Lew Anderson, who captivated young baby boomers as “The Howdy Doody Show’s” final Clarabell the Clown, died May 14 in Hawthorne, N.Y., of prostate cancer. He was 84.
Long mute as Clarabell, Anderson broke the clown’s silence in the show’s final episode in 1960. With trembling lips and a visible tear in his eye, he spoke the show’s final words: “Goodbye, kids.”
Though Anderson was not the only man to play “Buffalo Bob” Smith’s mute sidekick, he was the best, Smith said in his memoir.
With the Peanut Gallery looking on, Anderson used bicycle horns to give yes and no answers. For more expressive moments, he wielded a bottle of seltzer.
The show, which launched in 1947 when televisions were still a novelty, was the first network weekday children’s show. Anderson joined “Doodyville,” a circus town peopled with puppets and human actors and watched by a Peanut Gallery of kids, in the mid-1950s.
Though his fame as Clarabell followed him throughout his life, Anderson was also a success as a musician and bandleader. In recent years, his All-American Big Band appeared on Friday nights at New York’s Birdland jazz club.
Anderson was born in Kirkman, Iowa. He started a band while serving in the Navy during WWII and later toured the Midwest with bands before landing in New York.
It was when he joined the Honey Dreamers, a singing group that appeared on radio and early TV shows, that he met Smith and became a clown.
Anderson followed Bobby Nicholson, who later played Doodyville’s J. Cornelius Cobb, into the role. The first to play the mute clown was Bob Keeshan, who later became known as Captain Kangaroo.
He is survived by his wife, Peggy; two sons; a stepdaughter; and five grandchildren.