Wednesday, May 17, 2006


To anyone over the age of 50, it's a blast from the past. The New York Sun reports on the death of Lew Anderson, aka Clarabell the Clown:
Anderson, who died Saturday at 84, was known most recently for his big band's regular Friday night gig at Birdland, but in the 1950s, he burned his way into the psychic landscape of millions of boomer kids as Clarabell the Clown on the "Howdy Doody Show."

Dressed in a striped clown suit, big clown shoes, and a clown nose, and armed with a trademark bottle of seltzer to facilitate carbonic interplay, Anderson was a jolly, unpredictable presence on the Howdy Doody set, and a foil for the more rational, reassuring Buffalo Bob. Clarabell did not speak, and like another silent clown, Harpo Marx, he was fond of communicating via squeeze horns. It thus came as a shock when, on the show's final day in September of 1960, Clarabell turned to the camera, and said, "Goodbye, kids."

"Howdy Doody" was an atypically silent interlude in an otherwise fairly mainstream pop music career. Anderson grew up in Kirkman, Iowa, and after attending Drake University on a music scholarship, joined the Lee Barron band, touring Midwestern venues by bus. He played reeds, mainly alto sax, and was beginning to learn to arrange music when he entered the Naval Air Corps in 1942. Anderson spent the bulk of the war on a Pacific submarine tender, and assembled his own big band in free moments.

After the war, Anderson joined the Carlos Molinas Latin Orchestra, where he created American-style dance arrangements. From the late 1940s, Anderson toured with a vocal group called the Honeydreamers, which developed a wide radio following. It was during an appearance on a variety show with the Honeydreamers that Anderson came to the attention of "Howdy Doody's" producers, in 1955.
The peanut gallery mourns.

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