Before the age of satellite and cable television, DVRs, streaming services, and YouTube, there only one show designed for kiddies to watch on weekday mornings. For nearly 30 years, Bob Keeshan enchanted audiences around the nation as Captain Kangaroo.
Every morning we’d wake up to see our favorite Captain unlocking the doors to the Treasure House. After you sat through the show’s iconic theme song, you knew you were in store for a ton of fun for the next hour.
Keeshan’s eccentric yet warm and friendly demeanor was kind of like seeing your favorite grandpa on TV. This was something that countless other show’s geared towards children have since tried to emulate – with varying degrees of success.
Before he landed the role as Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan had portrayed the original Clarabell the Clown on NBC’s The Howdy Doody Show during the early years of the network. As the Captain, Keeshan, with his oversized pockets and trademark coat, would tell stories, meet guests. And take part in a number of silly stunts and shenanigans alongside a cast of familiar characters. Some of whom were real people while others were puppets.
Throughout the show’s 30-year run, Keeshan performed as the Captain more than 9,000 times while appearing in over 6,000 episodes of the beloved series. So, it’s not surprising that when TLC rebooted the series in 1997. And decided to get another actor to play the Captain that he was absolutely livid! Also not surprising is the fact that this newer show absolutely bombed without it’s signature frontman!
Join Facts Verse and keep watching to learn all about this incredibly dicey chapter in Captain Kangaroo Revival history. We’ll also be touching on why the original series canceled and what happened to it’s cast members after it’s cancelation.
Beb Keeshan Already A Beloved Children’s TV Star Before Captain Kangaroo
Although Keeshan and Captain Kangaroo would eventually become synonymous with each other. Bob was, in fact, already pretty well known among younger audiences before his lengthy run as the Captain.
Keeshan was born to Irish parents in Lynbrook, New York, on June 27, 1927. After enlisting in the Marines in World War II, Keeshan attended Fordham University on the GI Bill. He ended up receiving his Bachelor’s in education in 1951.
Network TV programs started airing shortly after the end of the war.
For those that were alive to watch one of the first hit network series, NBC’s The Howdy Doody Show, back in the late 40s and early-50s. You might recall that Keeshan played Clarabell The Clown. Since Clarabell was a mute clown, his signature move was to honk a horn to get the attention of the quirky sitcom’s characters.
In order to communicate, Clarabell would honk once for ‘yes’ and two for ‘no’. In addition to honking his horn, Clarabell would frequently splash Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle and play other practical jokes.
After leaving Howdy Doody in 1952, Keeshan briefly appeared on New York’s WABC-TV’s children’s show Time For Fun. Playing yet another clown named Corny. Later that year, he began appearing in a show geared towards preschoolers called Tinker’s Workshop. In which he played a grandfather-like character named Tinker.
While drawing inspiration from Tinker’s Workshop, Keeshan and his life-long friend Jack Miller developed the concept for Captain Kangaroo and submitted it to CBS. Who were looking for innovative ideas for children’s programming.
CBS ended up accepting the proposal and got to work developing the series. Keeshan debuted as the title character when Captain Kangaroo premiered on CBS on the third of October, 1955.
Of note is the fact that Captain Kangaroo premiered on the same day as another popular and trailblazing children’s TV show – The Mickey Mouse Club.
Captain Kangaroo, just like that classic Mouse House program, was an immediate success and proceeded to air for the better part of the next thirty years.
The series is noteworthy for a number of reasons, but one of it’s biggest claims to fame is the fact that it’s the record holder for being the longest running children’s show on commerical television. Only one other kid’s show, Sesame Street, has lasted longer. But it ran on public televison before hopping over to HBO and it’s sister streaming service HBO Max in 2020.
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Keeshan Furious When He Snubbed With the Reboot
In the mid-90s, some not-so-bright television execs over at Saban Entertainment and TLC Entertainment got the idea to bring back Captain Kangaroo for an entirely new series called The All New Captain Kangaroo.
But instead of calling up Keeshan and inviting him to reprise his iconic role. They enlisted a relatively unknown actor named John McDonough to play the titular character instead. Why they ever thought that this was going to work is a mystery, but not surprisingly, the show failed to either lure back in old school fans of the original series nor create a new generation of Captain Kangaroo fans.
The new series with McDonough at the helm aired for just one season before canceled due to lack of viewership.
Keeshan is said to have so insulted by not being asked to reprise his role that he refused to make a guest appearance when The All New Captain Kangaroo producers asked him to come in to briefly play a character called ‘The Admiral’.
Another Reboot Was In The Works But Never Came To Light
In 2011, rumors began to swirl that a new revival of Captain Kangaroo was in the works after a professional clown, entertainer, and blogger named Pat Cashin bought the rights to the character. Cashin had aspirations of bringing Captain Kangaroo back to the small screen. But his plans were thwarted after he suddenly passed away at the age of 48 in 2016.
After his passing, Cashin’s will left the rights to the character with his estate. Leaving the future of any potential forthcoming Captain Kangaroo projects looking very improbable.
There are those that say that the character Captain Kangaroo has run his course and that modern audiences wouldn’t interested in seeing him make another appearance onscreen. While others insist that there is still a great deal of untapped magic in the character that deserves to be explored. Whether or not we’ll ever see a new incarnation of Captain Kangaroo remains not be seen. But given the status of the show’s intellectual property rights, it would likely be very tricky to bring such a project to fruition.
Cancellation and The Fate Of The Show’s Cast
Keeshan suffered a major heart attack on July 11, 1981, shortly after stepping off a plane at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. At the time, Captain Kangaroo was still on the air, but Keeshan’s health issues forced him to start revamping the show. Ultimately, this meant that it cut back to a thirty-minute format.
He then underwent triple-bypass surgery. While recovering in the hospital, Keeshan reportedly received 5,000 get-well cards and letters from his fans.
After rebranded as Wake Up with the Captain and given a new 7:00 AM time slot. CBS noticed that the show experiencing a rapid decline in viewership.
In 1982, CBS swapped it’s time slot once again and retooled the series as a weekend-only hour-long offering. Two years later, in 1984, it became a Saturday morning-only offering.
Sick and tired of CBS constantly reducing his show’s length and switching around it’s time slot. Keeshan left Captain Kangaroo after his contract ended in December 1984.
Keeshan went on to host CBS’s Saturday Morning children’s anthology series Storybreak in 1985. In 1987, he founded Corporate Family Solutions, a day-care program provider, with the help of Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander.
Keeshan spent the last 14 years of his life living in Norwich, Vermont, where he became an author and served as a children’s advocate. He strongly opposed to violent video games and took part in in congressional hearings on the subject in 1993.
In the late 80s, Keeshan also joined forces with parent’s groups to protest kids TV shows like He-Man and Transformers. Seeing such offerings as not sufficiently teaching children anything meaningful about the real world.
In 1993, he briefly tossed around the idea of rebooting Captain Kangaroo as a way of countering the violent television programming that was popular with kids at the time. But despite having sponsorship and TV stations lined up. He was unable to obtain the rights to the IP from the ICM Partners. The company that owned the rights to Captain Kangaroo at that time.
On January 23, 2004, Keeshan died in Windsor, Vermont, at the age of 76. While it’s not known precisely what he died of. His family issued a statement that said he had succumbed to a long illness of some kind.
Mr Green Jeans
Hugh Brannum played Captain Kangaroo’s trusty sidekick Mr. Green Jeans.
The character was a fan favorite who earned his moniker thanks to his distinctive apparel. At first, he wore a pair of farmer’s overalls, but later on he started wearing jeans and a denim jacket. Since the show was broadcast in black and white for the bulk of it’s run. It left to the viewer’s imagination to picture the character’s vibrantly green trousers.
In addition to playing Mr. Green Jeans, Brannum played several other characters on the show from 1955 to 1984, including Greeno the Clown, The New Old Folk Singer, Mr. Nainter the Painter, and the Professor.
Brannum retired from acting after Captain Kangaroo came to an end. He died of cancer in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1987 at 77.
This talented actor and voice artist provided the voices for many of the beloved puppet characters featured in Captain Kangaroo. Allegretti voiced Mr. Moose, Dancing Bear, Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Grandfather Clock, Rollo the Hippopotamus, and several others.
Cosmo got his start painting sets in the early years of the series. Eventually, he volunteered to make a replacement puppet after the show’s producers dissatisfied with a puppet created by another designer. After proving his worth as a puppeteer, Allegretti offered a position as a cast regular.
As an actor, Allegretti also appeared in films such as 1977s Sorcerer and 1990s Street Hunter.
Allegretti had homes in Hampton Bays, New York and New River, Arizona. He died of emphysema at the age of 86 on July 26, 2013.
Now that we’ve pretty much wrapped up things on our end, we’d love to hear from you!
Did you know that Bob Keeshan snubbed when producers of The All New Captain Kangaroo wee casting the reboot series in 1997. And did you know that before playing Captain Kangaroo for nearly thirty years he was famous for playing Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show?
Let us know in the comments.
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