Falling back on Occam's Razor - the theory that the simplest explanation should always be preferred, - I'd have to say there is no need for a splainin at all.

Wearing as much makeup as he did, any difference in appearance from one actor to another would have been negligible. In fact, as a test to whether or not he could pull off the role, Lew Anderson performed as Clarabell for the show's crew without them knowing in advance that a different actor was underneath the costume and makeup.

None of them noticed during the practice run.

So we don't have to rely on plastic surgery splainins or quantum leaping theories or what-have-you in order to justify the lineage for the clown's body of work. All we have to do is to ignore it.

From beginning to end, Clarabell was Clarabell, and that's all that needs be said.

Goodbye, Kids!


"Aw, being a clown sucks!
You get kicked by kids, bit by dogs, and admired by the elderly
Homer Simpson
'The Simpsons'


Anonymous said...

There was a short revival of Howdy Doody in the 1970s, when nostalgia for the 1950s was running high (including the episode of Happy Days). Any idea who played Clarabell then? I also remember a retrospect for an anniversary (I think the 35th) which had someone in clown makeup.

Toby said...

Jeffrey Davis' book on Children's Television Shows from the 1940s to 1990 doesn't list any of the cast for the 1976 revival of the show.

But does have the following lineup:

Bill Lecornec
Nichsolson Muir

Milt Neil
Fletcher The Sketcher

Bobby Nicholson
Mr.Corny Cobb

Marilyn Patch
Happy Harmony

Robert Smith
Buffalo Bob Smith

Marilyn Patch
Happy Harmony

Nicki Varro
Glory Gritts

But no mention of Clarabell.

So Bobby Nicholson did come back to the show, but now as a new character.

As to the special, that was a 40th anniversary celebration in 1987, and Lew Anderson was once again Clarabell for that.

Thanks for writing!