Hey, kids! Howdy Doody is headed for Detroit!
The original freckle-faced marionette belongs to the Detroit Institute of Arts, a federal judge said in a ruling that clears the way for Howdy to join the likes of Punch and Judy, Kermit the Frog and other puppets in the museum's collection.
The ruling, released Thursday, settles a custody battle of sorts between the museum and the family of the late Rufus Rose, the puppeteer of Howdy Doody.
"Howdy Doody would be central to our collection," said Annmarie Erickson, spokeswoman for the museum. "He signifies the end of the theatrical era of puppetry and brings us into the television age."
The museum claimed that Rose, who took the puppet to his Waterford, Conn., studio after The Howdy Doody Show went off the air in 1960, promised to donate it. Rose's family argued that there was no promise and that the puppet may not even be the original Howdy.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney, however, said the puppet is the same one used when the show ended — complete with the "wear and tear of over 2,000 shows" — and therefore belongs to the museum.
The Rose family is deciding whether to appeal, said their lawyer, Mark Block.
"Naturally, we're disappointed with the decision. We'll take a good, hard look at it," Block said.
The marionette has been kept in a Rhode Island bank vault during the dispute.
One Successful Puppet
The Howdy Doody Show went off the air after 13 seasons and more than 2,500 shows. The puppet was joined in Doodyville, U.S.A., by Clarabell the Clown, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, Phineas T. Bluster and others, including host Buffalo Bob Smith.
At the beginning of each show, Smith would ask: "What time is it?"
"It's Howdy Doody time!" the kiddie studio audience and baby boomers around the nation would gleefully respond.
Several copies of Howdy Doody were made, including a stunt "Double Doody," now at the Smithsonian Institution. "Photo Doody," a Howdy Doody puppet without strings that was made for publicity photo shoots and appearances, sold for $113,000 in 1997. The original is worth an estimated $50,000.
Rose let Smith borrow the puppet in 1970 for a tour of college campuses. After Rose died in 1975, Smith planned with Rose's son to sell the puppet and split the proceeds.
Smith died in 1998 and the museum sued to stop any sale, setting the stage for the legal fight.