66 years ago today, the kids in the Peanut Gallery responded to this question for the first time with, "It's Howdy Doody time!" Yes, the Howdy Doody Show premiered on NBC on December 27, 1947.
You might wonder why I would celebrate such a seemingly trivial anniversary. I have two reasons. First, that premier show is among my earliest memories. I was all of three years old at the time. Because my dad worked for General Electric back then, we had one of those early TVs with its tiny screen on which we could watch grainy, black and white images. To help capture the signals transmitted from New York City, Dad had installed a rather impressive antenna high above the roof of our rural Connecticut home. It worked...sort of. And among the shows we watched in those days was Howdy Doody. I remember being more than a little envious of the kids in that original Peanut Gallery, a memory that leads me to my second reason for celebrating today's anniversary.
Within a year we had moved to Larchmont in suburban New York. Under circumstances I cannot recall, my parents somehow obtained one of those coveted passes so I could sit in the Peanut Gallery. I suppose by this time I was about five or six. And so I got to watch the show up close and personal and actually meet Buffalo Bob Smith, Clarabell the Clown, and the rest of the cast. The mute Clarabell in those early days was played by Bob Keeshan, later of Captain Kangaroo fame.
It was a wondrous experience, although there was a downside. Because the shows were transmitted live, the folks in charge worried that we kids might cause embarrassing problems. Accordingly we were threatened with instant expulsion unless we did exactly as told. Scared the heck out of us little ones. But following the rules was still a bit of a challenge since the relatively small studio offered many distractions not evident when watching the show on TV. Chief among these were the women puppeteers who worked the strings of the marionettes. We were supposed to watch the puppets rather than the women on the platform above them, not easy to do when you're only five. But the threats must have worked since I don't recall any of us being evicted from the Peanut Gallery.
My parents managed to claim another pass to the show a year or so later and so I joined the Peanut Gallery once again, this time as a veteran. I enjoyed this second visit far more than the first since I could pay more attention to Howdy and his friends. I suppose I'll always treasure the memory of these two happy days at NBC's New York studios, quite a privilege for a little guy, and a good reason to celebrate this anniversary.