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Saturday, September 01, 2012

Captain Kangaroo

Can you believe that it is now the first of September? In just a few months, 2012 will be over and done with! Maybe it's just because I am getting older, but time really is flying by at an alarming rate.

I guess the lesson learned is to make every second count, and not take anything for granted.

Today happens to be Saturday, and this is the date where we talk about cartoons and educational programs, and today's subject is a fun one, because one of my earliest memories of this program comes from my days as an elementary school student.

Seeing as how it is September, and a lot of kids are either back at school or are heading back to school, I'll let you know that I used to watch this program every day before school started.

It almost became a rite of passage. Because I lived so close to my elementary school, I could stay at home until 8:30 in the morning before I had to leave for school (when I was in elementary school, classes began just before nine o'clock). So, I usually spent the morning before school began watching television. At 7:30, it was always “Inspector Gadget”...but at 8:00, I would change the channel to number 8, because there was one show that I always had to watch.

What I didn't know at the time was that at the time, the show was one of the longest running children's shows of all time. It actually debuted on October 3, 1955, and ran original episodes until the end of 1984...nearly three decades. The episodes of the show I used to watch were syndicated episodes that ran in reruns on our PBS affiliate until 1993.

So, what was the name of this program? Perhaps this opening segment from the 1960s will give you a clue.

That's right. I've decided to talk about the classic children's show, “Captain Kangaroo”.

And, Captain Kangaroo was one of those shows that had something for every girl and boy. There were cartoons, celebrity guest stars, songs, and a mischievous moose that kept dropping ping pong balls whenever he had the chance.

Silly Moose!

Anyway, Captain Kangaroo was portrayed by Bob Keeshan, and when Keeshan won the role that would make him a star in the eyes of millions of girls and boys, he already had quite a bit of show business experience. His first role in children's television was on the 1947 television show “Howdy Doody” playing Clarabell the Clown, a silent clown who communicated using horns and one of his favourite activities was spraying Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle. Later on, he played the role of Corny the Clown on a local kids show, “Time for Fun”, and assumed the role of Tinker in the short-lived show “Tinker's Workshop”.

In fact, it was his work with “Tinker's Workshop” that ended up inspiring the creation of “Captain Kangaroo”. Keeshan and his long-time friend, Jack Miller drew up a proposal for the program to the CBS network using ideas from “Tinker's Workshop”, promoting the program as an innovate approach to children's television. Needless to say, CBS approved the program, and Keeshan stepped into the role of Captain Kangaroo.

TRIVIA: Did you know that when the show originally debuted, Captain Kangaroo wore a black jacket? It was changed to a red jacket beginning the week of May 17, 1971.

Keeshan best described Captain Kangaroo as someone that was a grandfatherly figure, and the whole point of the show was to showcase “the warm relationship between grandparents and grandchildren”. And, you know, I would definitely agree with that statement because I always felt like Captain Kangaroo could be like my grandfather. He was always so warm and friendly. I remember asking my mom if we could go and visit him one day!

Now, don't think that Captain Kangaroo hosted the show alone. He had all sorts of friends who visited him at his “Treasure House”. Now, you have already met Mr. Moose up above, but Mr. Moose also had a friend named Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Both puppets were controlled by puppeteer Cosmo Allegretti. Allegretti was also the man behind Dancing Bear and Grandfather Clock.

Other characters included the Banana Man (played by Sam Levine), and Debbie Weems as Debbie. Before Kevin Clash hit it big on Sesame Street as Elmo, he worked on Captain Kangaroo during the show's later seasons. And, John Burstein even brought his popular “Slim Goodbody” character to the program as well. In case you're wondering who “Slim Goodbody” is, have a look.

Oh, and of course, there was Mr. Green Jeans (played by Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum), who was a common fixture in the world of Captain Kangaroo. And, just to clear an urban legend up, Mr. Green Jeans did NOT father Frank Zappa. 

I always liked Mr. Green Jeans though, and I told my mother that I had wanted to meet him as well...but by that time, Mr. Green Jeans had passed away (Hugh Brannum passed away in 1987).

And, would you like to know some of the celebrities who made an appearance on the program over its 29-year-history? Here's a small list.

Shari Lewis & Lamb Chop, Ruth Buzzi, Charlotte Rae, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Andy Griffith, Carol Channing, Dolly Parton, John Denver, John Ritter, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, and Andy Williams.

Perhaps some of my favourite segments in Captain Kangaroo were the cartoons and special features that aired during the program. Two of the ones I remember are these ones.

Brushing your teeth was never so much fun when you had the “Toothbrush Family” around to help you out. With an entire family of toothbrushes having a whole bunch of adventures such as rescuing someone from the drain, or waterskiing around the rim of the sink, the adventures were endless. And, who could forget the catchy theme song?

Then there was the classic segment “Picture Pages”!

Picture Pages” starred Bill Cosby as the man with the magic pen that made electronic noises each time he wrote with it. I was so enamored by that pen, and I begged my mother to see if she could get me that pen for my birthday, but alas, I never received one. So, I had to make do with drawing a face on a piece of paper, cutting it out with safety scissors, taping it onto the end of a pencil crayon, and pretending to make the same noises as the pen that Bill Cosby used. I know, I was a strange kid. But, hey, it kept me from getting into trouble.

Unbeknownst to me, the program also aired episodes of “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, which was one of my all-time favourite programs. The difference was that Bob Keeshan would narrate the show instead of the original narrator. For some reason, I don't remember watching episodes that featured this program, but if I had, I would have loved Captain Kangaroo even more.

And, of course, other programs such as “Ludwig” and “The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo” aired during Captain Kangaroo.

Captain Kangaroo was a show that had a lot of heart to it, and a lot of the reason why this was the case was because of how much Bob Keeshan cared. It's been almost nine years since Bob Keeshan passed away (he died in January 2004 at the age of 76). But, I'm sure that his legacy will continue to live on. In fact, his death may have been one of the few celebrity deaths that I shed a little tear at, because he meant a lot to me.

One final bit of trivia in regards to Bob Keeshan. Did you know that his grandson, Britton Keeshan became the youngest person in the world to climb Mount Everest in 2004? He carried pictures of his grandfather the whole climb up, and buried a photo of the two of them together on the summit.

I can't think of a better way to honour a family member. I'm sure that somewhere up there, the Captain was smiling brightly.

1 comment:

  1. I always loved Captain Kangaroo.... he was big on using imagination and I loved even the NAME of Construction Paper....