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The Story of Captain Kangaroo

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 4, 2024 3:01 am

The Story of Captain Kangaroo

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 4, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, on October 3, 1955, a television program debuted that would eventually produce nearly 9,000 shows over a span of 40 years. Here’s the History Guy with the story of Captain Kangaroo.

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His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also a regular contributor for us here at Our American Stories. On October 3, 1955, a television program debuted that would eventually produce nearly 9,000 shows over a span of almost 40 years. Here's The History Guy with the story of Captain Kangaroo.

If you want to know how history can be forgotten, just look at popular culture where a song or a movie or a television program can become incredibly popular and important to one generation and then wholly unrecognized by the next. The first week in October represents the anniversary of the first airing of a television show that for many of you will bring back a flood of memories, but for others, well, leave you completely befuddled. I was one of millions of children whose childhood weekdays almost always started with the words.

Good morning, Captain. Robert James Keeshon was born June 17, 1927, on Long Island. The son of an Irish immigrant who was an executive with a grocery company. In his 1996 autobiography, he describes an idyllic childhood growing up in the New York City suburb, Forest Hills. His life however changed dramatically when his mother died suddenly when he was just 15. Such a loss could pull a young man off the rails, but he credited the school guidance counselor named Gertrude Farley for demanding that he find his way once again.

He graduated in 1945 and enlisted in the service in the last year of the Second World War. This has led to one of the most enduring myths about Bob Keeshon. There's a popularly shared web story that says that actor Lee Marvin said during an episode of The Tonight Show that his life was saved during the Battle of Iwo Jima by Bob Keeshon. It's a very persistent story.

I came upon it several times while doing research for this episode, despite the fact that it is entirely untrue. But it does have a kernel of truth, and that is that both Bob Keeshon and Lee Marvin were Marines. Marvin, three years older than Keeshon, served with the 4th Marine Division and participated in the assaults on Inouetic in Saipan, where he was wounded. But not at Iwo Jima. Keeshon enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in the summer of 1945 and was training for the invasion of the home islands when atomic weapons brought an end to the war, and he never saw combat. He did, however, pay credit to his brief service.

In his autobiography entitled Good Morning Captain, 50 Wonderful Years with Bob Keeshon, TV's Captain Kangaroo, he said, Paris Island is not a place of fond memory, but it is a place of positive memories. I would never trade my Marine Corps experience for anything. The training, the character building are second to none.

To this day, I call upon that training, and it has never failed me. Keeshon had worked part-time as a page at NBC Radio and returned to the job after the war while attending college at night. At NBC, he got a start in early television on the iconic show Howdy Doody. The parenting website Hub Pages explains that Keeshon was a bottom rung assistant to Buffalo Bob on the Howdy Doody show, originally Puppet Playhouse, entertaining the peanut gallery and keeping them orderly.

This would lead to an iconic role as Hub Pages continues. He became Clarabelle the Clown when a network exec told him to create a clown costume so it would not accidentally appear on screen in street clothes. He didn't speak on screen because he would have been paid more to do so.

Keeshon and much of the cast were laid off in 1952, possibly in a dispute over pay. While some references suggest that he and Buffalo Bob Smith didn't get along, Keeshon didn't mention it when commenting on Smith in a 1987 history of the Howdy Doody show. Bob Smith is my father in the business. I give him 100% credit for my success because I would not be here today if I hadn't learned all the technical aspects of the medium from him.

I put what he taught me to work on Captain Kangaroo and we ran for 30 years. Three different actors played Clarabelle the Clown over the run of the Howdy Doody show, but Bob Keeshon was by far the most recognized of those. And in 1990, he was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame. And if his entry in the show business was somewhat unorthodox, it is perhaps even more surprising that he remained in show business after leaving the Howdy Doody show. The website Famous Clowns notes that many of his colleagues thought that this was the end of Bob Keeshon's foray into television.

After all, he couldn't sing or play an instrument. He was untrained and really not qualified as an entertainer. But stay he did, again playing a clown on a noontime children's program broadcast in New York City. IMDB explains, sitting on a park bench with a cocker spaniel by his side, Horny the Clown gently talked to the kids between cartoons. The show ran from 1953 to 1955.

It was in 1954, however, that Keeshon had another opportunity as well. He wanted to do a weekday children's show. The website TV Party explains that he got the chance to do so. The programming director at Channel 7, Adrian Rodion, told him, You've been asking the station for a year to try and do a weekday morning kids TV show.

Well, you've got your chance. Have the pilot ready by Monday morning. Thus, Keeshon and director Jack Miller developed the show over a single weekend. It was called Tinker's Workshop.

By Monday, TV Party explains, Tinker's Workshop was open for business. The show, set in a workshop in a Swiss village, was only shown locally in New York City. But in that city, it started beating NBC's Today Show and CBS's Morning Show in the ratings.

And that drew the attention of network executives. CBS had been struggling to find success with the morning children's show. The website School Days explains, the heads of CBS TV had auditioned a few kids TV show concepts with former jazz band vocalist and one time Miami, Florida, kids TV emcee Merv Griffin. Folk singer, musician, songwriter and storyteller Frank Luther and comedy performer and singer Jerry Colana.

None of their series pilots worked out. Keeshon based his new character on the relationship between children and their grandparents, a relationship that Keeshon says he explored originally with the Tinker character, calling Tinker the father of Captain Kangaroo. The kangaroo part came from the oversized pockets on the lower part of his bright red coat that were so large that resembled a pouch on a kangaroo. Those pockets became so iconic that the lower pockets on the United States Air Force dress uniform became affectionately known as Captain Kangaroo Pockets.

While some authors have suggested that the captain part was because the character was originally supposed to be the captain of the tour guides of the treasure house, Keeshon simply calls it an alliterative promotion. Keeshon's new show first aired October 3, 1955. That same day, another children's classic, the Mickey Mouse Club debuted on rival network ABC. CBS marketed Keeshon's new creation to parents. Good news for parents and for children. Starting tomorrow at 8, CBS television presents the gentlest children's show on the air as the kindly Captain Kangaroo recreates the private wonderland of childhood and his treasure house. It is a live and enthralling hour-long program. In stentorian tomes, the announcers had boys and girls. CBS television presents Captain Kangaroo and his treasure house.

The music started, the doors to the house opened, and an elderly man, jingling a ring of keys, made his way to the large desk and hung the keys on a nail. Wearing a trademark bowl haircut wig and sideburns, Hub Pages says of the character, Captain Kangaroo attempted to reestablish a role for grandparents in the lives of children. For those kids that had no grandparents, he became the sea captain grandfather, a little like Captain January in an old Shirley Temple film. Mr. Keeshon used to say that as he aged, he just needed increasingly less makeup than on his first show as the captain. Keeshon said of the character, Captain Kangaroo treats children as intelligent human beings and never talks down to them.

He is not afraid to ask them to think, and he believes that they have good taste. Blogger Pamela Blaine recalled her experience in a 2004 post. It was Captain Kangaroo who unlocked the treasure house door, and we would come running to watch when we heard the theme song begin on our television sets. Just as small children wait to see the surprise daddy had for us in his pockets when he comes home, in the same way we waited expectantly to see what the grandfatherly Captain Kangaroo would extract from his oversized marsupial jacket that he wore.

And you've been listening to the story of Captain Kangaroo as told by the history guy, and we get to know the man behind the name, and that is Robert James Keeshon, who grew up, idealically, in Forest Hills, New York, and that's in Queens, and actually like just a big suburban town, just minutes from downtown New York City and all those skyscrapers. But then came a dramatic turn. He lost his mom at the age of 18, and one person more than other turned it all around for him, and that was his guidance counselor in high school. And for all of you guidance counselors, teachers, anyone out there who's mentored kids and been there when they needed them the most, thank you to all of you. You just heard it from the history guy that one guidance counselor changed a life. And then came the Marine Corps, which changed his life and shaped his character, and then that job is a page, a page at NBC.

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PetsBest.com. And we continue with Our American Stories and the story of Captain Kangaroo, as told by the history guy. Let's pick up where we last left off. He brought out such outlandish things as large mirrors, bunches of bananas, and even music stands. We all held our breath apprehensively as he absentmindedly laid a bunch of carrots on the counter because the greedy bunny rabbit was known to snatch any carrots away in a split second. And we were never disappointed.

The show also often featured important performers of the day. Captain, Captain, guess who just called? Who? Well, you'll never guess, I'll tell you. Dolly Parton just called, and she's on her way to the captain's place. Dolly Parton called?

She's coming over? Hey, Issa, that's terrific. Hey, how about that? This was not, Keishon argues, because children would recognize them, nor that he was marketing the show to adults. Rather, he wrote, Our famous guests from so many fields were invited for one reason.

It is my belief that children deserve the best performance possible, and these artists were supreme in performing their art. Simple as that. Before you leave, you've got to favor us with a song. Well, that'd be nice, but I didn't bring a guitar.

That's a little detail. I've got a whole bunch of musical instruments here, doll. The captain has everything. There you go, Dolly.

At the captain's place. I'll tell you what, I'll put this on. Dolly, I wonder, could you, if you sing a song, how about singing us a song that you wrote yourself? You know, Dolly Parton composes the most beautiful music, and I'd love to hear a song of your own.

Okay, I'd love to do one, and I'd like to do a special one. This is a true story about a little puppy dog that I had when I was a little girl. A story that happened to you. About my own puppy dog, and I'll dedicate this to you and for you, okay? It's called Cracker Jack.

Ready? The best friend that I ever had was Cracker Jack, but he was more than that. A playmate, a companion, he was love and understanding, that was Cracker Jack. The best friend that I ever had was Cracker Jack, but he was more than that. Why, everything a kid could want I had in Cracker Jack. Come on, boy. Oh, thank you, Dolly.

That was really beautiful. Cracker Jack. The show originally carried a grueling schedule. Since the show was live, it had to be performed twice, once at 8 a.m. Eastern and then a second time at 8 a.m. Central.

There was just a 40-second gap in between the two shows to reset and start again. It wasn't until 1959 that videotape allowed them to tape the first show to play it back for the Midwest audience. The show was unique. For example, Keeshan didn't use a live audience like Howdy Doody as Keeshan saw the medium of television as a way to create a direct connection to children.

I believe that television was too intimate to allow a studio audience to interrupt my relationship with the child at home. Keeshan had strong feelings about the show environment, limiting ads, not allowing the characters to advertise her products. CBS promised the show 20 minutes of animation daily from its Terry Toons studio, purchased by CBS in 1955, but Keeshan felt that the show's offer displayed too much violence.

While acceptable to theatrical audiences of another era, he wrote, they were unsuitable in our opinion for our audience of young people. CBS was very understanding and agreed to allow us to produce entirely new animation at Terry Toons. When Captain Kangaroo first appeared, there was a lot of criticism, who said that children needed television that made them face the harsh realities of life.

Keeshan's response was, that's what everybody else is doing. The Green Valley News notes television was a relatively new addition to most American homes. It 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 considered to be one of the worst offenders. Hub pages opined, for abused children, Captain Kangaroo was the only spot in the day, besides school time, in which these kids could receive a kind word. The Allentown Morning Call writes, from that house came a trove of timeless messages, that children are precious and deserving of our respect, that quality children's television is important, that reading is essential, that time is the most valuable thing parents can give to their children. Keeshan noted that we read more than 5,000 books on the show, many of them multiple times. The show would eventually be seen by more than 200 million children, parents and grandparents. It ran for nearly 30 years on CBS and then another six years on PBS.

It was, in its time, the longest running children's television show in history. He won six Emmy Awards and three Peabody Awards. He was inducted into the Cloud Hall of Fame and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The American Medical Association awarded him a Distinguished Service Award and he received a National Education Award. He earned a Kennedy Center Honor in 1987. But the show's real legacy is in the millions of children who, like me, started our work days with the words, Good morning, Captain.

Hello and how do you do? Writing in his blog, Thoughts on Success, Music and Media, musician Steve Bryan gives a powerful testimony to the meaning of the show. For me, Captain Kangaroo was more than just a television host. When my third grade teacher asked everyone in class to write an essay about their fathers, I sat in my seat for a few minutes and finally began to cry. Mrs. Miller, an excellent educator, quietly ushered me into the hall to determine the cause of my tears. My father died when I was two years old, I told her. I don't remember anything about him.

I have nothing to write about. You can have the best essay in class, she said. If you could pick anybody in the whole world to be your father, who would you choose? Once you decide who that person is, write your report about him.

I didn't hesitate. I looked right at her and I said, Captain Kangaroo. After the show's run, Bob Keishon remained a tireless advocate for many children's causes and testified before Congress about the effects of violence on television. He said that he and his good friend Fred Rogers would often commiserate over what they both thought was the sorry state of children's programming. Odd for a television icon, he would usually give advice to parents to not let TV babysit their children. He famously said one of the big secrets to finding time is not to watch television. Bob Keishon passed away in 2004, beloved by millions but already unrecognized to new generations of children, but his legacy remains. Famous Chicago broadcaster John Calloway said in the Daily Press, ultimately, he was about decency and dignity in the midst of all that silliness. I hope you'll represent something to future programmers of children's television. The children have changed, but what has not changed is their needs. And it is always good to remember the advice that he signed off with for nearly 9,000 episodes over nearly 40 years.

Whatever you do, have a great day. It's dozens of pieces. And what a story he told. What an insight, by the way, to have no live audience. Because he understood the audience, that direct connection was that camera and the kid and his parents sitting at home. And he didn't want any interference.

And this is a huge insight. Perhaps as big as what we learned from the Charles Schulz piece we did in which there was no laugh track in the Charlie Brown's Christmas. He didn't want it.

He didn't need it. And my goodness, what a great choice Charles Schulz made. A groundbreaking choice. By the way, there was lots of criticism, of course, about the fact that kids needed TV that represented the harsh realities of life. To which, of course, Captain Kangaroo, and we're talking about Robert James Keishon, his response, and Fred Rogers, was the kids have more than enough of that. And the way he signed off each and every day, whatever you do, have a good day. And by the way, we need to hear that every day, given the harsh realities of life.

The story of Robert James Keishon, aka Captain Kangaroo, Kennedy Center Award winner, Emmy Award winner, and child advocate, here on Our American Stories. You wouldn't settle for watching a blurry TV, would you? So why settle for just okay TV sound? Upgrade your streaming and sound all in one with Roku Streambar. This powerful 2-in-1 upgrade for any TV lets you stream your favorite entertainment in brilliant 4K HDR picture and hear every detail with auto speech clarity. Whether you're hosting a party or just cleaning the house, turn it up and rock out with iHeartRadio and room-filling sound. Learn more about Roku Streambar today at roku.com.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-04 04:20:55 / 2024-03-04 04:29:56 / 9

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