This week on a listserv I read regularly — which happens to be a place where a lot of smart people hang out, each of whom thinks he is smarter than all the others, and, let’s face it, most of them are right — one of those petty little bitchfights broke out that will break out from time to time in such a place. And one smart but impatient person said to another smart but impatient person, by way of ridiculing his harping on some point or other, “Toot that horn, Clarabell.”
I thought that was funny in itself, but Michael Rose pointed out that it’s a reference to “Howdy Doody,” which is something so old that I know about it only from hearing actual old people talk about it. (Employees of Blue State Digital, take note: I am not the oldest person in the world.)
Turns out Wikipedia now knows as much about Howdy Doody as the olds do. (Perhaps an old actually wrote the copy that follows!)
Clarabell the Clown was the mute partner of Howdy Doody…. Clarabell, who wore a baggy, striped costume, communicated by honking a horn for “yes” or “no.” Clarabell would also spray fellow cast member Buffalo Bob Smith with seltzer….
Buffalo Bob Smith and the Kids of the Peanut Gallery sang a song about Clarabell, sung to the tune of “Mademoiselle from Armentières”: “Who’s the funniest clown we know? Clarabell!” (etc.)
For the benefit of those of you who are as old as me but not older: “Mademoiselle from Armentières” is the “Hinky dinky parley-voo” song from World War I — you know, “The first marine found the bean, parley-voo?” — tap tap, is this on? — and World War I, for the benefit of those younger, is the one that has the Germans in it but not the Nazis, not the one with Robert E. Lee and Oliver North. But I digress.
So far so good, except that based on the video below, Clarabell (who, I reiterate, despite the name, is a man) looks like someone grabbed Popeye off the street during a bender and slapped some makeup on him. It’s amazing how ragged and experimental this all looks, fifty years after the fact.