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The Depressing Final Days of Debbie Weems & Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo)

Although children’s shows might seem innocent on the surface, plenty of children’s shows have had their fair share of darkness going on behind the scenes. Sometimes that darkness is the result of one or more of the stars partaking in controversial behavior. And while sometimes it’s simply the result of a tragic event that looms over the cast and crew. One such children’s show with darkness in it’s history is Captain Kangaroo. Not only was it’s main star embroiled in a modest amount of controversy before his death. But another star also died a tragic death at all too young of an age. Join Facts Verse as we attempt to uncover the depressing final days of Debbie Weems and Bob Keeshan from Captain Kangaroo.

Captain Kangaroo first started airing in 1955, and stayed on the air until 1984. Over the course of it’s run, the show quickly became a staple of children’s programming. Many generations of kids were raised on the show, and grew to love it’s titular host. Captain Kangaroo was the show’s titular host, and the role performed by a man by the name of Bob Keeshan.

Bob had a history with children’s programming before given his own show. He played the original incarnation of Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show. On that show, Bob had a notable feud with the show’s main performer, Buffalo Bob Smith. This feud lead to Bob eventually fired. And this is what allowed the opportunity for Bob to the create Captain Kangaroo.

Bob had a few controversies on the set of Captain Kangaroo, but the darkest secret of the show’s past had little to do with Bob himself. Instead, the true tragedy of Captain Kangaroo is centered around one of it’s many featured performers, a young woman by the name of Debbie Weems.

Debbie Weems, or Deborah, was born on February 1, 1950. She was born in Houston, Texas. During her early childhood, her parents separated and both remarried. In her later childhood, Debbie attended the Interlochen Arts Academy, a prestigious arts school located in the state of Michigan. While there, she performed the lead role in a number of productions. And including Annie Get Your Gun and The King and I. After attending the Interlochen Arts Academy, she attended the Boston Conservatory of Music for a couple of years. At that school, she once again performed lead in a few major productions, those being Once Upon a Mattress and Carnival. In 1970, Debbie finished with her time at the Boston Conservatory of Music and moved to New York City to pursue a serious career in theater.

Debbie’s first New York City job was the off-Broadway production Godspell. This opportunity blossomed into Debbie becoming a regular stock player in productions at the Lakewood Musical Playhouse. This theater was located in Barnesville, Pennsylvania. Through the early 1970s, Debbie performed in a number of productions at the Lakewood Musical Playhouse. She performed side roles in another production of Once Upon a Mattress, as well as Brigadoon, The Most Happy Fella, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Eventually, she’s given the titular lead in the play Mame, after it’s original lead dropped out. Although Debbie only had one day to prepare for the role, she gave it her all and made it her own. Around this time, Debbie also began appearing in a number of television commercials. Soon, she was going to be given her breakout role as a featured performer on Captain Kangaroo.

Debbie Weems brought onto Captain Kangaroo in 1973. At this point, the show had on television for nearly two decades, so it already had a gigantic potential audience that Debbie could tap into. Debbie became a huge hit with the kids, and given her own tie-in album in 1976. This album was appropriately titled Debbie Weems Sings Songs from Captain Kangaroo. This album released by Wonderland Records, and marked a high point in Debbie’s career. Later that year, Debbie featured in a TV Guide article detailing her rise to fame. Soon enough, Debbie was one of the most popular performers on Captain Kangaroo. However, the fame wasn’t going to last for long.

Success on Captain Kangaroo was a double-edged sword for Debbie. Although her role on the show had granted her an incredibly wide audience, it had also limited her ability to get other jobs in more mature productions. Everywhere she went, Debbie felt she was being typecast based on the innocent persona that she showcased on Captain Kangaroo. Debbie only able to get one other role during her tenure on the show. And that was a small role in the 1977 film Between the Lines.

Perhaps as a result of her struggle to taken seriously as an artistic force in the entertainment industry. Debbie began developing some serious issues. These included depression, as well as anorexia. It is common for struggling actresses to turn to eating disorders thinking that might help them get better roles. Sadly, depression is usually the result.

In early 1978, less than five years into her tenure on Captain Kangaroo, Debbie admitted into a treatment facility in Connecticut. On February 22, an attendant from the facility accompanied Debbie to her Manhattan apartment to retrieve some personal things. However, something went wrong. The story goes that, once at the apartment, Debbie jumped out of the 16th story window of the building. Unsurprisingly, the impact killed her. And the death was officially ruled a suicide by the police. At the time of her death, she was only 27.

Although Debbie passed away in February, she had filmed enough Captain Kangaroo footage that episodes featuring her continued airing into the summer of 1978. Little did the kids at home know that the life of one of their favorite performers had ended so tragically by her own hand. Debbie’s tragic story is emblematic of a broader strand of darkness flowing underneath the world of children’s television. As is usually the case with what you see on TV, children’s television performers are rarely ever as happy or innocent as they appear. This is true whether you’re talking about Debbie, or Captain Kangaroo himself.

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Bob Keeshan was 76 years old when he died in 2004. Although there had been some mild controversies in his past, he was still a beloved icon at the time of his death. And remains so to many. The performer had suffered from heart problems since the 1980s. And it was believed that these the cause of his death. Over the course of his career, Bob had performed as Captain Kangaroo over 9,000 times.

Bob was born Robert Keeshan on June 27, 1927. He was born in Lynbrook on Long Island, New York. Although his parents weren’t part of the entertainment industry, Young Bob became interested in radio programming while attending school. In 1943, Bob’s mother died of a heart attack. This episode caused the young man a great deal of stress, but he persevered through his education. In 1944, Bob received a position as a page at NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center. He continued his high school career in the daytime while working at the studio during the night. At NBC, Bob managed the audiences of many popular radio shows.

After graduating, Bob enlisted in the Marines. However, he didn’t see any combat. He was in the Marines for a year before returning to New York City and his job at NBC. Bob promoted to a receptionist on the fourth floor, with a desk right next to the office of one Buffalo Bob Smith. For those that don’t know, Bob Smith is the pioneer and star performer of The Howdy Doody Show. Although Buffalo Bob Smith wasn’t a star yet, the two Bobs became friends.

A few years later, Buffalo Bob Smith given The Howdy Doody Show, and he hired Bob Keeshan to play the character of Clarabell the Clown. Although the two Bobs started out as friends, their relationship eventually turned sour. Bob Smith derided Bob Keeshan in front of the rest of the cast and crew, and eventually fired him. However, Bob Keeshan’s experience as a children’s performer lead to NBC giving him his own show. This is how Captain Kangaroo was born, and it proved to be a huge success for the network.

The Howdy Doody Show has a tragedy of it’s own surrounding it’s history, although neither of the two Bobs directly responsible. One of the featured performers on the show was a young actress by the name of Judy Tyler. Although she’s only a teenager during her time on the show, Judy was known to interact promiscuously with some of the cast and crew. This type of unhealthy lifestyle said to what lead to the actress dying at the young age of 24.

Although Bob Keeshan never directly tied to any of the darkness surrounding either Captain Kangaroo, time has shown that he wasn’t completely innocent. It has revealed that Bob used to pull his penis out on set to shock one of his costars, Hugh Brannum. Hugh Brannum played the character of Mr. Green Jeans. Despite how it may sound, especially in today’s climate, it seems as if Bob and Hugh were both in on the joke. Apparently, Hugh turned the tables on Bob one day during a recording by pulling his own penis out and peeing on Bob’s leg.

Captain Kangaroo certainly isn’t the only television program that had adult matters occurring behind the scenes. Comment down below to share your favorite dark story from children’s television, or if you were a fan of Captain Kangaroo growing up that shocked to learn about the tragic demise of Debbie Weems. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are coming your way!

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