ANIMATION SPIN
July 8, 2014 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Winky Dink, Howdy Doody, and You!

A musical visit with TV’s first interactive cartoon star “Winky Dink” – with a little dash of Howdy Doody, too.

WinkyDink1969Kit550

• NEVER-NEVER LAND (Ooh-La) / WINKY DINK AND YOU
• THE “MAKE-LIKA” SONG / MISTER BUNGLE
• WINKO / MAGIC CRAYONS MAKE MAGIC PICTURES
• WHEN WINKY WINKS AT YOU / GILLY GILLY OSSENFEFFER KATZENELLEN BOGEN BY THE SEA

Jack Barry and Winky Dink (Mae Questel)

Music Directed by Jack Pleis; Decca Records (7” 45 RPM & 10” 78 RPM / Mono / 1953)

WinkyDinkRecordThe word “interactive” is thrown around with abandon nowadays. But seriously—back in the day, whether you used one of the actual Winky Dink magic screens, magic crayons and magic cloths or just stuck plastic wrap over your TV screen (Saran Wrap was best) and used your own crayons and Mom’s dust rag, this slice of television ingenuity was mind-blowing to the extreme.

Like the founders of Total Television and Rankin/Bass, the originators of Winky Dink and You! were real-life New York advertising “mad men.” Art Director Harry Pritchett, to demonstrate how his commercials for Benrus Watches were getting cropped as they were broadcast, put a plastic sheet over a TV screen and sketched the area that appeared all the time (similar cropping areas still appear in TV and film production to determine the actual frame).

Pritchett had fun at parties drawing mustaches over Steve Allen’s TV image and adding a stick figure between two wrestlers, but after teaming with his assistant Ed Wyckoff, the idea of a series became good enough to pitch. It was picked up by TV host Jack Barry, his producer, Dan Enright and CBS exec Ed Friendly to run on Saturday mornings. (This was before Barry and Enright’s rigging of game shows caused a nationwide scandal, though the duo reportedly also edged Pritchett and Wyckoff out of profits from their own show).

WinkyDink1953KitBoxThe 1950’s version was very low-tech with animatic-style cartoon adventures, comedy sketches and secret codes. Over the years, comic actor Dayton Allen joined the show (after Howdy Doody and before The Steve Allen Show and Terrytoons). Its young writers included Norm Blumenthal, who went on to produce Concentration and Wonderama, and “Giz Wiz” Dick DeBartolo, who saved The Match Game from cancellation and wrote many a funny script for Mad Magazine (hear his interviews at stusshow.com).

The Winky Dink that is closest to my heart, however, is the animated revival that appeared in syndication briefly in 1969. Slightly more animated than its black-and-white predecessor, these 65 five-minute cartoons had a charming, arts-and-crafts look to them with backgrounds that seemed little more than magic markers. All the voices were provided by unsung New York actor Lionel Wilson, who did similar duty for Gene Deitch’s Tom Terrific series. Former Terrytoon staffers Eli Bauer and Al Kouzel, along with Fred Calvert, produced the show.

WinkyDinkCrayonsThere was a very ambitious attempt to revive Winky Dink as a series (and fold it into the emerging technology) at the end of the 20th century. A live-action half hour (with two 1969 cartoons) was put together by the production company that created the Jim Varney’s “Ernest” TV spots. In 1987, the Disney Channel announced plans the series, but it never materialized. The pilot was packaged in another play set with the VHS tape, screen, crayons and cloth. A few years later, select episodes of the 1969 cartoons were released on VHS and DVD, alone and in kits by Rembrandt Films (which is how we fell in love with one of the DVD bonus features, Gene Deitch’s Nudnik).

If you think that drawing simple shapes on a TV screen is hopelessly lame in this day of spectacular computer games (very much like movies themselves), all I can say is my kids still find it fun to experience Winky Dink through the recent DVD and VHS releases. There’s nothing quite like it. However, modern plasma screens don’t take well to drawing (don’t try that at home), so it requires finding a TV with a glass screen. We still have one of those small VHS-equipped sets handy when the Winky Dink muse inspires us.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Winky Dink and You”
There was no music in the 1969 cartoon series except for an edited (and pitched) version of this Decca single of the theme song, sung by Barry and Mae Questel.



HOWDY DOODY AND YOU
RCA Records EYA-41 (7” EP 45 RPM) Y-2019 (10” 78 RPM) / Mono / 1954)

Writer: Edward Kean. Musical Director: Robert A. Nicholson.
Performers: Performers: Bob Smith (Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody); Allen Swift (Phineas T. Bluster); Bill LeCornec (Chief Thunderthud, Dilly Dally).
Songs: “Howdy Kids,” “A Brand-New Way to Say Hello,” “Save Your Pennies,” “Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow,” “I’m for Howdy Doody,” “Time to Say Goodbye.”

howdy-bobWith the exception of the adults pretending to be kids, Howdy Doody and You is the closest any of the many RCA Doody records came to recreating NBC’s extremely popular Howdy Doody TV show. Each followed the typical children’s record format of the postwar period: stories that broke into sections of no more than 3.5 minutes to fit on 78 and 45 RPM discs, short ditties instead of full songs, and a series of adventures, rhymes and gags strung together in a theme.

What makes Howdy Doody and You unique is that it is very much the same kind of disjointed early-TV Vaudeville show as the series itself. The interactive “and You” conceit of this record is not really paid off except as a way for the listener to “enter” the world of Doodyville and its denizens.

howdy-comicOnce there, it’s one little skit after another, including an audio version of the pantomime comedy of Clarabelle the Clown. Clarabelle of course does not speak, so it’s left to the others in the cast to explain the action, along with sound effects that were very much a part of Clarabelle’s schtick.

Legendary stage and cartoon actor Allen Swift voices the supporting cast. Swift was brought in after Dayton Allen—along with Bob Keeshan and two others in the cast—left the show due to several disputes including pay. Dayton Allen showed up on Winky Dink and Allen Swift then handled most of the Doodyville puppets (including Howdy when Bob Smith was away during an illness).

Howdy Doody has become a part of Americana, largely unknown by several new generations but fondly remembered by baby boomers and a handful who remember the ‘70s revival. Crude, loud, silly, it’s the children’s equivalent of Milton Berle, but it’s a cultural landmark, as well as entertainment history.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Howdy Doody and You”
Buffalo Bob, Flub-A-Dub, Mr. Bluster, Clarabelle (sort of) and a hopelessly fake Peanut Gallery join forces to bring you a taste of this mid-20th century kids’ TV extravaganza.

17 Comments

  • My youngest sister, who was six years old in 1953, loved “Winky Dink”, but she never bothered to put the magic screen plastic overlay on our TV screen. She just drew directly onto the TV screen with the magic crayons. Our mother did not appreciate that.

    • have a winky dink and you super magic kit never opened do you know how much it is worth

  • It’s a pity that CBS did not preserve more of the original Winky Dink and You! kinescopes. Most of them were tossed out to make room in storage. There are just two or three that survived and are out on DVDs and VHS tapes. I have one half-hour kine of Winky on 16mm, featuring Mae Questel and Dayton Allen in some sketches that feel like old Gus Edwards routines in a classroom. There was a LOT of Winky Dink merchandise besides the records and the basic and deluxe Winky Dink kits. There were dolls, a Winko magic set, halloween costumes, comic books, golden books and much more! I like the original black and white Winky episodes, I loved the drawing aspect of the show, made me feel like a real cartoonist when I was a kid. Actually, there was a lot more character movement in the “animatic” type of animation than in the 1969 Calvert episodes. The later episodes were mainly directed by my friend Robert Alvarez for Fred Calvert. Norm Gottfredson did a lot of the layouts for that series, which was recorded in New York and supervised by Al Kouzel. I think they did an episode a day when they were in production! What really killed Winky off was mothers’ fear of radiation coming from kids being in such close proximity to a TV set while they were drawing on the screen. Thanks Greg, for celebrating Winky and Howdy, beloved TV pals! By the way, what’s Stu got against you? (Just kidding!)

    • What really killed Winky off was mothers’ fear of radiation coming from kids being in such close proximity to a TV set while they were drawing on the screen.

      Oh, I had an uncle who believed absolutely that each year, thousands of children were suffering the horrible effects of radiation poisoning, caused by sitting too close to the television set. This was years after Winky Dink went into retirement. I hated watching TV at their house because their den was arranged so that the TV was as far away as possible from the room’s seating. And don’t even think about plopping down on the floor, right in front of the set, the way we did at home. My uncle would drag you back to the far corner of the room, spouting warnings that even an exposure to radiation as brief as that might be sufficient to cause you to die an unspeakably horrible, painful death before you knew what was happening.

      Regarding Winky Dink, I saw a kinescope of one of the 1950s shows some years ago, but the copy I saw (on tape) was of “dupe of a dupe of a dupe” quality and was too washed out and murky to really be watchable. Howdy Doody, I’m more familiar with, due to the ’70s revival and to Buffalo Bob, Howdy and Clarabelle immortalizing themselves on an early episode of Happy Days.

  • Fred and Mark — My mom was concerned about the radiation but I didn’t listen. That was my big ’60s anti-establishment moment — Winky Dink must happen no matter what Mom says!

    We shall wield our magic crayons! Power to the Winky Dink!

  • Interesting that the second version of Winky Dink came out the same year that another, more famous children show debut and I think Calvert also produced a bunch of animated inserts for.

    • At least he had something to do that time.

  • The 1960s Winky Dink looks a lot like Butters Stotch.

  • Not having been part of that generation that wanted to ruin cathode ray sets across America, I was otherwise told the story of my mother’s fascination with said program. Mr. Kausler’s blurb about mom’s fears of radiation apparently didn’t happen for my mother as a little girl in the 1950′s. Her distress however was having to watch the program without the use of the kit, or a TV set that used a glass screen, as her parents set was some sort of mirror projection-type model (something like this http://www.tvhistory.tv/1947-RCA-648PV-OPEN-CLOSED.JPG ) , so she couldn’t join in with the rest of America’s tots in the interactive fun of the program. She had to wait until she went over to someone else’s set to do that.

    • Man, whatta TV set/radio/phonograph! Parts that folded down, folded up, slid in and out…sort of a “Swiss Army” model! (And, of course, in a “fine furniture cabinet.”) I miss the console-type sets I grew up with. In an era when TV audio was not the hi-fi stereo quality it is now, those massive wooden cabinets did much to mellow out the sound, just as they did with earlier radios.

    • “Man, whatta TV set/radio/phonograph! Parts that folded down, folded up, slid in and out…sort of a “Swiss Army” model! (And, of course, in a “fine furniture cabinet.”) I miss the console-type sets I grew up with. In an era when TV audio was not the hi-fi stereo quality it is now, those massive wooden cabinets did much to mellow out the sound, just as they did with earlier radios.

      As a kid, I thought those were the height of luxury. Seemed like everyone I knew had to have one of those mammoth combo sets in the living room.

  • Funny, the thing I remember most about Winky Dink – for me this was early to mid-50s – was the magic screen itself, not the interactive part, but as an object itself. I was fascinated with the way it could cling to the screen, got a charge – literally – from the static electricity that wiping it clean generated, and the disctinctive aroma of whatever petrochemical compound the thing was made of. Occasionally today I’ll happen across some substance that sort of smells like it and bang! I’m seven years old again in front of our 21-inch Motorola.

    • Now I’m thinking of the really smelly fat Carter markers they used at school to write up the banners and other displays. I’ll never have that again.

      For me, simply discovering it was those clear plastic sheets they were using to trace/color the characters on in hand-drawn animation that appealed to me the most as a kid. Not so much the aesthetics as you put it Paul, just the practicality of it’s use.

  • Well, Mr. Ehrbar, I should like to take a little time to set the record straight (no pun intended!) and ask you a question or two about this.

    Let’s start with WINKY DINK AND YOU. I am old enough to remember watching the original show. (We got our first TV set in 1954, and my parents gave me the implements needed for interaction with the show. I was also given two of the WINKY DINK AND YOU records, including the theme song.) Since “Winky” sings in unison with Jack on the theme record, it’s not easy to discern the voice. But on “Winko!”/”Magic Crayons Make Magic Pictures,” the character sings some lines solo. If you could hear those, you would recognize them as Mae Questel herself! Indeed, Jack Barry made some other Decca children’s records during that period that were not about Winky Dink at all. One of the tracks was a weird little number called “Bolla Wolla Winkle.” On the label beneath Jack Barry’s name–in VERY small print–there appears the credit, “WITH MAE QUESTEL.” I am curious as to the source of your statement that Mae was under contract to Columbia Records at the time. This is the first time I ever heard of that, and I have never seen a single Columbia record by her. The closest thing to it was in 1951, when she recorded “Little Audrey Says” for Little Golden Records, which were recorded at Columbia Records’ facilities. Perhaps there was some confusion with Helen Kane, who did record at least 5 tracks for Columbia, probably in 1951.

    Re “Howdy Doody and You:” If the Howdy Doody records were ever issued on RCA’s Bluebird label, I am unaware of that, and the catalogue number cited is a complete mystery to me! It might be some foreign pressing; I don’t know. Again, I would appreciate knowing the source of that info. “Howdy Doody and You” was the first of four of those two-disc 78 rpm record sets, which were issued simultaneously on single-disc 45 rpm EP editions, both with consecutive catalogue numbers. The “You” set was numbered Y-2019 and, IIRC, the EP number was EYA-41. “Howdy Doody and You” was recorded in RCA’s East 24th Street studios on Thursday, March 18th, 1954–not 1953–beginning at 9:00 a.m. I would assume from musicians’ union rules that that would have probably been a three-hour session. (The other three sets were recorded one week apart from each other in April and early May. Each story’s recording date was preceded by a rehearsal of that story in the same recording studio 48 hours earlier.) Previous to 1954, RCA had never put out more than two Howdy Doody releases per year. But by 1954, Howdy was such a HUGE entity that RCA decided to go all-out! “Howdy Doody and You” sold very well, but the other three did not, as 78 rpm sets. This is reflected today by their relative scarcity as 78 rpm offerings on eBay. (The EPs of those titles sold somewhat better, but not in huge quantities.) Accordingly, these four were the last new Howdy story sets that RCA ever released.

    Now for the credits: Edward Kean did indeed write this story–and all but one of the others! But Henri Rene did not conduct this set. Rene DID arrange and conduct the FIRST Howdy story (“Howdy Doody and the Air-O-Doodle”) in 1949, but none of the others. His orchestra was succeeded in 1950 by that of Norman Leyden, who did the next few releases, including three singles. Then in 1953, the show hired Robert A. Nicholson as an actor and primarily as the man in charge of music. Thus, it became his duty to arrange background music for the last six record sets and conduct the orchestra for them, plus doing some of the character voices as well. He was the voice of the missing character above, Doodyville’s Private Eye, John J. Fedoozle. Allen Swift was indeed the voice of Phineas T. Bluster at this time, but not Dilly Dally. Dilly was always voiced by Bill Lecornec, in addition to LeCornec’s role as Chief Thunderthud.

    My source for the precise info re the recording date and session information: I am the owner of nearly all of the unpublished scripts for the RCA Howdy Doody story sets–right out of Edward Kean’s own typewriter! A hand-written note by Mr. Kean on the front of the manila folder containing those scripts reads, “I don’t believe any other copies of these exist today. E.K.” I was thrilled beyond words to have been the prevailing bidder on these scripts and other Edward Kean memorabilia in a Leland’s auction a number of years ago. They are precious mementos of a man whose Howdy Doody efforts I have admired for more than 60 years! :-D!

    • Hi Walt,

      WOW! This is why I love doing this post every week. My knowledge of all things Doody pales in comparison. I am extremely grateful that you have more accurate info than I do. You went above and beyond in providing the info. The post will be updated shortly.

      The one thing I did get first-hand was from Bob Smith himself, who looked at Air-O-Doodle and said, “This is the one we did first.”

      As to Mae Questel, the statement was one of my “perhaps” theories. She did a Christmas single with Alan Reed and an album of songs for Columbia, thus the “perhaps.” It doesn’t sound like her at all to my human ears, but more like Cecil Roy, but I underestimated her range.

      The gift of being able to document these records and treat them with the respect and seriousness as any other creative works is a mission I feel is very important. However, children’s records are among the toughest to research, as the credits were few or nonexistant, reissues often listed conflicting information, few in the industry are still present to explain them and there is little written about them in detail (what there is I hold in great esteem.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share your vast knowledge!

    • That isn’t Mae Questel, she sounds nothing like that. The person singing as Winky sounds younger. If you knew anything about Mae you would know its not her. It’s just she is credited because she did the voice for Winky in the live action tv show, as the person doing the voice is unknown.

  • It’s very strange that the ‘Howdy’ recreated on covers for games, records, toys, etc, rarely looks like the actual puppet, but a cutesy pie idealized version. Odd for such an icon.

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