Advertised as the “gentlest” children’s show around, “Captain Kangaroo” was loved by young and old alike. “Captain Kangaroo” is still one of the longest running children’s programs. It’s been beaten out by only two other shows. In second place is “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.” So just why did the series stop making new episodes?
Same Premiere Day as Mickey Mouse Club
It is always interesting to find out what else was happening in the world to give some context. “Captain Kangaroo” premiered on October 3, 1955 on CBS, which is the same day that Walt Disney’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” premiered on ABC. Both shows became massive hits.
Good Morning, Captain!
The show always opened with people appearing and saying, “Good Morning, Captain!” The show’s producers would sometimes get famous figures, including William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the “Peanuts” characters, Mister Rogers, and the stars of “M*A*S*H” and “The Price is Right,” just to name a few.
Captain Modeled After an Everyday Grandpa
The producers and writers on the television show had clear ideas of what they wanted it to look and feel like. For example, throughout the whole series, Bob Keeshan actively worked to make viewers feel comfortable and believe that they were watching their fun, friendly grandpas.
The Most Important Person
Since Bob Keeshan was a huge advocate for educational children’s programming, it made sense that “Captain Kangaroo” would feature a lot of segments that were beneficial to child development. “The Most Important Person” was a five-minute animated and live-action series that included stories about the importance of life.
The Kingdom of Could Be You
This five-minute segment was a spin-off of “The Most Important Person” and each episode was about the importance of careers. It described various occupations that children could do when they grew up. It was featured on “Captain Kangaroo” from 1973 to 1976.
A popular feature on “Captain Kangaroo” would be the Captain’s “Reading Stories” sessions. He would excite child audiences with the likes of stories such asCurious George,Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,Make Way for Ducklings, and theSweet Picklesseries. The segment aimed to promote child literacy.
The Banana Man
The Banana Man was performed by actor Sam Levine for “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The vaudeville character was originally created by Adolf Proper, whose act consisted of a clown-like character who would produce random props, including copious amounts of bananas, from various locations on his costume.
As a part of its loose format, “Captain Kangaroo” often aired five-minute cartoons during its broadcast. During the 1950s and 1960s, “Tom Terrific” featured its title character, a young boy who lived in a tree house and who was able to shape-shift with the help of his funnel-shaped cap.
Another cartoon was “Ludwig,” a British-made cartoon featuring a magical robot that looked like an egg-shaped gemstone. The show centered around forest animals who frequently found themselves in trouble, with Ludwig coming to the rescue. Ludwig was named after Ludwig van Beethoven, whose music could be heard in the background.
Another popular animation featured on “Captain Kangaroo” was a British cartoon, “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings,” which was based on a series of children’s books by Edward McLachlan. The cartoon featured a boy named Simon who had a magic chalkboard on which his drawings become real.
The Toothbrush Family
“The Toothbrush Family” was an educational Australian cartoon that aired on “Captain Kangaroo” through the late ’70s. The cartoon featured a family of oral hygiene products that came to life at night and went on short adventures that took place in the bathroom.
The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo
“Captain Kangaroo” also introduced American children to another captain, Captain Nemo. The Canadian cartoon followed Captain Mark Nemo and his assistants, Christine and Robbie, as they went on adventures in their nuclear-powered submarine, which was named the Nautilus.
One integral component of the show was Cosmo Allegretti. The actor-puppeteer lent his talents to many characters on “Captain Kangaroo,” such as Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dennis the Apprentice, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and Uncle Ralph. He later became the show’s puppet master.
Another important figure on “Captain Kangaroo” was actor Hugh Brannum. He played multiple roles on the show such as the New Old Folk Singer, Percy, Uncle Backwards, Mr. McGregor, and Mr. Bainter the Painter, but is probably most popular for his role as Mr. Green Jeans, Captain Kangaroo’s farmer neighbor.
Dolly Parton’s Giggles
The show had a long list of special guest appearances. In season 21, episode 3, the special guest country legend Dolly Parton. She wished the Captain a good morning at the beginning of the show and she was overtaken by uncontrollable laughter in the middle of a song they sang together.
Bill Cosby was also featured on “Captain Kangaroo” through the early 1980s as the host of “Picture Pages.” His segment was aimed at teaching preschool-age children the basics of arithmetic, geometry, and drawing. Cosby taught his lessons with a magic marker named Mortimer Ichabod Marker, or M.I. for short.
Slim Goodbody was featured on “Captain Kangaroo” twice a week from 1976 to 1980. The character was developed and played by John Burstein, who wore a flesh-colored unitard that featured various systems in the body in anatomically correct places. He taught children about basic human anatomy and bodily functions.
A story has long circulated that Bob Keeshan fought alongside Lee Marvin during WWII. It is thought that Marvin told Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” that the two fought in Iwo Jima. Though he did serve in the military, Keeshan never fought in Japan as he had enlisted too late.
Keeshan Started as a Page
Before the producers of “Howdy Doody” gave Bob Keeshan his first role as Clarabell the Clown, he was a page. First he did odd jobs but was later promoted. He was paid so little as a page that Buffalo Bob Smith gave him $5 after every show.
Rules about Commercials
Bob Keeshan had high standards for the show. He wanted to make sure there was a noticeable difference between the program and commercials, and was one of the first to add “bumpers” to a television program. He also forbade any cast members from starring in the commercials they aired.
TV in Color Was a New Luxury
“Captain Kangaroo,” which aired on weekdays on CBS, was active at a time when television and film were converting to color instead of black and white. Most network television shows were being shown in color by 1960, however, “Captain Kangaroo” didn’t follow suit until 1967.
Keeshan’s Heart Attack Prompted an Outburst of Support
When Bob Keeshan had a near-fatal heart attack in 1981, it gave his loyal fans a chance to show him how appreciated and loved he still was. While he recuperated in the hospital, he received over 5,000 get well cards from fans.
Why it Went Off Air
Director Peter Birch died after a heart attack in 1980. Following his passing, CBS ruthlessly shoved Keeshan and his associates into a 6:30 AM time slot, to compete with “Good Morning America” and “Today Show.” After a solid attempt to make it work, Keeshan graciously eventually admitted defeat and closed up shop in 1993.
Sadly Bob Keeshan passed away in January of 2004. He received many awards for his work including five Emmys and several honorary doctorate degrees. Bob Keeshan was such an important person in so many young lives and even though he’s gone, he is still lovingly remembered to this day.
There’s a Photo of Keeshan Atop Mt. Everest
Keeshan had a great impact on his grandson, Britton. When Britton was 22 he became the youngest person ever to climb Mount Everest. After reaching the top, he buried a photo of Keeshan in the snow, leaving his legacy in the mountains.
Puppeteer Cosmo Allegretti Passes Away
The popular puppeteer passed away in July of 2013 at the age of 86. The outgoing actor and painter had a long career with “Captain Kangaroo,”voicing many of the characters. He passed away in Phoenix, Arizona, where he owned a home.
Though it is only an unverified rumor, it has been said that backstage Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans had quite a prank war. The Captain would flash and wave his cast member at Mr. Green Jeans. In return, during a final voice-over, Mr. Green Jeans peed on “Captain Kangaroo,” then and there.
“Captain Kangaroo” was loosely organized and featured little skits, cartoons, and fun excerpts. One of the show’s silly routines was called Jack and the Beanstalk. However, there was a mistake made during the skit where Jack says “Hello, my name is Jack” to his mother. Typically, mothers know this kind of thing about their children.
Keeshan Also Worked on “Howdy Doody”
Bob Keeshan’s career in television began with the classic “Howdy Doody” where he played the mute but not quiet Clarabell the Clown. After a couple other shows, including “Time For Fun” and “Tinker’s Workshop,” Keeshan submitted his idea for “Captain Kangaroo” to CBS. And the rest is history.
Not All of Keeshan’s Shows Were Successful
“Mistor Mayor” was another of Bob Keeshan’s ideas, though the show was not as well loved as “Captain Kangaroo” and it was not on the air for very long. When the show was canceled in 1965, some of the characters joined the “Captain Kangaroo” gang.
Bob Claver’s Big Break
The producer of“Captain Kangaroo,” Bob Claver, got his big break with the show. After meeting Keeshan on the set of “Time For Fun,” where Bob played Corny the Clown, Claver produced the series in a New York hotel room. Years later, Claver became the associate producer for “Captain Kangaroo.”
The Philharmonic Orchestra Gets a Spot
The show aimed to introduce kids to many different aspects of life by including live action scenes from real life on the program. For example, in Season 6, the show included ten minutes of a philharmonic orchestra group talking, singing, and goofing around with each other.
The Theme Song Was Borrowed from Britain
Typically, a television show has its own music to make it unique and interesting. For “Captain Kangaroo,” the theme song was borrowed from a library of music in Britain. It was used in a few other places, including a BBC production called “Children’s Favorites.”
Schwinn Advertised on the Show
Bicycle company Schwinn was one of the first “Captain Kangaroo” sponsors. After laws were created in the 1970s to limit advertising on children’s television programs, Schwinn had to get creative. They created a character named Mr. Schwinn Dealer who appeared on the show and slyly advertised their bikes.
The Cast Hosted the Macy’s Parade
The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of America’s most beloved events. Besides all the massive balloons, animated floats, musical numbers, and marching bands, the parade also features many special guests. In the 1960s, the cast and crew from “Captain Kangaroo” were the special guests.
Keeshan Advocated for Less Violence
Bob Keeshan was not only involved in children’s television, he was also an advocate for children all across America. He stood against violence in kids’ video games and participated in hearings against them in 1993. He also was against programs that were featured violent action figures.
The All New Captain Kangaroo
In the late 1990s, Saban Entertainment created a revival of “Captain Kangaroo,” calling it “The All New Captain Kangaroo,” which featured John McDonough as the Captain. The revival wasn’t quite as successful, and only ran for one season before spin-off shows aired in its place.
“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” ran from 1986 to 1990 and starred Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman. The show followed a similar premise to that of “Captain Kangaroo” and one could easily assume that it might have been inspired by the show. They shared many similar key elements.
The Legend Lives On
Although “Captain Kangaroo” no longer airs and its beloved characters have left us, the Captain’s legacy lives on at the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Moose is on display, along with the one of Captain’s navy blue jackets with the iconic giant pockets, from which the name “Captain Kangaroo” is inspired.
Here’s a fact that might surprise some fans: Captain Kangaroo appeared in a 2009 comedic blaxploitation flick called Black Dynamite. Not really! His character did make a strange cameo appearance, though, thanks to actor Arsenio Hall.