Clarabell the Clown was the mute partner of Howdy Doody.
Three actors played Clarabell on a regular basis. The first was Bob Keeshan, who later became Captain Kangaroo. Keeshan was succeeded by Robert "Nick" Nicholson, who also played the character of J. Cornelius Cobb on The Howdy Doody Show. Lew Anderson was the third and last person to play Clarabell. Anderson played the character from 1954 until the series' final episode on September 24, 1960. Anderson returned to play Clarabell in the short-lived 1976–77 New Howdy Doody Show and in the 1987 40th anniversary special, and in later years in many personal appearances with Buffalo Bob Smith. In addition, Dayton Allen, Bill LeCornec, and others played Clarabell in the early years if Keeshan was busy doing something else for the show.
Many attempts were made to find out the real face behind Clarabell. In season 2, #33 of Happy Days, Richie Cunningham is able to get a candid shot of Clarabell (Robert Brunner) without his makeup, but chooses to destroy it after Buffalo Bob tells him to keep the actor's actual face concealed from the public. Based upon the period in which Happy Days is set, Lew Anderson would have been portraying Clarabell during that time.
Who's the funniest clown we know?
Who's the clown on Howdy's show?
His feet are big, his tummy's stout,
But we could never do without,
Clara, Clara, Clarabell!
Who has fuzzy-wuzzy hair?
It's partly red but mostly bare.
And since the day that he was born,
He's honked and honked and honked his horn.
Clara, Clara, Clarabell!
Throughout the entire series run Clarabell had no lines of dialogue; he often used hand gestures while his only means of audible communication was a small toy horn he always carried. But during the hour-long series finale that aired on September 24, 1960, Clarabell repeatedly pantomimed that he had a very big surprise for the viewers. Throughout the episode, the rest of the cast tried to figure out what Clarabell's surprise was, with only Mayor Phineas T. Bluster succeeding, and promising to keep it a secret. ("But," he said upon leaving, "It's not gonna be easy to keep a secret like this!") It was only in the episode's final moments that Clarabell, still gesturing and using his horn, revealed to Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob that he could actually speak.
Amazed, Bob excitedly told Clarabell to prove it then and there as he would never get another chance. His lips quivered as the camera slowly zoomed in on his face; a drum and cymbal roll grew louder and abruptly stopped right before Clarabell tearfully whispered, "Goodbye, kids."
A tear could be seen in Clarabell's right eye as the screen faded to black. There were sounds of sobbing as a celeste version of "Auld Lang Syne" quietly played over the end credits. Bob Smith later recalled that even some of the more intractable members of the show's technical crew were fighting back a tear at that highly emotional moment.
Clarabell's sole line of dialogue appeared on the lid of Trivial Pursuit's Baby Boomer Edition card set released in 1983.