Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #3! Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan!

What is it about childhood TV memories that make them so indelible? Was it that we only knew three or four tunes, so the Captain Kangaroo theme song immediately achieved an honored spot in our brains?  Did we just love things so much more deeply back then?  Or was children's TV simply so charming, innocent and well-intentioned that one simply couldn't ever forget it?  All three or none of those reasons, perhaps, but no matter the explanation, the contributions of Bob Keeshan (born on this date in 1927) and his immortal character Captain Kangaroo still loom large in the hearts of boomers and those born up until the '80s. (Another milestone of Keeshan's was originating the Clarabelle the Clown character for The Howdy Doody Show.)

There's nothing more Nose-talgic than watching this little clip of the open of Captain Kangaroo in charming black and white with no CGI or fancy effects, just Bob Keeshan being cute.

For those not old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo, the basic history is that it was a children's entertainment and educational series on CBS, mostly airing Monday - Friday mornings in the early years for an hour, sometimes also scheduled on weekends, sometimes only half-hours, beginning on October 3, 1955 and ending December 8, 1984.  (For the complete breakdown of its broadcast history check out its Wikipedia page which has a lot of terrific background info).

Actor/producer Bob Keeshan played the Captain, a whimsical fellow in a red coat with white piping (or not, if you were watching during the non-color years up until 1966) who welcomed you into his world of unique characters including farmer Mr. Green Jeans, a talking Grandfather Clock and a loquacious moose.  (For those wondering if Mr. Rogers and the Captain coincided on air, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood began in 1966 and aired until around 2008.)

Here's another longer clip, beginning with the open then into a musical sequence.  After that it's a very loosely  performed comedy bit with Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Brannum) with an almost surreal quality that wouldn't have been out of place on late-night shows designed for adults.  It's got a talk-show kind of vibe actually, which in essence Captain Kangaroo was, with guests dropping in and interacting with the relaxed Keeshan. While Fred Rogers' style of relaxed was more in the Perry Como mode, Keeshan had a slightly more absurdist jazzy cool about him, and in fact he made a children's record album introducing kids to jazz music as well as other kids records.

Here's a clip with Keeshan as the Captain appearing with a local Ohio kids TV clown named Flippo.  Both are playing it loose and silly.

Captain Kangaroo's place as a trusted children's advocate and adult figure also made him a great spokesman for public service ads, as you can see here, from 1980 and 1983.  The first one is particularly pertinent even today since vaccinating kids for common and dangerous childhood diseases seems to have fallen out of favor in some circles.

Finally, take a time travel ride back to March 4, 1961 with this episode of Captain Kangaroo complete with opening commercial for Girl Scouts featuring an actress whose name I can't recall at the moment -- please put it in the comments here if you do know her name! (Looks kind of like actress Catherine McLeod who was in movies, soaps & commercials, but not sure at all about that...)

Bob Keeshan passed away on January 23, 2004.  A true treasure trove of information about his career and contributions to TV can be enjoyed in this 7-part interview with him by the Television Academy-sponsored Archive of American Television, available by clicking on the link here.

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