Velma Wayne Dawson

Velma Wayne Dawson

Birth
Sydney, City of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Death
27 Sep 2007 (aged 95)
Palm Springs, Riverside County, California, USA
Burial
Cathedral City, Riverside County, California, USA
Plot
B4, 45
Memorial ID
54474539 View Source

Velma Dawson made the most famous marionette in the world! HOWDY DOODY

The artist who built Howdy Doody, Velma Dawson, was in town for Howdy's two-day filming in Jim Carrey's movie, "Man in the Moon." (Howdy puppet by Rene Zendejas). Dawson, an elegant, striking woman of a certain age, has an inner light that shines through. Maybe it is a result from doing what she loves, spending her days creating art. Time has not dimmed her humor or perspicacity. Velma Dawson is a jewel.

For years, the publicity that NBC sent out about Howdy had many errors, including misspelling Dawson's name. Much of that erroneous material has been repeated, even in published books.
Frank Paris had the original puppet show. It was broadcast from NBC's Radio City headquarters in New York. Frank needed a voice for his character Elmer. That's how Bob Smith came on the show. Smith already had a NBC talk show for family and kids on the air. As Buffalo Bob Smith did Elmer's voice.

The show got better and more popular. When NBC asked for dolls and merchandising, Paris wanted a part of the money. It was his show and his puppets. NBC balked at sharing a piece of the show with Paris. (Ultimately Howdy made about $3 billion dollars in merchandising.) Paris had an advisor, a close friend, who insisted he walk from the show. Frank left NBC stranded. He took his puppets with him. His exit made Bob Smith the top gun on the show.

NBC needed a Howdy Doody . The director of NBC, Norm Blackburn, was a caricaturist. He did a few sketches that he sent to Mel Allen, an artist who had worked for Disney. The original sketches for Howdy came from Mel Allen. In the interim, the character of Howdy spoke from a box and, at one point, told the kids he was getting plastic surgery to run for office. Norm Blackburn had come from Hollywood. He remembered seeing a marionette performance of Velma Dawson's in Toluca Lake. He contacted Dawson. She was the only puppeteer he knew. She had a puppet studio in her Hollywood home near the Wilshire District.

NBC was desperate for the puppet. They rushed Velma. Howdy was made in nine days, a process that Velma wished had taken months. Velma knew Frank Paris in Hollywood. They worked puppets in a picture together. Velma made Howdy for $300, a fact that Frank Paris later turned into a joke. Frank Paris sued NBC for $250,000, a huge sum in those days. After he got his money, he said he made more money off Howdy Doody than Velma Dawson did. Velma acknowledges that was true. She adds, "Good thing I was good. It could have been a lousy puppet."

Velma developed into a good puppeteer the usual way: hard work, perseverance and talent. She got into puppetry after seeing the fabled team of Walton and O'Rourke perform in their Olveras Street Theater. She could not believe how wonderful their show was. Nor how magical puppets could be. She tried to buy some puppets but found scarcely one for sale. She looked for puppet-making books and found only one by Tony Sarg. She said that Sarg's puppets were very crude. He sculpted them out of plastic wood without molds. They looked very lumpy up close.

Her first puppet built from the Sarg book "was pathetic." Her fascination with the craft took her to art school where she learned to sculpt. Then she happened upon a puppet show in Robinson's Department Store in downtown Los Angeles. It was Wayne Barlow's production of Disney's Dumbo. "I was thunderstruck," Velma recalls. Although it was a very commercial production, the puppets and manipulation were exquisite. She went backstage and asked if the Barlows sold any of their puppets. The husband and wife team replied, "No, but we'll teach you." Both were excellent artisans. (Rene Zendejas adds that Mrs. Barlow was a superb air brush artist.)

The second puppet Velma built under the Barlows' eyes also "was bad." She admits, "When you're learning, everything is bad." However, Velma eventually learned to sculpt beautifully and even mastered the difficult art of putting personality into her pieces. She continued making puppets.

Velma eventually had a puppet theater in her own home that sat 10. Meanwhile her friendships within the field expanded. She did some shows with Bob Baker. Rene game along and worked the gramophone although, as Velma tells it, "He broke the record." She continued the friendships, working with Bob Baker in his studio whenever she was in town just to keep her hand in puppetry. Rene was a in high school when Velma made Howdy. He always came over to hang out and see what was happening.

Velma didn't have a television set, so after she shipped the Howdy Doody off to New York, she "forgot about the whole thing." She saw the show later and "thought it was awful, pathetic. The manipulation was atrocious." The original puppeteer on the Howdy Doody show was not very skilled.

Meanwhile, Velma helped pioneer puppetry in television locally with her own show. It was a fifteen-minute broadcast every day at 5:00 p.m. on KTTV Los Angeles. Two months into the run, Velma, who did everything on the broadcast herself, found that she was running out of new puppets and material. She was a bit relieved when she got a call from NBC in New York. Howdy's inept puppeteer had broken the marionette's head and Velma was needed for repairs. She told her TV audience that she was ending her program and heading to New York, "to fix Howdy Doody."

In a story that has never been printed, Velma says that while working on Howdy in New York, it got late in the day. She decided to work on the marionette in her hotel room a few blocks from NBC. Velma put Howdy in a suitcase and started out. On her way, she was accosted by a young man (she says "a bum") who seemed seriously out-of whack. He insisted on carrying the case for her. It was a tug of war, with Velma holding on tightly as she headed for the hotel. When she reached the door, she yelled for help. What if that man had grabbed the suitcase and disappeared with it?

It was on this visit that Velma insisted that NBC hire a puppeteer who could manipulate a marionette. She said the way Howdy jiggled and walked on his knees was awful. She didn't want the job; she had a home and husband in Hollywood. Two years later, in 1952, NBC hired Rufus Rose and Howdy began to act better.

Velma made a second version of the famous marionette at NBC's request although she told them that it would not be the same Howdy. (All puppeteers will understand that!) Velma was right. That puppet became the Inspector on the show. As for the other puppets like Flubadub, uncredited New York puppeteers built them.

An interesting aspect to Velma was her marriage. Velma married John Dawson, a prominent amateur golfer, in the early '40s. Her husband found it remarkable that a resort like Palm Springs had no 18-hole golf course. He got into golf development and is credited with making Palm Springs the golf capital of the world. John Dawson bought an old, failing dude ranch in Rancho Mirage, a place called the Thunderbird that was losing $35,000 a year and up for sale. It became Palm Springs first golf club. (That's when the desert town was four-hour drive from L.A.) The last country club Dawson created before his death was the Marrakesh in the '70s. By then the Dawsons had divorced after 32 years of marriage.

Velma admits to four careers, so far, in her life. She started as a dancer. That got her into the entertainment business or "show biz" as Velma calls it. Then she became an actress, a career she gave up on marriage. Puppeteering, her third career, led to her fourth career in art. She loved to sculpt and got into ceramics. At one time, she sold figurines for $150 (pricey in those days). She gave that up after ten years. It demanded so much of her time fussing over kilns. Then she turned to painting. Velma added a fifth career, interior decorating. Interior decorating was the most profitable for her. Her wealthy clients included many celebrities. Velma Dawson decorated every country club her husband John built.

An early member of the Puppeteers of America and the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry, Velma thought the local puppet guild "pathetic" on first encounter. She and others like Baker and Rene were "pioneers of puppetry." It took television to make their art and craft the big-time commercial enterprise that it is today.

Live puppetry offers a creative refuge for anyone who has ever loved it. "Once you do puppets, they're always with you," Velma admits. She still entertains with her marionettes. "I gave a show two months ago in City Hall in Palm Desert for 50 people." Her favorite puppet is a saucy madam who works the crowd. She loves to ad lib.

Velma has sold most of her other puppets including full shows at national puppet conventions. She is down to fifteen.

Velma found that many did not give her credit for making the original Howdy. Even the Puppeteers of America insisted that the Roses made Howdy Doody. When Velma objected, the national puppetry organization asked her to prove her claim. Velma sent the paperwork that established her role. Buffalo Bob never acknowledged Velma's contribution to the Howdy Doody show until a few years before his death. He sent Dawson an autographed picture of himself and Howdy. He wrote under Howdy "Hi, Mom." Many say that Buffalo Bob disliked puppeteers. Velma says that Smith once told her somewhat resentfully "I spent my career making that puppet famous."

Fans still seek out Velma and adore her. She gets taken to dinner by successful, forty-something gentlemen who fly to Rancho Mirage just to meet Howdy's famous mom. Velma takes it all in stride. "All I did" she says, "was make a stupid puppet."

Source:
Puppeteer newsletter, "Puppet Life", for the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry and written by Gregory Paul Williams, writer for Scene West for The Puppetry Journal, the periodical for Puppeters of America.

Velma Dawson made the most famous marionette in the world! HOWDY DOODY

The artist who built Howdy Doody, Velma Dawson, was in town for Howdy's two-day filming in Jim Carrey's movie, "Man in the Moon." (Howdy puppet by Rene Zendejas). Dawson, an elegant, striking woman of a certain age, has an inner light that shines through. Maybe it is a result from doing what she loves, spending her days creating art. Time has not dimmed her humor or perspicacity. Velma Dawson is a jewel.

For years, the publicity that NBC sent out about Howdy had many errors, including misspelling Dawson's name. Much of that erroneous material has been repeated, even in published books.
Frank Paris had the original puppet show. It was broadcast from NBC's Radio City headquarters in New York. Frank needed a voice for his character Elmer. That's how Bob Smith came on the show. Smith already had a NBC talk show for family and kids on the air. As Buffalo Bob Smith did Elmer's voice.

The show got better and more popular. When NBC asked for dolls and merchandising, Paris wanted a part of the money. It was his show and his puppets. NBC balked at sharing a piece of the show with Paris. (Ultimately Howdy made about $3 billion dollars in merchandising.) Paris had an advisor, a close friend, who insisted he walk from the show. Frank left NBC stranded. He took his puppets with him. His exit made Bob Smith the top gun on the show.

NBC needed a Howdy Doody . The director of NBC, Norm Blackburn, was a caricaturist. He did a few sketches that he sent to Mel Allen, an artist who had worked for Disney. The original sketches for Howdy came from Mel Allen. In the interim, the character of Howdy spoke from a box and, at one point, told the kids he was getting plastic surgery to run for office. Norm Blackburn had come from Hollywood. He remembered seeing a marionette performance of Velma Dawson's in Toluca Lake. He contacted Dawson. She was the only puppeteer he knew. She had a puppet studio in her Hollywood home near the Wilshire District.

NBC was desperate for the puppet. They rushed Velma. Howdy was made in nine days, a process that Velma wished had taken months. Velma knew Frank Paris in Hollywood. They worked puppets in a picture together. Velma made Howdy for $300, a fact that Frank Paris later turned into a joke. Frank Paris sued NBC for $250,000, a huge sum in those days. After he got his money, he said he made more money off Howdy Doody than Velma Dawson did. Velma acknowledges that was true. She adds, "Good thing I was good. It could have been a lousy puppet."

Velma developed into a good puppeteer the usual way: hard work, perseverance and talent. She got into puppetry after seeing the fabled team of Walton and O'Rourke perform in their Olveras Street Theater. She could not believe how wonderful their show was. Nor how magical puppets could be. She tried to buy some puppets but found scarcely one for sale. She looked for puppet-making books and found only one by Tony Sarg. She said that Sarg's puppets were very crude. He sculpted them out of plastic wood without molds. They looked very lumpy up close.

Her first puppet built from the Sarg book "was pathetic." Her fascination with the craft took her to art school where she learned to sculpt. Then she happened upon a puppet show in Robinson's Department Store in downtown Los Angeles. It was Wayne Barlow's production of Disney's Dumbo. "I was thunderstruck," Velma recalls. Although it was a very commercial production, the puppets and manipulation were exquisite. She went backstage and asked if the Barlows sold any of their puppets. The husband and wife team replied, "No, but we'll teach you." Both were excellent artisans. (Rene Zendejas adds that Mrs. Barlow was a superb air brush artist.)

The second puppet Velma built under the Barlows' eyes also "was bad." She admits, "When you're learning, everything is bad." However, Velma eventually learned to sculpt beautifully and even mastered the difficult art of putting personality into her pieces. She continued making puppets.

Velma eventually had a puppet theater in her own home that sat 10. Meanwhile her friendships within the field expanded. She did some shows with Bob Baker. Rene game along and worked the gramophone although, as Velma tells it, "He broke the record." She continued the friendships, working with Bob Baker in his studio whenever she was in town just to keep her hand in puppetry. Rene was a in high school when Velma made Howdy. He always came over to hang out and see what was happening.

Velma didn't have a television set, so after she shipped the Howdy Doody off to New York, she "forgot about the whole thing." She saw the show later and "thought it was awful, pathetic. The manipulation was atrocious." The original puppeteer on the Howdy Doody show was not very skilled.

Meanwhile, Velma helped pioneer puppetry in television locally with her own show. It was a fifteen-minute broadcast every day at 5:00 p.m. on KTTV Los Angeles. Two months into the run, Velma, who did everything on the broadcast herself, found that she was running out of new puppets and material. She was a bit relieved when she got a call from NBC in New York. Howdy's inept puppeteer had broken the marionette's head and Velma was needed for repairs. She told her TV audience that she was ending her program and heading to New York, "to fix Howdy Doody."

In a story that has never been printed, Velma says that while working on Howdy in New York, it got late in the day. She decided to work on the marionette in her hotel room a few blocks from NBC. Velma put Howdy in a suitcase and started out. On her way, she was accosted by a young man (she says "a bum") who seemed seriously out-of whack. He insisted on carrying the case for her. It was a tug of war, with Velma holding on tightly as she headed for the hotel. When she reached the door, she yelled for help. What if that man had grabbed the suitcase and disappeared with it?

It was on this visit that Velma insisted that NBC hire a puppeteer who could manipulate a marionette. She said the way Howdy jiggled and walked on his knees was awful. She didn't want the job; she had a home and husband in Hollywood. Two years later, in 1952, NBC hired Rufus Rose and Howdy began to act better.

Velma made a second version of the famous marionette at NBC's request although she told them that it would not be the same Howdy. (All puppeteers will understand that!) Velma was right. That puppet became the Inspector on the show. As for the other puppets like Flubadub, uncredited New York puppeteers built them.

An interesting aspect to Velma was her marriage. Velma married John Dawson, a prominent amateur golfer, in the early '40s. Her husband found it remarkable that a resort like Palm Springs had no 18-hole golf course. He got into golf development and is credited with making Palm Springs the golf capital of the world. John Dawson bought an old, failing dude ranch in Rancho Mirage, a place called the Thunderbird that was losing $35,000 a year and up for sale. It became Palm Springs first golf club. (That's when the desert town was four-hour drive from L.A.) The last country club Dawson created before his death was the Marrakesh in the '70s. By then the Dawsons had divorced after 32 years of marriage.

Velma admits to four careers, so far, in her life. She started as a dancer. That got her into the entertainment business or "show biz" as Velma calls it. Then she became an actress, a career she gave up on marriage. Puppeteering, her third career, led to her fourth career in art. She loved to sculpt and got into ceramics. At one time, she sold figurines for $150 (pricey in those days). She gave that up after ten years. It demanded so much of her time fussing over kilns. Then she turned to painting. Velma added a fifth career, interior decorating. Interior decorating was the most profitable for her. Her wealthy clients included many celebrities. Velma Dawson decorated every country club her husband John built.

An early member of the Puppeteers of America and the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry, Velma thought the local puppet guild "pathetic" on first encounter. She and others like Baker and Rene were "pioneers of puppetry." It took television to make their art and craft the big-time commercial enterprise that it is today.

Live puppetry offers a creative refuge for anyone who has ever loved it. "Once you do puppets, they're always with you," Velma admits. She still entertains with her marionettes. "I gave a show two months ago in City Hall in Palm Desert for 50 people." Her favorite puppet is a saucy madam who works the crowd. She loves to ad lib.

Velma has sold most of her other puppets including full shows at national puppet conventions. She is down to fifteen.

Velma found that many did not give her credit for making the original Howdy. Even the Puppeteers of America insisted that the Roses made Howdy Doody. When Velma objected, the national puppetry organization asked her to prove her claim. Velma sent the paperwork that established her role. Buffalo Bob never acknowledged Velma's contribution to the Howdy Doody show until a few years before his death. He sent Dawson an autographed picture of himself and Howdy. He wrote under Howdy "Hi, Mom." Many say that Buffalo Bob disliked puppeteers. Velma says that Smith once told her somewhat resentfully "I spent my career making that puppet famous."

Fans still seek out Velma and adore her. She gets taken to dinner by successful, forty-something gentlemen who fly to Rancho Mirage just to meet Howdy's famous mom. Velma takes it all in stride. "All I did" she says, "was make a stupid puppet."

Source:
Puppeteer newsletter, "Puppet Life", for the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry and written by Gregory Paul Williams, writer for Scene West for The Puppetry Journal, the periodical for Puppeters of America.


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Howdy Doody's Mom


  • Created by: Sir
  • Added: 4 Jul 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial ID: 54474539
  • Sir
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54474539/velma-wayne-dawson: accessed ), memorial page for Velma Wayne Dawson (30 May 1912–27 Sep 2007), Find a Grave Memorial ID 54474539, citing Desert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, Riverside County, California, USA; Maintained by Sir (contributor 47299813) .