Advertised as the “gentlest” children’s show around, “Captain Kangaroo” was loved by young and old alike. It was so loved by viewers that after the program stopped filming in 1984, American Public Television mixed some newly filmed footage with old reruns and continued to show the newly updated series until 1993.
Find out more about this disastrous move — one that ultimately ended a beloved children’s classic television series and took it off the air. Read on to find out why!
Longest Running Program Of Its Time
You already know that “Captain Kangaroo” was the longest running program of its time, but you might be interested to know that the show 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,” which ran only three years longer than “Captain Kangaroo,” and “Sesame Street,” which has been running now for a solid 46 years.
Premiered the Same Day as Mickey Mouse Club
It is always interesting to find out what else was happening in the world to give some context and bring things together. “Captain Kangaroo” premiered on October 3, 1955 on CBS, which is the same day that Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club” first premiered on ABC. Both shows became massive hits.
Good Morning, Captain!
Before the theme song came on, the show always began with a number of people scenes in which people appear and say, “Good Morning, Captain!” While a lot of times the people in these scenes were unknown, the show’s producers would sometimes get famous figures to say the greeting. These guests included 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 (Until A Ruthless Move Ended The Show)
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 strived to make the viewers feel comfortable and believe that they were watching their fun, friendly grandpa on the show.
The Most Important Person
Since Bob Keeshan was a huge advocate for children’s programming and their education, it would make sense that “Captain Kangaroo” would feature a lot of segments that were beneficial to child development. “The Most Important Person” was an animated and live-action series produced by Sutherland Learning Associates and was featured on “Captain Kangaroo” from 1972 to 1975. Its five-minute segments included stories on the importance of life.
The Kingdom of Could Be You
These five-minute segments were a spin-off of “The Most Important Person” and were about the importance of careers. It often featured various occupations that adults had at the time and what their 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 as Curious George, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Make Way for Ducklings, and the Sweet Pickles series. The segment was probably geared at promoting 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.
Keeshan’s Heart Attack Prompted an Outburst of Support
When Bob Keeshan had a heart attack in 1981 that was almost fatal, it gave his loyal fans a chance to show him how appreciated and loved he still was. He had to undergo triple bypass surgery and while he was in the hospital recuperating, he received over 5,000 get well cards sent to him by his still loyal fans.
Why it Went Off Air
After 25 successful years of directing “Captain Kangaroo,” Peter Birch suffered from a heart attack in 1980. Following his passing, new director Jim Hirschfield and producer continued to run the show until it was taken off the air in 1993. After its regularly scheduled time slot, CBS ruthlessly shoved Keeshan and his associates into a 6:30 AM time slot that was supposed to compete with ABC’s “Good Morning America” as well as NBC’s “Today Show.” After a solid attempt to make it work, Keeshan graciously eventually admitted defeat and closed up shop in 1993.
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. Originally a painter for the sets, he created many of the puppets on the show and became the puppet master for the series.
Another important figure on “Captain Kangaroo” (besides Keeshan himself) 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 Guest Starred (and Got the Giggles)
The show had a long list of special guest appearances including celebrities and other people of importance. In season 21, episode 3, the special guest was none other than country legend Dolly Parton. She wished the Captain a good morning during the very beginning of the show and she was overtaken by uncontrollable laughter in the middle of a song in which she and the Captain sang a duo.
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 the anatomically correct places. He obviously would teach children about basic human anatomy and bodily functions.
Keeshan Served in the Military
For a long time, a story has circulated that Bob Keeshan fought alongside Lee Marvin in the military during WWII. It is thought that Marvin told Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” that the two fought in Iwo Jima. Though we do know that Keeshan was in the military for a time, he never fought in Japan as he had enlisted too late.
Keeshan Started as a Page
Evidently, before the producers of the show “Howdy Doody” gave Bob Keeshan his first role as Clarabell the Clown, he was a page for the studios. He would run around doing odd jobs as requested, but it was decided that it looked bad so they promoted him. He actually made so little as a page that Buffalo Bob Smith would give him $5 after every show.
Keeshan Had Rules about Commercials
Bob Keeshan had high expectations for the show and kept his standards quite high as well. He wanted to make sure there was a noticeable difference between the television program and commercials and was one of the first to add “bumpers” to a television program. He also made sure that none of the cast members starred in the commercials that were 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 starting to be made in color instead of black and white. In fact, most network television shows were being shown in color by 1960, however, “Captain Kangaroo” didn’t follow suit until 1967.
Sadly Bob Keeshan passed away in January of 2004. He received many awards for his work including five Emmy awards 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
It seems to be true that Keeshan had a great impact on his grandson, Britton. When Britton was 22 he set off to climb Mount Everest and was successful in his attempt becoming the youngest person to ever climb the Seven Summits. 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 the characters of the Dancing Bear, Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose and Grandfather Clock. His contribution to the show was integral to its success, solidified with the $200,000 sale of Cosmo’s Dancing Bear costume. He passed away in Phoenix, Arizona, where he owned a home.
Keep reading to reflect on the good times behind the scenes with the cast.
Cast Members Had Prank Wars
Though it is only a rumor and no one really knows whether it happened or not, it has been said that backstage “Captain Kangaroo” and Mr. Green Jeans had quite a prank war. The Captain would flash his cast member right before going on stage and frequently decide to take it out and wave it at Mr. Green Jeans. In return, during a final voice-over, Mr. Green Jeans decided to pee on “Captain Kangaroo” right then and there.
“Captain Kangaroo” was loosely organized and often there were little skits, cartoons, and fun excerpts added in. 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 worked almost entirely within the children’s programming industry. His 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 children’s programming ideas, though the show was not as well loved as “Captain Kangaroo” and it was not on the air for very long. In fact, when the show was canceled in 1965, some of the characters joined the “Captain Kangaroo” gang. They included Dudley D. Dudley, Rollo the Hippopotamus, and Aunt Maude.
Bob Claver’s Big Break
The producer of”Captain Kangaroo,” Bob Claver, actually got his big break with the television show. After meeting Keeshan on the set of “Time For Fun,” where Bob played Corny the Clown, Claver produced the series in an “awful” New York hotel room. Years later, Claver became the associate producer for “Captain Kangaroo” for the first five years, although the show ran for about 26.
The Philharmonic Orchestra Gets a Spot
The show aimed to introduce kids to many different aspects of life by including segments from live action scenes from real, everyday life in the program. For example, in season 6, the show included ten minutes of a Philharmonic Orchestra group just talking, singing, and goofing around with each other.
The Theme Song Was Borrowed from Britain
Typically, a television show has it’s own music to make it unique and interesting and it’s something that fits with the feel of the show. For “Captain Kangaroo,” the theme song was borrowed from a library of music in Britain. It was used in a few other places before becoming the theme song for “Captain Kangaroo,” including a BBC production called “Children’s Favorites.”
As a part of its loose format, “Captain Kangaroo” often aired five-minute cartoons during its broadcast. During the ’50s and ’60s, “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. The “Tom Terrific” plots centered around adventures with Tom’s sidekick, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, and his nemesis, Crabby Appleton.
Another cartoon was “Ludwig,” a British-made cartoon featuring a magical robot, that looked like an egg-shaped gemstone. The show primarily centered around animals in the forest who 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.
Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings
Another popular cartoon that aired on “Captain Kangaroo” was another British cartoon, “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.” The cartoon was based on a series of children’s books by Edward McLachlan that featured a boy named Simon who had a magic chalkboard on which his drawings become real and he is able to enter their world. While the original British airing featured the different narrator, Keeshan did the narration for “Captain Kangaroo.”
The Toothbrush Family
“The Toothbrush Family” was an Australian cartoon that aired on “Captain Kangaroo” through the late ’70s. The cartoon featured a family of oral hygiene products that came to life under the light of the moon. They would go on short adventures that took place in the bathroom and would teach children the importance of oral hygiene.
The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo
“Captain Kangaroo” also introduced American children to another captain, Captain Nemo. The Canadian cartoon ran for five-minute segments on the show through the 1970s as well and was centered around Captain Mark Nemo and his assistants, Christine and Robbie. They went on adventures with the utilization of their nuclear-powered submarine, which was named the Nautilus.
Schwinn Advertised on the Show
The huge bicycle company Schwinn was one of the first companies to sponsor “Captain Kangaroo.” Evidently, after laws were created in the ’70s to put limits on advertising on children’s television programs, Schwinn got creative. They created a character named Mr. Schwinn Dealer that was able to be on the show and continue to slyly advertise their bikes.
The Cast Hosted the Macy’s Parade
The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been around since the early 1920s and is one of America’s most beloved phenomena with millions of people tuning in to see the festivities each year. Besides all the massive balloons, animated floats, musical numbers, and marching bands, the parade also boasts featuring many special guests. In the 1960s, the special guests just happened to be the cast and crew from “Captain Kangaroo.”
Keeshan Advocated for Less Violence
Bob Keeshan was not only interested in children’s television, he was also an advocate for children all across America. He actively stood against violence in kids’ video games and was a participant in hearings against them in 1993. He also was against programs that were centered around violent action figures.
The All New Captain Kangaroo
In the late ’90s, Saban Entertainment created a revival of “Captain Kangaroo,” calling it “The All New Captain Kangaroo,” which featured John McDonough as the Captain. It doesn’t seem as if the revival was quite successful, as the show only ran for one season before spin-off shows aired in its place. Keeshan was even invited to appear on the show, but decided he wanted no affiliation with it when he saw some sample episodes.
“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 similar key aspects, such as a talking clock, a magic screen, popular guest stars, and it also aired “Golden Age” cartoons.
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 can be visited and is on display with the one of Captain’s original 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. According to the film’s star Michael Jai White, “when he [Hall] read that there’s a Captain Kangaroo pimp in this thing,” he signed on immediately.