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Captain Kangaroo was the longest running network children's show of all time - from 1955 until 1984, the good Captain could be seen mornings on CBS. Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum played sidekick Mr. Green Jeans, joining Cosmo Allegretti's hand-puppets Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit in the Captain's Treasure House.
Before Keeshan was a captain he was a clown - probably the most famous clown of the 1950s - Clarabell from the 'Howdy Doody Show' starring Buffalo Bob Smith.
'Howdy Doody' first aired on December 27, 1947, just 9 years before the first conference calling services were invented, and is credited for selling more people on the future of television than any other single event. Millions of children tuned in to the daily live kid's show, and Clarabell the clown was an important part of the ensemble - selling millions of Poll Parrot shoes, assorted toys, dolls and packaged cereals for the show's sponsors.
Unfortunately, Buffalo Bob and Bob Keeshan didn't much care for each other. Keeshan was fired in 1950, and replaced by another performer - but a flood of phone calls and mail from skeptical kids who could tell the difference in the clowns forced producers to re-hire him a few weeks later.
Keeshan was fired again (along with almost all of the rest of the supporting cast of 'Howdy Doody'), when he led an uprising over more money minutes before going on the air live in December, 1952.
Bob Keeshan was only 28 years old in 1955 when he and producer Jack Miller created 'Captain Kangaroo.' Television was a relatively new addition to most American homes - there had never been a generation of kids exposed to home-video entertainment before, so the series was designed to give kids a gentle alternative to the frenetic nature of most children's shows of the day (of which 'Howdy Doody' was one of the worst offenders). Watching an episode of Captain Kangaroo show from the early-sixties, one is struck by the achingly slow pace and overall gentle nature of the show.
A NEW SERIES
A Saturday morning version of 'Captain Kangaroo' with a different Treasure House set (it supposedly took place in the basement of the Treasure House) ran from 1956 until 1968, with a year off in 1964-65 when Bob Keeshan starred as 'Mr. Mayor.'
Regular features on both Captain Kangaroo shows included visits from zoo animals and a torrent of falling ping-pong balls brought on when Mr. Moose asks the Captain a knock-knock joke (the dropping of balls comes along with the punchline - usually "ping pong balls").
In the late Forties / early Fifties, the UPA film studio created a series of abstractly drawn cartoons featuring 'Gerald McBoingBoing,' 'Madeleine,' and 'Mister Magoo.' The simple lines and abstract, minimal backgrounds made the animation easy and inexpensive (although relatively lavish by today's television standards).
Designer/Director (and former UPA exec) Gene Deitch created 'Tom Terrific' with this in mind, the imaginative scripts and stylized designs hid the fact that the animation necessary for kid's TV budgets was so crude. The scripts were tongue-in-cheek and the music was minimal as well - mostly just an accordion. One guy, Lionel Wilson, did all of the voices.
In the stories, Tom had the ability to change into any shape he could imagine in order to save his loveable (and lazy) dog Mighty Manfred from the clutches of the villainous Crabby Appleton and other do-badders in three five-minute segments that made up each story arc.
Terrific was of my favorite segments of Captain Kangaroo," TVpartier
Ricky Waller writes, "I don't know if you have this documented, but
the villainous Crabby Appleton sang a song that I will always remember
and it went like this : 'My name is Crabby Appleton, I'm rotten to the
Other animated features ran on the series, including this long-running promotion for reading and libraries.
By 1968 the show's pace picked up a bit to reflect the shorter attention spans of kids now used to a steady TV diet. A new cartoon feature starring Lariat Sam was added, along with travelogues with the Captain and his Dancing Bear touring the great cities of the world.
In the seventies stars like Marlo Thomas and Carol Channing would visit the show.
"TV is a convenient baby sitter," Keeshan commented in 1975, "and parents too often use it that way. By the time a child starts school, he has seen about 5000 hours. That's time taken away from peers and parents at a crucial period of development. The effect has to be negative."
Captain Kangaroo and his pals also became productized through clothing, toys and Costumes (website).
In 1980 Bill Cosby became a semi-regular and Slim Goodbody (John Burnstein) also joined the show - a man wearing a bodystocking with the various organs of the body painted on it.
In 1981, CBS cut the running time of the show from one hour to a half-hour and moved the show from its 8:00 am timeslot to make way for the 'CBS Morning News.' The series was re-titled 'Wake up with the Captain' and came on at 7:00 am, later moving to 6:30.
A year later, the show left the weekday morning schedule altogether and began running for an hour on Saturday and Sunday Mornings starting at 7:00. In 1984, CBS cancelled the Captain, and Bob Keeshan brought the show to PBS where it ran for six more years.
The All New Captain Kangaroo debuted in syndication in 1997 - without Bob Keeshan. It was a resounding flop.
After years as a public speaker and children's advocate, Bob Keeshan passed away on January 23, 2004.
Captain Kangaroo teamed up with Mr. Rogers in the PBS special 'Springtime
With Mr. Rogers,' which aired in 1978.
"Please help me. I swear I saw a phenomenon on Captain Kangaroo! His name was 'The Banana Man", and he would pull watermelons, more watermelons, this and that, and a little bit of everything would seem to come from his coat. Then, finally, he would start pulling bunches upon bunches of bananas from his coat.
"He did not speak, but only would say "wow" in soprano. I sat there mesmerized by this strange man. Then, finally, and the end of his show, he would take his props in the background, and turn them into a locomotive with cars following, I think he even generated smoke from the front of the "locomotive".
"I have done research on this gentleman, and I have been unsuccessful. Who was he?"
- Sincerely, Terry Koch
"I remember the Banana Man on "Captain Kangaroo" very well & Terry Koch described his act perfectly but he said he didn't know who the Banana Man really was. "American Masters" on PBS did a documentary on vaudeville 2 years ago. On that program, they said that someone named A. Robbins was the Banana Man. They showed a film clip of him & I'm certain that's who it was."
- Sincerely, Bill Messman
"The Banana Man was, indeed an old vaudevillian. Only problem was, so was his costume, which was so complicated, it could not be cleaned. Every few years (when the set was updated or something) they had to get him back in to retape his bit, and the entire studio stank to high heaven so badly no one wanted to be near it."
- Todd Kelson
"There's a TV special that I've been looking for, and you guys are the only ones who could dig it up; it was called 'Time to Change'; it came on in 1986, and it was produced and hosted by a post Captain Kangaroo Bob Keeshan.
"It was about how 'men should get in touch with their feelings',and that kind of touchy-feely type stuff. Anyway, the amazing part of this thing came when Scott Baio and Mclean Stevenson played a father and son on a fishing trip.Keeshan appears behind them and says something like : "..little do they know that a crate of luggage from a overhead plane will soon kill them both", then a pile of suitcases lands on top of them ala the 16 ton weight from Monty Python.
"We then see Scott Baio's ghost saying stuff like: "..dad! dad! I never got the chance to say 'I love you!". Then Stevenson's ghost runs around,saying the same type thing, it ended with a close-up of Stevenson's sweaty face, while me moans :"...my son..my son.."
"I would say that I halucinated this whole thing, except a friend of mine also saw it; people think we're pulling their leg when we tell them about it. Any chance TVparty could track it down?"
Captain Kangaroo History
More on Captain Kangaroo
Captain Kangaroo Books & Toys
"Help me please... what show was Tom Terrific, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, and Crabby Appleton on? I thought that I remembered them from Captain Kangaroo, but maybe I'm confused. I'd love to know anything at all about these classic characters that influenced my early life.
"If you remember Tom you'll remember that he had a funnel on top of his head, and when he was upset steam came out of the top of his head/funnel. I think that is where all my memory has gone, up out of an imaginary funnel on top of my head!"
Captain Kangaroo on
"A child learns more from real-life
experiences than from vicarious ones, and TV is vicarious. Well, vicarious
experiences can be positive too. Most of what we do on Kangaroo
is divert children toward real-life experiences.""
Captain Kangaroo: Bob Keeshan
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