The MediaLog MediaFix: "Captain Kangaroo"

"Captain Kangaroo" was one of the longest-running and most beloved children's television programs in history. It was a mainstay on CBS weekday mornings from the mid-1950s until the early-1980s. Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) was an avuncular, kindly, and gentle host second only to Fred Rogers. "Captain Kangaroo," although similar in some ways to Rogers' "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," had its own distinctive flavor, one that included a supporting cast of colorful human and puppet characters (such as Mr. Green Jeans, Slim Goodbody, Mr. Moose, and Bunny Rabbit), instructive yet entertaining features such as Goodbody's health lessons and Bill Cosby's "Picture Pages," and a light atmosphere that encouraged whimsy and playfulness while maintaining (as Rogers' show did) a spine of educational value.

My description of "Captain Kangaroo" is based on my own recollections as a viewer of the show in its last several years in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The show by that time had evolved considerably from what it was in its early years, as the below excerpts from different periods of its run demonstrate. I remember well watching the program as a child and having my parents tell me how they too had watched it when they were young, in the mid- to late-1950s. Even then, I felt a sense of wonder at the fact that my parents, when they were my age, had watched the same program that I enjoyed so much.

The following four clips span the history of "Captain Kangaroo" and provide a glimpse both of the changes in the show over three decades and of the kinds of characteristics that entertained several generations of children.

"Captain Kangaroo" opening from 1962

In the early years, Captain Kangaroo (from what I've been able to tell) was a little more rough-edged and less charming than he was later on, and he spent his time in what he called the "treasure house." (As far as I know and remember, this term was not used in the later years of the program.) This clip features the opening title and music and shows the Captain arriving at the treasure house on a Saturday morning, at a time when the show aired on Saturdays in addition to weekdays.

"Captain Kangaroo" opening from 1968

From several years later, this opening is in the form of a nautical skit performed by Captain Kangaroo and (I think) Mr. Green Jeans. The opening title is the same style as in the 1962 clip, but now the program is (obviously) in color. A bonus here is the slate at the beginning of the clip, indicating that it came not from the episode as broadcast but from (probably) a production tape from either the production company or the network.

"Captain Kangaroo" opening from 1976

Now this is the animated opening to "Captain Kangaroo" that I remember from my childhood. Although I don't remember this part, I think the variety of personalities saying good morning to the Captain that introduces the opening was a regular part of the show by this point, with different clips used from day to day.

"Captain Kangaroo" segment featuring Mr. Moose

This clip from the later years of "Captain Kangaroo" (from probably the late-1970s) shows the Captain and the surroundings (now called the "Captain's Place") that I remember. Featured here also is Mr. Moose, one of the show's two main puppets (at least by this time). The other main puppet, Bunny Rabbit (who is referred to here but not seen), had an ongoing gag with the Captain in which the bunny would attempt to trick the Captain into giving him some carrots, which factors into the "punchline" for the segment.

When "Captain Kangaroo" premiered in 1955, "Howdy Doody" was still one of the top children's programs (and had provided Keeshan with his first big TV job, as the original Clarabell the Clown); by the time the Captain went off the air (in 1984, having appeared in a truncated version called "Wake Up with the Captain" for its last couple of years), it was the last regular daily network children's program.

As far as I've been able to determine, there has yet to be any DVD release of "Captain Kangaroo" in any form. Several old VHS releases of "Captain Kangaroo" material (such as one entitled "Captain Kangaroo: Fairy Tales and Funny Stories") compile excerpts around different themes, but these do not include full episodes of the show. A revival of "Captain Kangaroo" (with a different actor--John McDonough--playing the Captain!) aired for a short time in the late-1990s, and Bob Keeshan passed away in 2004.

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