Ownership of Howdy Doody puppet to take center stage in federal court

HARTFORD, Conn. - Say, kids, what time is it? It's federal lawsuit time!

Representatives from a Detroit museum and the family of the Connecticut puppeteer who performed with Howdy Doody - the freckled-faced marionette that entertained millions of American children in the 1950s - are set to meet Friday in court in Hartford to try to resolve an ownership dispute over the Doodyville cowboy.

Both sides have asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney to decide the case without a trial.

The Detroit Institute of Arts contends NBC and puppeteer Rufus Rose intended to donate the original marionette to the museum's puppet collection.

The Rose family argues that Rose did think about leaving the doll to the museum but was not legally obligated to do so and left no such provision in his will. In any case, the Rose family says, the Howdy it has is not even the original. It says the original's whereabouts are unknown.

The Howdy in dispute is stored in a bank safe deposit box in the meantime, but the Rose family won't say where.

Museum attorney Stuart Rosen warned that the Rose family is planning to sell the doll, which has been appraised at $50,000. At the Detroit museum, which contains more than 850 puppets from around the world, ''they know how to deal with puppets of this vintage,'' Rosen said.

From 1947 to 1960, NBC aired more than 2,500 live episodes of the show. Buffalo Bob Smith, Howdy, Clarabell the mute clown and other characters from Doodyville, U.S.A., were a regular part of the lives of millions of baby boomers.

Buffalo Bob would shout, ''Say, kids, what time is it?'' and the Peanut Gallery - the kiddie studio audience - would scream: ''It's Howdy Doody time!''

The puppet was designed by Velma Dawson and used by Rose and his wife, Margaret, in performances, museum attorney Hank Schaffran said. Copies of the puppet were taken on the road, and one was bequeathed in 1980 to the Smithsonian Institution. Rose died in 1975.


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