Lew Anderson, 84, a band leader and arranger who was the final Clarabell the Clown on NBC-TV's long-running "The Howdy Doody Show," died May 14 at Rosary Hill Hospice in Hawthorne, N.Y., of complications from prostate cancer. He was a resident of South Salem, N.Y.
In recent years, Mr. Anderson's All-American Big Band had been appearing regularly at New York's Birdland jazz club, but it was his manic moments with host "Buffalo" Bob Smith, the freckle-faced boy marionette and other residents of Doodyville that aging baby-boomers remember.
Clarabell wore a baggy, green-and-white striped costume, carried a squeaky horn and brandished a bottle of seltzer water but never spoke. He expressed himself with honks on his horn, signaling "yes" or "no," unless he was extremely agitated; that's when he would resort to seltzer-water attacks, with Buffalo Bob the usual target. The Peanut Gallery, the show's in-studio audience of kids, loved it.
Clarabell broke his silence at the end of the final show, on Sept. 24, 1960, after 13 seasons and 2,343 episodes. The camera zoomed in on Mr. Anderson's face, and with lips trembling and a tear in his eye, he said simply, "Goodbye, kids." For the first generation of kids to grow up with TV, the moment remains iconic.
Lewis Anderson was born in Kirkman, Iowa, where he started his own band as a high school student. He attended Drake University in Des Moines for two years and served on a Navy submarine tender in the Pacific during World War II. He also organized a band while in the service and after the war played with several bands that regularly toured the Midwest.
In the late 1940s, he became a vocalist and arranger with a group called the Honey Dreamers. The three men and two women in the group made their way to New York and appeared on a number of network TV shows, including Steve Allen's and Ed Sullivan's. Bob Smith put them on an NBC-TV musical show he was producing.
As host of "Howdy Doody," Smith also was looking for a new Clarabell -- Bob Keeshan, who became "Captain Kangaroo," had been the first -- and he auditioned Mr. Anderson for the part.
"I think [Buffalo Bob] noticed that my father was a very funny guy with a Midwestern sense of humor along the lines of Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters," said Mr. Anderson's son Christopher.
Long after the show went off the air, Smith wrote in his memoir, "Howdy and Me" (1990), that Mr. Anderson was the best of the Clarabells.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Anderson joined Buffalo Bob and the Howdy Doody gang in a TV nostalgia fest, appearing on college campuses, in shopping malls and at store openings across the country. He also appeared in a 1976 version of the TV show, which lasted only one season, and on a 40th anniversary TV reunion in 1987. In recent years, he and his friend Soupy Sales, the legendary kids' show host, did autograph shows together.
During the years he played Clarabell, Mr. Anderson wrote, arranged and appeared in advertising jingles for clients that included Pepsi, Colgate and Buick. He also was the vocal arranger for "The Miss America Pageant." His big band began playing in the New York area in the mid-1970s and had played at Birdland every Friday night since 1997. He made his last Birdland appearance April 28.
"He was a jazz musician. That was his greatest love," said his son.
His marriage to Lee Anderson ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 15 years, Peggy Anderson of South Salem; two sons from his first marriage, Christopher, of Ridgefield, Conn., and Lewis Jr. of Providence, R.I.; two stepdaughters from his second marriage, Lorie George of Danbury, Conn., and Halley Leffler of Sandusky, Ohio; and five grandchildren.