Feature writing: “Hey, kids! What time is it?”

I bet you didn’t know Howdy Doody was from Maine, did you? Well, that’s almost true; actually, Buffalo Bob Smith retired to Maine when he was still in his 40s after the hugely popular Howdy Doody television show went off the air in 1960. I interviewed the very affable Buffalo Bob in 1986, and the resulting story was played in newspapers all over the country.



GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine (UPI) — Hey, kids! What time is it?

For Buffalo Bob Smith, Howdy Doody`s real-life buddy during the pioneer days of television, it may finally be time for retirement.

The old Howdy Doody show, the first children`s show on network television, went off the air in 1960, after more than a decade of entertaining millions of fledgling baby-boomers glued to their flickering black-and-white screens.

When that happened, Smith and his family moved to their log cottage on Maine`s remote Big Lake. Smith, who began in radio in Buffalo, N.Y., at age 15, bought three radio stations in northern Maine, and the family also purchased a winter home in Florida.

“I never really retired,” said Smith, who was only 43 when Howdy Doody left the air.

Now the 68-year-old Smith has sold the radio stations and is winding down. He spends most summer days fishing in Maine and much of the winter playing golf in Florida.

But the white-haired Buffalo Bob hasn`t forgotten the freckled, cowboy-booted marionette that made him one of the most famous television entertainers of the 1950s.

Howdy`s memory is still bright for Buffalo Bob, who keeps an original Howdy puppet in a glass case on top of a filing cabinet at his Florida home. Another original Howdy shares space at the Smithsonian in Washington with two other well-known puppets, Charlie McCarthy and Kermit the Frog.


Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody

“Next year is my 40th anniversary with Howdy, and we’re planning a 90-minute special,” Smith said. “We’re going to have a Peanut Gallery full of people who would have been kids back then, people like Johnny Bench and Barbra Streisand.”

Smith thinks the Howdy Doody shows still stack up well against modern children’s programming, which is often little more than animated cartoons.

“Howdy was a show that was not educational per se, although we did try to educate with songs that had themes like ‘Be kind to animals’ or ‘Cross the street with your eyes, not just your feet,’” Smith said. “Howdy was mostly slapstick and fantasy because kids like slapstick and being in on the joke.”

There was plenty of slapstick humor, and Buffalo Bob was often the butt of the joke. When Clarabelle the Clown uncorked his seltzer bottle or someone threw a pie, it was usually aimed at Buffalo Bob’s smiling face, much to the delight of the kids in the studio Peanut Gallery.

Television production costs have skyrocketed so much, Smith said, that it would be next to impossible to duplicate the Howdy show now.

‘You just couldn`t afford to do Howdy today because it appeals to such a limited audience,’ Smith said. “Unless you have Ford or General Motors making big grants for something like Sesame Street, you just aren`t going to get much more than cartoons, something you can put together for $200,000 and which will get played maybe 200 times.”

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Feature writing: Small community in Maine boasts unique film society

Another feature story in the UPI/wire service style. Maine was an absolute treasure trove of offbeat stories…


MOUNT VERNON, Maine (UPI) – The Strange Fellows Film Society, consisting of two seventh graders and a 31-year-old scrap metal worker, hangs up a makeshift screen every other Friday and brings the likes of Marlon Brando and W.C. Fields to the Mount Vernon Schoolhouse.

The film society was born around Christmastime, when the scrap metal worker, Joe McLaren, decided that good movies would be way to beat the winter doldrums in Mount Vernon, which consists of a general store, a small hardware store and about 400 people.

“Besides, there have only been about four movies worth seeing around here this year,” McLaren said. There are movie theaters in Augusta, Farmington and Waterville, but all are about 20 miles away.

Mount Vernon offered a unique facility for movies, as well, a fine old Odd Fellows Hall, complete with ticket window. McLaren made tentative arrangements to rent the hall, and then went to see about securing the films.

“We had some trouble,” McLaren said. “We found we could get the films if we were a film society and didn’t make a profit. That was okay with us, and now we accept donations, enough to cover the cost of the films. Actually, so far, I’ve lost money every week.”

The worst part after McLaren got the films: the Odd Fellows decided not to rent the hall because of insurance restrictions.

“It would have been great at the hall,” McLaren said. “But this really hasn’t worked out bad. Mr. Gordon, the principal, has been helpful and so has everyone else.”

McLaren’s partners are John Jones, 12, and Mark Kelley, 13, students at Mount Vernon School. Mark’s sister, Dale, made the movie screen out of artist’s canvas, and both Mark and John help McLaren set up the screen and projector.

The first movie was “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with Anthony Quinn, and the showing was something less than a raving success.

“It was a real cold night and the school had shut off the heat,” McLaren said. “We had about 50 people here and it was about 45 degrees in the room. A lot of people left early.”

So far, the Strange Fellows Film Society has managed to solve its problems and bring good films to Mount Vernon. McLaren feels that if the venture succeeds through the winter, The going will be easier in summertime when the summer residents come back to town.

“We’re having ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ with Marlon Brando next Friday,” he said. “If you come, you better bring your overcoat.”

Writing for the opinion pages

I’ve written a lot of op-ed pieces over the years for a variety of clients. For those of you scratching your heads over the term “op-ed,” it means “opposite editorial” — it’s the page in a newspaper that is opposite the paper’s editorial page. Op-ed pages usually contain opinion pieces that may come from a variety of sources, and may or may not agree with the newspaper’s editorial positions.This piece — about employers who may be considering hiring older workers — was written for an employment attorney.


In an economy still recovering from the worst downturn in more than 75 years, why are employers even thinking about hiring older workers?

Aren’t older people hopelessly behind the 8-ball when it comes to technology? And isn’t that especially true if someone has been retired for several years?

Well, yes. And no.

Older workers may not be able to navigate the internet with their eyes closed, but they do have abilities and skills that younger workers not only don’t have, but may not even be able to recognize.

While many employers may love the technical abilities of younger people, they are less in love with their short attention spans; their lack of important life experiences; and, sometimes, their less-than-perfect work ethics. All that can make employers pine for the old days, and for older workers, too.

Some older workers who could hardly wait for retirement find it’s not all it was cracked up to be. Retirement can be boring after 40+ years of workplace challenges and excitement. As costs rise, that retirement nest egg may not go as far as they hoped. And there’s nothing like a job to inspire one to get out of bed in the morning.

If you are an older person who is contemplating a return to the workplace, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • BE READY FOR CHANGE: Technology moves at lightning speed, and you’ve got to to keep up. That doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into an IT wizard; it just means there are technologies that apply to your field, and you must be able to work with them.
  • YOUR STATUS MAY BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME: Maybe you were an executive, department head or some other kind of boss before you retired. This time, employers may be more interested in your skills than in your management abilities. Make sure that’s okay with you before you take the plunge.
  • IF YOU ARE GOOD AT SOMETHING, SAY SO: Older workers may not be comfortable boosting themselves.  But if you don’t, who will?
  • FULL-TIME OR PART-TIME? Which would be better for you? Make sure you know the answer before you go back to work.

Okay. But what if you are an employer thinking about hiring an older worker, or workers? Make sure you navigate all the minefields before you take the plunge:

  • TREAT OLDER EMPLOYEES AS YOU TREAT ANYONE ELSE: Treating older workers differently is not only bad policy; it may also be illegal. Don’t act in a way that could be construed as discriminatory.
  • HIGHEST AND BEST USE OF EMPLOYEES: The older worker you hired to fill a lower or middle-level job may be capable of much more. Find out what those workers have done in the past, and what they are capable of. The person who has the most to contribute may be working for you in a lesser position.
  • YOUR OLDEST WORKERS MAY BE THE ONES WHO STAY: Research shows that the length of time a person stays in a job goes up correspondingly to the age at which they were first hired. In other words, younger workers may move on, while older workers may stick around.
  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE INTANGIBLES: You may hire an older person because of his or her skills, but don’t overlook the fact that they may have much more to offer.  The many years of life experience they have can be extremely valuable; Older workers can effectively mentor their younger counterparts; And the work ethic that most older workers possess can be worth its weight in gold.