1 9 5 5 – 1 9 8 4 (USA)
The longest-running network children’s show of all time, Captain Kangaroo left an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of children during its 30 years on television.
The host, Bob Keeshan, was a gentle man whose jacket had large pockets – much like a kangaroo. He entertained home viewers from his Treasure House with stories and lessons in morality. Other lessons were provided by Mr Green Jeans, a farmer who brought animals to the show and taught kids about their habits.
The show featured several other regulars, including the mischievous Mr Moose, bespectacled Mr Bunny Rabbit, sleepy Grandfather Clock (who spoke in rhymes), curious Miss Frog, quiet Mr Whispers and Dennis, the bumbling handyman. But perhaps none was more memorable (or surreal) than the clown they called the Banana Man.
Clad in a very large coat, the Banana Man entered the set, and the act began. He pulled everything out of his coat, from watermelons to his trademarked bananas, all the while speaking only one word: an extended “wooooww” in a silly voice.
By the end of his bit, the Banana Man had turned his pockets’ contents into a train, with bananas in every car. Then both the train and the Banana Man left, leaving kids to wonder, “What the heck was that all about?”.
In addition to the live-action and puppet segments, Captain Kangaroo broadcast several Terrytoons animated shorts, including The Adventures Of Tom Terrific, the continuing saga of a boy who could turn himself into anything, and his partner Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog.
In the 1970s, the characters Mr Baxter and Debby were added to the show. Also, at this time, the first-ever cartoons from the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare appeared on the show.
Titled The Most Important Person, these shorts taught kids about health and happiness. Later in the decade, the show featured an (Australian-produced) animated series on dental hygiene called The Toothbrush Family.
Throughout the years, the Captain had visits from such celebrity guests as Dick Shawn, Imogene Coca, Alan Arkin, Pearl Bailey, Carol Channing, Marlo Thomas, Andy Williams, Doug Henning and Eli Wallach.
Beginning in 1980, Bill Cosby became a regular contributor to the programme, and the beloved comedian ended up taking over the Captain’s duties on one of the show’s many popular segments, Picture Pages.
Originally broadcast live and in black and white on a daily basis, Captain Kangaroo added a sixth day (Saturday) in 1956, lost the sixth day and went to videotape in 1959, and was broadcast in colour by the end of the 1960s. Other than that, very little changed on the show.
The formula held up for over three decades, and in the end, it was CBS’s pressure to compete with NBC’s The Today Show that doomed Captain Kangaroo.
The network kept pushing the show to an earlier and earlier slot in the morning and demanded shorter broadcast time in order to accommodate an expanded CBS Morning News.
The show was briefly revived as Wake Up in 1981, airing at 7.00 am.
In 1982, the show, which had been fiercely defended by parents and educators alike, was moved to weekends (a new show on Saturday and a repeat on Sunday). Two years later, Captain Kangaroo was off the air permanently.
Bob Keeshan, who played Captain Kangaroo, got his start on children’s television playing Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show from 1948-52. After Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan hosted CBS Storybreak before being replaced by Malcolm Jamal Warner.
A few new Captain Kangaroo segments were edited in with old material for a brief PBS run in the early ’90s, bringing the Captain back for one last reminder of what kids’ TV is really all about.
1997 saw the broadcast of a revised version of the original CBS series – The All New Captain Kangaroo – with John McDonough as Captain Kangaroo and George Cahill as Mr Green Jeans. The Captain was once again aided by puppet characters Mr Moose, Bunny Rabbit and Grandfather Clock.
New to the show were Joey the Kangaroo and animal experts Margo McKnight (from Busch Gardens) and Chuck Cureau (from Sea World).
Bob Keeshan had expressed interest in reprising his role for this new show, but the producers said they couldn’t use him. When it became obvious the show was on the verge of cancellation, the producers contacted him to make an appearance as an endorsement for the new Captain. He declined.
Keeshan died in Windsor, Vermont, on 23 January 2004, aged 76.
Mr Green Jeans
Hugh ‘Lumpy’ Brannum
Dennis the Handyman
Mr Bunny Rabbit
Orville the Dragon