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Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy: 20th Century Cultural Icons

Aug 31, 2007
The other week at a collectibles show I bought a Charlie McCarthy toy puppet and actually confused him with Howdy Doody. The guy standing beside me thought Charlie McCarthy was Howdy Doody too.

Subsequent viewers of my puppet have also made the same mistake and I didn't find out until I checked him out on EBay. Some newer viewers think Charlie is from a recent horror flick that was, as they say, so very scary. One went so far as to say he would not be able to sleep with Charlie McCarthy in the same room. What's this bizarre world coming too? Go figure...

Charlie McCarthy was of course the puppet from ventriloquist comic Edgar Bergen; hence, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. I remember as a very young lad listening to Edgar and Charlie.Charlie was always a wise donkey and always saying the wrong thing. Edgar would call Charlie a dummy and Charlie wouldn't like it and make a sarcastic reply. The audience would roar.

Charlie would bicker constantly with Edgar and the dialogue was a bit edgy for back then but somehow Edgar could pull it off by blaming it on the misbehaving puppet. And we believed him. Edgar would act upset and embarrassed by Charlie and we all felt badly for poor Edgar. The dialogue was zippy and even my mother laughed.

A few years later my attention changed focus and I fell in love with Candace, Edgar's movie actress daughter, but then again so did every other male adolescent at that time so the competition was pretty stiff...

Howdy Doody was partners with Buffalo Bob. They had a kiddy show with Howdy doing most of the antics as if he were all wired up on speed...a nervous kind of guy, always jumping around since of course Howdy was a marionette. Buffalo Bob, a real person, would dress in a buckskin frontier suit...sort of like Daniel Boone without the hat.

Buffalo Bob would always tell the kids in the studio audience 'No comments from the peanut gallery' when they would laugh or heckle. It's a term I still use today and I wonder how many in my age bracket use the same expression. And how many younger folks wonder what the heck we mean. And just what is a peanut gallery?

The Howdy Doody show was nonsense and we bright American kids knew it was nonsense but we loved it anyway. Which was good, because not too many years later we would be faced with life's cold realities where many of us would wish we were back in the peanut gallery with our old pals Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob.

Through the years Howdy and Charlie have come and gone. As time passes we even confuse the two. But somehow we came away with a cultural legacy by growing up with these guys. They were our heroes, our friends and for some of us our first introductions to the outside world.

When Buffalo Bob died sometime back they ran clips of the shows on TV and pictures in the newspaper and somehow I could still identify with it after all those years. No one can live forever, not even Buffalo Bob or Howdy, but their legacy as culture goes on through all us kiddy fans from years past.

But of course that's how culture works. It comes and it goes. It is the partnering of the ego with society. And maybe at some point in the future when folks are a lot smarter than we are and can figure things out a lot better, they will analyze what effect Howdy and Charlie had on the development of Modern America. And kids will catalogue Howdy and Charlie in their cultural icon database. And watch video clips and write reports on what it might have been like to be sitting in the peanut gallery, no comments and all.

We all need a sense of belonging; of having a cultural home. When I saw the clips of Howdy I said 'yep, that's my culture all right.' That's me. With Buffalo Bob and the participatory peanut gallery who needs kings and epics and revolutions and all that sort of heavy traditional baggage?

Howdy and Charlie give me a cultural place to hang my hat...and in some strange way I take comfort in being able to do that. It gives me a sense of who I am, even though I was just an adoring fan of a couple of wooden dummies...

And really, how can any snob dare say America has produced no culture when we have such cultural mega icons as Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy? What else do we need?

And please, no comments from all you out there in the peanut gallery.
About the Author
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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