Bet You Didn’t Know These Facts About Captain Kangaroo!
Captain Kangaroo was one of those shows like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that made people feel all warm inside and that the host really cared about the viewers. Bob Keeshan, who played the titular character, was everyone’s grandpa and he truly cared about children like one. From its memorable characters, funny skits, cute cartoons, and the friendly “good morning, Captain!” this show was beloved by fans everywhere. There is probably a lot you didn’t know about it so read on to find out!
It was one of the longest running programs
The beloved children’s TV series that aired on CBS was the longest running program of its time but, to this day, it is still one the longest running children’s show!
Captain Kangaroo first aired on October 3rd, 1955 and was broadcast nationally. It would stay on the air for 29 years, producing 38 seasons and ending in 1984. Only Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street outlived this show!
It didn’t have a format
For a show that lasted so long, it was surprising that it didn’t really have a format besides the fact that it took place at the Treasure House/Captain’s Place.
That is why every episode was exciting because you didn’t know what was coming! The opening sequences weren’t even the same every time! The only consistent thing was seeing Captain Kangaroo in every episode!
Different people said, “Good morning, Captain!”
The show became memorable for its “Good morning, Captain” beginnings and it was always nice to see who was going to say it!
These montages didn’t start until 1974 but it stayed as part of the opening sequence after that. Every episode featured a different person saying “Good morning, Captain!” and then Captain Kangaroo would say good morning back. Famous TV stars of the time even got the chance to say it including William Shatner, Fred Rodgers, and Leonard Nimoy!
The cast was known to have prank wars
Whether this was true or not, it certainly is amusing that the cast used to play pranks on each other during the shows!
Bob Keeshan and Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum (Mr. Green Jeans) were the only two cast members that appeared regularly on the show so they certainly spent a lot of time together! Before Brannum would go on stage, Keeshan loved to pull down his pants and flash his co-star! As revenge, it was said that Brannum peed on Captain Kangaroo during a final voice-over!
The producers originally wanted Al Lewis
Bob Keeshan was what made Captain Kangaroo so memorable so it is hard to imagine what the show would have been like without him!
In the beginning, CBS wanted Al Lewis to play Captain Kangaroo because he was not only well-known but also had the experience as a kids’ show host. Yet, they couldn’t have him because his ABC show was still running and Lewis couldn’t get out of his contract.
They got Bob Keeshan instead!
As good of a host as Al Lewis was, it worked out for the better because then we got Bob Keeshan to be our beloved Captain!
Before he was cast as the host of Captain Kangaroo, he had some experience working for television, including with shows aimed at kids. The idea for the show was actually his so it seemed fitting that CBS finally chose him to be the star.
His other shows weren’t as successful
Keeshan really lucked out that CBS not only loved his idea for Captain Kangaroo but also decided to cast him to be the host of a show that would go one to be super successful.
His other shows, however, weren’t as well received. For example, his show that aired when Keeshan was still doing Captain Kangaroo was Mister Mayor but it was canceled after one season. His characters, though, were incorporated into the CBS show including Dudley D. Dudley, Rollo the Hippopotamus, and Aunt Maude!
There was a blooper in the Jack and the Beanstalk skit
The thing about Captain Kangaroo was that it aired live in the beginning so when mistakes were made, they couldn’t be edited out.
Not only did Captain Kangaroo have no format, it was also, at times, not very well organized so things were added in without much rehearsal. During an episode that featured a Jack and the Beanstalk skit, Jack said to his mom, “Hello, my name is Jack!” If you are talking to your mother, you probably don’t need to introduce yourself.
Keeshan used to be a page for the studio
You have to start somewhere! Before Keeshan became an actor, he worked as a page for CBS studios, which is basically like an overworked intern.
He did a lot of jobs around the studio, doing whatever someone ordered him to and helping around the set. He eventually got promoted because it looked bad that this young man was working for no pay. Keeshan, though, didn’t get paid a whole lot, which is why Buffalo Bob Smith would give him $5 after every show.
His first appearance was on Howdy Doody
Eventually, his job as a page worked out because he got cast in 1948 on the show Howdy Doody and, thus, started his acting career.
On the show, he played Clarabell the Clown, who was mute and communicated with his horn where one horn meant “yes” and two meant “no.” Keeshan stayed on the show until 1952 before he decided he had enough of playing a silly clown.
Captain Kangaroo didn’t follow the color TV memo
Color television was invented in the 1940’s but it didn’t become widely used until the 1950s where a bunch of shows changed to color.
Yet, Captain Kangaroo was not one of those shows in the 1950s that switched to color despite the fact that it premiered during a time when color was available. The show would stay black-and-white for 11 years before finally switching to color.
Cartoons appeared in the show
Captain Kangaroo certainly knew how to keep children’s attention. They regularly included cartoons as part of their episodes!
Some cartoons like Tom Terrific were only shown on Captain Kangaroo but others came from other countries and were featured on this CBS show as well! A lot of British cartoons were popular in America because of this.
Cast members couldn’t be in commercials
Considering it was a TV show for kids, Bob Keeshan wanted to make sure that kids were not being exploited by commercials.
Even kids’ shows back then had commercial breaks and advertisements were directed towards them. Keeshan wanted to make sure that there was an obvious difference between his show and commercials so kids didn’t get confused. That is why he banned cast members from starring in commercials and added “bumpers” to Captain Kangaroo.
Dolly Parton was a guest star
Now, this was a memorable guest star back in 1976! The famed country singer Dolly Parton was on an episode of Captain Kangaroo.
She was in episode 3 of season 21 and was one of the celebrities that got to say “Good morning, Captain!” in the beginning. Parton was then in the regular part of the episode and sang a duet with the Captain. In the middle of the song, she burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.
So was the Philharmonic Orchestra
The show was not all fun and games! Bob Keeshan wanted to also educate kids and introduce them to cultural things like the Philharmonic Orchestra group.
Captain kangaroo would sometimes cut to things that were happening live and during one episode, he showed a live performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra group! This happened during season 6 and the segment was 10 minutes long before going back to Captain Kangaroo.
The inspiration for the Captain came from grandpas
When watching this show, you have probably noticed that the Captain was very grandpa-esque and that was done on purpose!
In fact, the inspiration for his character came from “the warm relationship between grandparents and children” and that is what he wanted to depict on his show. It worked because the Captain was like everyone’s grandpa!
Keeshan was a veteran
He may not have been a real life captain in any sense but Bob Keeshan did serve in the military during World War II!
There was a rumor, though, that Keeshan and Lee Marvin fought side by side during the Battle of Iwo Jima but there is no truth to it. In fact, when Keeshan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1945, he was never sent overseas because the Japanese soon surrendered.
The theme song came from Britain
Most of the time, TV shows create their own theme songs to make it unique to their show but that is not what Captain Kangaroo did.
When the show was created, the producers used a song from a British stock music production library called “Puffin’ Billy” and it stayed as the Captain Kangaroo theme song until 1974. The song was used for other shows too including Children’s Favorites and Murder Among the Statues.
The new theme song
After 19 years, Captain Kangaroo finally decided to get rid of “Puffin’ Billy,” a song written by Edward G. White, as the show’s theme song.
This time, the song was actually made for the show and was written by Robert L. Brush. The new theme song was called “Good Morning, Captain” and became the iconic catchy tune in the beginning of the show.
Schwinn was one of the first sponsors
Schwinn was a major bicycle company at the time and became one of Captain Kangaroo’s first sponsors in the 50’s.
The company started advertising their children’s bikes on the show in 1958 and it proved to be super successful, especially with the Captain himself promoting the bikes! In the ’70s, the character Mr. Schwinn Dealer was introduced on the show to combat the new advertising restrictions on kids.
Captain Kangaroo hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been entertaining Americans since the 1920s and it became even more special to Captain Kangaroo fans in the 60s!
For several years in the 60s, the cast from Captain Kangaroo got to host the CBS coverage of the infamous NYC parade. The gang would watch and narrator the parade on a giant TV monitor that the Captain referred to as “The Magic Picture Window Screen.” Shari Lewis co-hosted with Keeshan in the last parade coverage in 1965.
A photo of Keeshan is at the top of Mt. Everest
What better way to honor one of the most beloved characters on TV than by bringing him to the top of the tallest mountain in the world.
When Bob Keeshan died in 2004, his grandson Britton decided to honor him by climbing Mt. Everest, becoming the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits at age 22. After reaching the top, Britton buried a photo of his grandpa there.
Keeshan was against violence in kids shows and games
Companies targeting children in commercials and advertisements weren’t the only thing Bob Keeshan was worried about.
He was also concerned about the violence in video games made for kids and violent-looking action figures. He strongly advocated for less violence in not only TV shows but also in toys and games. In 1993, Keeshan participated in congressional hearings and even joined parental groups that were against these things.
They had to pause the show when Keeshan had a heart attack
On July 13, 1981, Keeshan traveled to Canada to accept a children’s service award in Toronto but had a severe heart attack shortly after arriving.
He was 54 years old and the heart attack almost killed him but the Captain pulled through. Captain Kangaroo, however, did have to be put on hold for a few months while he recovered. It was said that about 5,000 fans sent him get-well wishes!
He passed away in 2004
Twenty years after the beloved children’s show came to an end, the Captain passed away at age 76 in Windsor, Vermont.
Despite the fact that the show ended so long ago, people still remembered Keeshan as the Captain and were sad to learn that he died. He was buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Babylon, New York, and fans even visited it to place flowers.
So many guest stars
You know a TV show is good when it has memorable guest stars on it and Dolly Parton certainly wasn’t the only one!
Captain Kangaroo featured many celebrities and well-known TV stars on the show. Joan Rivers and Andy Griffith, among others, appeared in episodes. The show didn’t need them, though, because it was popular enough.
This show was Bob Claver’s big break
Bob Claver was the producer and writer of Captain Kangaroo in the beginning and stayed with the show for 5 years.
Before the show began, Claver was just a small-time guy living in Chicago with a dream to make it big on television and he finally got his chance when he met Bob Keeshan. They met on the set of “Time For Fun” and shortly after, started developing Captain Kangaroo. The rest is history!
Jim Hirschfield replaced Peter Birch
For the first 25 years of the show, Peter Birch was the director and even made the occasional appearance in an episode!
In 1980, though, he passed away after suffering a heart attack and had to be replaced by a new director. Jim Hirschfeld took the reigns and even became the show’s producer but the show was never the same again.
Captain Kangaroo aired the same day as the Mickey Mouse Club
Captain Kangaroo was not the only show that premiered on October 3, 1955, that would go on to be a very popular series!
That same day, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Club aired for the first time on ABC. Both shows were variety show for kids but Captain Kangaroo was broadcast on weekday mornings whereas its rival was broadcast on weekday evenings.
Tom Terrific was one of the cartoons
One of the more popular cartoons that were shown on Captain Kangaroo was Tom Terrific, which was developed specially for the show.
Tom Terrific was shown as a five-minute cartoon on Captain Kangaroo in the ’50s and ’60s. The titular character was a shape-shifting boy that lived in a tree house and the show was about his adventures with his dog.
Ludwig was another popular cartoon
Another popular show was Ludwig, which was actually a British-produced cartoon that aired in the ’70s on the show.
Ludwig was a magical egg-shaped robot that loved classical music and gave animals problems to solve. During the five-minute episodes, music by Beethoven was played and, obviously, the robot was modeled after the composer.
Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings was a favorite
The other cartoon that aired around the same time as Ludwig was also British-made and was called Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings.
This cartoon was about a boy who could create “alive” things with his magic piece of chalk and all the adventures he had. Keeshan himself dubbed the characters voices in the American version of this British cartoon.
The Most Important Person was a live action series on the show
Keeshan didn’t just add fun cartoons to his show—he also included series that were good for children’s development and education.
In the ’70s, Sutherland Learning Associates produced an animated/live-action series that became a part of Captain Kangaroo. Each five-minute segment was about a topic that was considered important for children to learn about and stories about the importance of life.
The Kingdom of Could Be You was a spin-off
Another series that was aired on Captain Kangaroo that was about teaching kids something was The Kingdom of Could Be You.
This series was a spin-off of The Most Important Person that also aired during the ’70s and each episode was five-minutes long. It talked about what kids could be when they grew up and what kind of jobs adults have now.
The Toothbrush Family was the show’s Australian cartoon
Besides cartoons that talked about careers and about children’s lives themselves, Captain Kangaroo featured a series about the importance of oral hygiene!
The series was called The Toothbrush Family and it was an Australian-made cartoon produced by Rainbow Animation. It was about the adventures the bathroom sink products would have when they came to live in the moonlight and advocated for good dental care.
One of the cartoons featured another captain
Captain Kangaroo was not the only captain on the show or, at least, not during the 1970s when this cartoon aired.
The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo was another cartoon produced by Rainbow Animation that aired on Captain Kangaroo. In each five-minute episode, we followed the adventures of Captain Mark Nemo and his assistants, Christine and Robbie.
Cosmo Allegretti was the actor-puppeteer
Cosmo Allegretti was a very important cast member of the show as he not only voiced many characters but he also created a lot of them!
He started out as a painter on the set of Captain Kangaroo and then once his talents proved to be more than that, he became the puppet master. Allegretti created/voiced the characters Mr. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose while also being Dennis the Apprentice, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and Uncle Ralph.
Hugh Brannum was the other star of the show
The other star of the show was Hugh Brannum who was in almost as many episodes as Bob Keeshan!
While he played multiple roles, he was mainly known as Mr. Green Jeans, Captain Kangaroo’s farmer neighbor. Brannum was also the New Old Folk Singer, Percy, Uncle Backwards, Mr. McGregor, and Mr. Bainter the Painter.
Bill Cosby was a frequent guest
Before he became famous on The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby was frequently featured on the Captain Kangaroo show.
He was the host of the segment, Picture Pages starting in 1980 and staying in his position for 4 years. Cosby’s segment had him teaching kids the basics of arithmetic, geometry, and drawing. He used a special magic marker known as Mortimer Ichabod Marker or M.I.
Slim Goodbody came on twice a week
Speaking about teaching young kids about academic subjects, Mr. Slim Goodbody himself used to appear in episodes!
John Burstein created this character himself and came onto the show wearing his organ-painted body suit. While in character, he taught kids about exercise, personal hygiene, and nutrition alongside the Captain, of course!
The Banana Man was on the Ed Sullivan show too!
The Banana Man was another character that came on to the show and this one is actually an old character from back in the day!
Adolf Proper created this funny character and act before Captain Kangaroo was even a thing. Then, Sam Levine brought the character back to life not only on this CBS show but also on The Ed Sullivan Show. He even used the original props Proper used.
A lot of stories were read on the show
Like any good grandfather figure, the Captain read many stories to his child audience in his “Reading Stories” sessions.
He read stories like Curious George, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Make Way for Ducklings, and the Sweet Pickles series! Kids loved tuning in to listen to Keeshan read to them and it probably helped with their literacy as well.
They revived the show after it ended
Like any good show, after it came to an end, someone created a revival to keep the legacy going but this one definitely wasn’t as well received.
In fact, The All New Captain Kangaroo only lasted one year in the late ’90s before it was canceled. It was produced by Saban Entertainment and the new Captain was played by John McDonough. Bob Keeshan wanted nothing to do with it!
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is considered a spin-off
Paul Reubens is famous for his fictional character Pee-Wee Herman and he got his own show in the ’80s and ’90s.
Reubens used to watch Captain Kangaroo when he was a kid so it shouldn’t be surprising that he was influenced by it when he started his own kids’ show! Pee-wee’s Playhouse had a similar format with a talking clock, a magic screen, celebrity guest stars, and cartoons.
The Smithsonian Institution honored the show
You know your show was a popular and influential one when the Smithsonian puts it in their museum collection!
Captain Kangaroo may have ended 29 years ago but it still lives on in not only people’s memories but also at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Fans can see the infamous navy blue jacket and Mr. Moose too!
The name Kangaroo came from his coat
Speaking of that iconic navy blue jacket that Keeshan wore almost every episode when portraying the Captain…
Captain Kangaroo wasn’t just a random nickname. In fact, the kangaroo part of it came from the fact that his jacket pockets were so big they were like a kangaroo’s pouch! I bet he could fit a baby in them or, at least, a puppy!
Frank Zappa wrote two songs about the show
Frank Zappa was a rock musician starting in 1955 and continuing his career until 1993 and two of his songs caused an urban legend!
On his album “Uncle Meat,” he wrote a song called “Mr. Green Genes” and then a sequel to the song in his “Hot Rats” album titled “Son of Mr. Green Genes.” Both of these songs are referring to Brannum’s character and rumor came out that Zappa was his son! It was disproven, though. Zappa was just a fan.
Keeshan got into music!
It seems like there isn’t anything Captain Kangaroo can’t do and that includes making some albums!
Of course, his primary objective was to give kids different types of music and classical songs. Keeshan produced many albums over the years via Golden Records and Columbia Records including Captain Kangaroo Introduces You to the Nutcracker Suite and A Treasure House of Best-Loved Children’s Songs.
Captain Kangaroo was racially diverse
This was a big deal back then and Captain Kangaroo was one of the first racially-integrated children’s shows.
Some even consider it to be the first kids show do to this. They started when African-American James Wall was cast to be the Captain’s neighbor Mr. Baxter. The show also had Kevin Clash and Bill Cosby.
Brannum got bit by a lion one episode!
I bet this was an episode that Brannum never forgot because it isn’t every day you get bit by a lion on set!
During one episode that was broadcast live, the show featured a lion cub and it managed to bite Mr. Green Jeans’ finger. Brannum kept his cool, though, and finished the episode while hiding his bloody hand in his pocket.
Captain Kangaroo was supposed to come back in 2011
Twenty-seven years after the show ended, the Cashin Comedy Co. bought the trademark to Captain Kangroo and Pat Cashin was going to portray the Captain.
His plan, as a professional clown, was going to bring him back to life, the big jacket and all. Yet, he sadly passed away before he could do so and the rights for the show are still up for sale.
Black Dynamite featured the Captain
While we didn’t get to see Captain Kangaroo in 2011, we did see the beloved character in the 2009 movie Black Dynamite.
The movie was a 1970s Blaxploitation parody action film and fans were surprised to see their childhood character in a random appearance. Captain Kangaroo also made a cameo in Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
PBS tried to keep the show alive
After Captain Kangaroo came to an end just shy of its 30th anniversary, some people weren’t ready to see it go including PBS.
In 1986, PBS decided to keep the show alive for seven more years by mixing newly produced segments with old episodes. They did give the show a new theme song, though, titled “Here Comes Captain Kangaroo.”
There were two major changes in 1971
In the episode that aired on May 17, 1971, fans definitely noticed some major changes even though they were pretty subtle.
For off, Bob Keeshan switched out his iconic navy blue jacket for a red coat but it still had big pockets! The other change was the Captain’s house was renovated and had its named changed from “The Treasure House” to “The Captain’s Place.”
1981 was a weird year for this show
While those changes lasted until the show ended in 1984, the changes that CBS tried in 1981 didn’t stick!
Starting in September of 1981, Captain Kangaroo went from being an hour-long show to a 30-minute show and was moved to an earlier time slot on the channel. CBS also changed the name to Wake Up with the Captain but all these changes were reverted the following year.
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