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Captain Kangaroo
Format Children's Television
Created by Bob Claver
Starring Bob Keeshan
Hugh Brannum
Opening theme "Puffin' Billy (The Captain Kangaroo Theme)" [1]
Country of origin United States
Production
Running time 60 minutes / 30 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Original run October 3, 1955 – December 8, 1984

Captain Kangaroo is a children's television series which aired weekday mornings on the American television network CBS from October 3, 1955 until 1984, making it the longest-running children's television program of its day.[2][3] In 1986, the American Program Service (now American Public Television, Boston) integrated some newly-produced segments into reruns of past episodes, distributing the newer version of the series until 1993.

The show was conceived and the title character played by Bob Keeshan, who based the show on "the warm relationship between grandparents and children." Keeshan was the original Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show when it aired on NBC.

It had a loose structure, built around life in the "Treasure House" (later renamed "The Captain's Place"), where the Captain (whose name came from the big pockets in his coat) would tell stories, meet guests and indulge in silly stunts with regular characters, both humans and puppets. The show was live for its first four years, and was in black-and-white until 1968. In 1983, CBS shortened the hour-long show to a half-hour and moved it to an earlier time-slot. It was canceled by CBS at the end of 1984.

In the TV season of 1997–1998, an All New Captain Kangaroo was attempted by Saban Entertainment. John McDonough played the Captain. It was shot in Tampa, Florida. Keeshan was invited to appear as a special guest called "The Admiral," but after seeing sample episodes, he declined to appear or have any association with the new incarnation. It ran for one season and inspired a spin-off, Mister Moose's Fun Time.

Contents

Cast

Other actors in the show included:

Hugh 'Lumpy' Brannum

Hugh Brannum played the Captain's main sidekick Mr. Green Jeans and other less-frequently seen characters, such as the New Old Folk Singer, who played a double bass (or "bass fiddle") as if it were a guitar, Mr. Bainter, the Painter, Percy, and Uncle Backwards.

Cosmo 'Gus' Allegretti

Cosmo Allegretti created and performed several of the show's best-known puppet characters, including Mr. Bunny Rabbit, who always tricked the Captain into giving him carrots, and Mr. Moose, whose riddles and knock-knock jokes invariably ended with hundreds of ping-pong balls cascading from above and hitting the Captain on the head. Allegretti was the actor who portrayed the Dennis the Apprentice, Miss Frog (the telephone operator), Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and Uncle Ralph characters. He was also the artist behind the Magic Drawing Board.

The Banana Man

Sam Levine played an unusual, mostly mute character known as The Banana Man, who produced huge bunches of bananas from within his coat. He would also magically pull watermelons from his pockets. (Levine replaced the original performer, A. Robins, who died in 1950.[1] [2]Although he was mute, he would continually hum in a falsetto voice, and, when finding several bananas at once in his pocket, would exclaim "Wow!" in a falsetto voice.

Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby was a regular on the show from 1980–1984, when he did Picture Pages educational segments (as had the Captain himself, from 1978–1980).

Debbie Weems

From 1973 until 1977, Debbie Weems (1951–1978) was a regular on Captain Kangaroo. She played many roles, including Debbie the newspaper reporter, and was also an active puppeteer who did the voice for Baby Duck. Weems also sang on many episodes and recorded an album of songs from Captain Kangaroo.

James Wall ("Mr. Baxter")

Jimmy Wall (credited also as "Larry Wall") was a regular on the show from 1968 until 1978. Playing the kindly "Mr. Baxter," he added a sense of calm to the show when all others around him may have been caught up in the silliness. He also starred with the Captain and Mr. Greenjeans in a serialized production entitled "The Missing Paint Mystery" (shown on the program from December, 1969 until 1977; with the exception of 1976) in which the trio travels to Curaçao (a Caribbean island) to confront the playfully evil villain, Garumph (played by Cosmo Allegretti). Wall also worked as a stage manager for CBS on Captain Kangaroo and other CBS broadcasts, including 60 Minutes. Now age 90, Wall continues to work as a CBS stage manager, and on September 1, 2008, was honored for working on his 41st year of the "US Open" tennis tournament. Sportscasters Dick Enberg and John McEnroe commented that Wall still has a strong backhand tennis shot.[4]

Carolyn Mignini

Carolyn Mignini played herself and all the women's roles on Captain Kangaroo from 1981 until the program went off the air in 1993.

Kevin Clash

Kevin Clash was discovered as a puppeteer on a local Baltimore television program and began appearing regularly on Captain Kangaroo from 1980 through 1984. He was the puppeteer for the puppet character Artie (a voice vaguely reminiscent of the one he later used on Sesame Street as Elmo) in puppet segments featuring Ralph and Artie. He also appeared as himself and as an actor in many of the costume sketches on the program.

John Burstein

John Burstein joined the show in 1980 as Slim Goodbody, a man wearing a bodystocking which showed the internal organs of the human body painted on it.

Bill McCutcheon

Bill McCutcheon joined the show after the cancellation of Mr. Mayor. In the former show he played Dudley D. Dudley the substitute statue in Mr. Mayor's town square, and then made guest appearances on Captain Kangaroo.

Cartoons

A cartoon starring a funnel-capped shape-shifting boy named Tom Terrific was part of the show in the 1950s and 1960s. Tom had a sidekick named Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, and a nemesis, Crabby Appleton. Other cartoons included Lariat Sam, which was developed by veteran game show announcer Gene Wood, then a show staffer (who also sang the cartoon's theme song).

The Canadian-British cartoon "Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings," appeared in the 1970s, featuring a child with magic chalk who could create all sorts of short-lived creations in short adventures (the original version featured a British narrator, but Keeshan's voice was dubbed onto the cartoons for their U.S. airing.)

The UK-produced cartoon Ludwig, about a magical egg-shaped robot was also included about that time. The cartoon's musical score consisted of selections from the works of Beethoven.

Also appearing in the 1970s was The Most Important Person, a short series of five-minute segments on the importance of life. These segments would later be incorporated into most syndication prints of The Underdog Show.

There was also a cartoon series called "The Toothbrush Family". Based on an extended family of hygiene utensils as the name suggests, they would embark on adventures based in the bathroom, like water skiing in the tub, or rescuing friends caught in the drain. Episodes were just a couple of minutes each.

A silent cartoon in the 1970s named "Crystal Tipps" featured the adventures of a young girl. Later reruns were narrated by the voice of Mr. Moose.

Another UK favorite, "The Wombles" were also featured.

Re-runs of the CB Bears and Undercover Elephant as well as Motormouse and Autocat (of the Cattanooga Cats) were shown in the 80's run.[citation needed]

Special guests

Among the special guests who made periodic appearances were ventriloquist Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop; Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers), who appeared in a 1975 episode, where he and the Captain try to restore an old gramophone. Comediennes Joan Rivers, Imogene Coca, Phyllis Diller, Charlotte Rae, Ruth Buzzi, and Minnie Pearl made guest appearances, as did opera star Roberta Peters, talk show host Phil Donahue (in 1978), Marlo Thomas, actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel, game show host Bill Cullen, singers Pearl Bailey (several appearances), Dolly Parton, and John Denver and Television performers Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Lorne Greene, Bonnie Franklin, Andy Griffith, The Smothers Brothers, Rita Moreno, Arte Johnson, Fannie Flagg, Gale Gordon, Lucie Arnaz, Ken Berry, Mike Farrell, Dick Shawn, and John Ritter as well as Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Jack Gilford, Paul Sorvino, Hal Linden, Mary Kay Place, Walter Slezak, and Carol Channing, plus there were several appearances by Alan Arkin and one when his son Adam Arkin played Alan's father.

"Good Morning Captain!"

Beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing through the decade, the show would open with several different people wishing the Captain 'good morning.' Many of the openings featured non-celebrities, but also featured stars from TV shows, most of which broadcast over CBS, such as the The Bob Newhart Show and One Day at a Time, as well as other characters with connection to the network, including William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, dressed as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and characters from the Peanuts animation cartoons. The montage of 'good mornings' would always end with the Captain himself returning the greeting before the opening credits ran.

Regular features

Other regular features included The Magic Drawing Board and the Captain's "Reading Stories" sessions, which introduced kids to stories such as Curious George, Make Way for Ducklings, and Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. The Sweet Pickles books were featured.

Songs included Little Mary Make Believe, Guess Who I Am, Little Black Frog, There's a Hole In the Bottom of the Sea, Erie Canal, Horse in Striped Pajamas, The Littlest Snowman, Daniel the Cocker Spaniel, and many many more. On the first show of every month the Captain would have a birthday cake for all of the children with birthdays that month.

Keeshan also had a recurring role as "The Town Clown", a pantomime piece that took place in and around the exposed wagon home of a tramp-like circus clown. Like the character of Clarabelle that he played on Howdy Doody, the Town Clown never spoke.

Favorites on the show were Grandfather Clock (voiced by Gus Allegretti), Rollo the Hippo and Dancing Bear.

Dancing Bear was mute and only appeared in short subject features. He often danced waltzes to background music.

The show would very often have simple black light theatre segments utilizing paper or cardboard cutouts. A notable recording of a popular song, such as Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz), Mary Martin singing Never Never Land (from Peter Pan), or Danny Kaye singing Inchworm (from Hans Christian Andersen) would be heard while the cutouts played on the screen, animated by a concealed puppeteer. On other occasions, full-fledged hand puppets would "perform" to the song being played.

Familiar props included a mockup of a talking cathedral-style radio that Keeshan simply called "Radio". Keeshan would turn the large knobs on "Radio" to get a conversation going. Reminiscent of the old Atwater Kent cathedrals, "Radio" had a rather interesting conversation with a smaller transistor radio in one show. Also featured was a huge Colgate toothpaste box with a large windup or clockwork key on the side. Keeshan turned the key to play a jingle ("Colgate Fluoride M-F-P/Helps Prevent the Cavity/And it Tastes Great, Naturally!") for the show's sponsor, Colgate Toothpaste.

Theme song

The original theme song to Captain Kangaroo (titled "Puffin' Billy") was used from 1955–1974. It was an instrumental, written by Edward G. White. The track was from a British stock music production library known as the Chappell Recorded Music Library which was sold through a New York agency called Emil Ascher. The tune's original title referred to a British steam locomotive. This tune was used on other programs on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, two years before Captain Kangaroo, it served as the wrap-up music for an episode of the radio program Rocky Fortune called "Murder Among the Statues". In its native United Kingdom, it became famous as the theme to the weekly BBC radio program Children's Favourites from 1952 to 1966, and is still widely recognised by the post-war generation. It was later used in the Enid Blyton parody Five Go Mad in Dorset and in a number of British TV adverts, including a Captain Sensible spot. The "Puffin' Billy" theme played as the opening of each episode, with the music continuing until the Captain hung his large ring of keys on a nail (which seemed to act as a switch to turn off the music). If the Captain's keys ever slipped off the nail, the music would begin playing again.

In 1957, lyricist Mary Rogers penned lyrics to the tune, creating a newly titled Captain Kangaroo song.

In 1974, a new theme song was composed for Captain Kangaroo, written by composer Robert L. Brush. As the new theme used similar melodic elements from the original theme, Edward G. White's name was added to the song credits.

Much later, around the 1980s, Schoolhouse Rock mainstay Lynn Ahrens (who composed and performed a few CK songs herself), composed a new theme, entitled "Here Comes Captain Kangaroo".

The theme song for All New Captain Kangaroo used the opening notes and part of the melody of the familiar theme as its introduction.

Schedule history

While Captain Kangaroo was still in planning stages, CBS executives had the idea of hiring Al Lewis, a kids' show host in Cincinnati (ABC was running Lewis' show at that time), to host their show, but Lewis' managers refused to release him from his contract. Lewis' local kids show went off the air in Cincinnati a year after Captain Kangaroo left CBS.

For the first three months, Captain Kangaroo was only seen on weekday mornings. Thereafter, until 1968, Captain was also seen on Saturday mornings. One exception was the 1964 to 1965 season, which saw the broadcast replaced on Saturdays by a Keeshan vehicle called Mr. Mayor. From 1968 and until 1982 it was seen on weekdays only again. Except for pre-emption for news coverage, notably the three-day continuous coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and a few shows that were 45 minutes, the show aired a full 60 minutes on weekday mornings until 1981. It was broadcast in color from September 9, 1968 onward.

The audience of children could never compete in the ratings with such entertainment/news shows as The Today Show, although it won Emmy Awards three times as Outstanding Children's entertainment series in 1978–1979, 1982–1983 and 1983–1984. But in the fall season of 1981, to make more room for CBS Morning News, the Captain was moved to an earlier time slot of 7 a.m. and cut to 30 minutes, sporting a new title Wake Up with the Captain. In the fall of 1982, it was moved Saturday mornings to 7 a.m. (6 a.m. Central, Mountain, and Pacific). A rerun from recent years was offered to CBS affiliates to run Sunday morning in place of the cartoon reruns offered before. Most CBS affiliates only cleared Saturday mornings after that. Still a third of the CBS affiliates no longer ran Captain Kangaroo at all after 1982. It was finally canceled altogether at the end of 1984 due to lack of clearances from affiliates.

Just over a year later, Captain Kangaroo ran in reruns on PBS television stations from 1986–1993, with funding from PBS stations, School Zone Publishing Company and from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. American Public Television, then known as the "Interregional Program Service", distributed the show, along with Britder Associates (Bob Keeshan's production company), and the Riehl Company, owned by former WPBT-TV station manager Dale Riehl.

The show was on the air for 29 years, making it one of the longest-running network children's program series. Sesame Street, insulated from the Nielsen ratings wars, holds the record for 40 years (as of Spring 2009) and still counting. Several of the original Sesame Street writers and producers were hired from the Captain Kangaroo staff to help produce and direct the Sesame Street program when it went on the air in 1969.

The original director of the program was Peter Birch who helmed the program for its first 25 years. Producer Jim Hirschfeld took over as director following Birch's heart attack in 1980 and continued directing as well as producing throughout the rest of the history of the show which finally went off the air in 1993.

The cast of Captain Kangaroo also hosted the CBS coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for several years in the 1960s.

Schwinn marketing

From the late 1950s, the Schwinn Bicycle Company made use of children's television programming to expand its dominance of the child and youth bicycle markets. The company was an early sponsor (from 1958) of Captain Kangaroo. The Captain himself was enlisted to sell Schwinn-brand bicycles to the show's audience, typically six years old and under.[5] At the end of each live Schwinn marketing promotion, Bob Keeshan would intone, "Prices slightly higher in the South and in the West". The on-air marketing program was deemed successful by Schwinn, and the company increased its market share of child and youth bicycles throughout the 1960s.[6]

The marketing program continued through the 1971 season, when the Federal Trade Commission's Staff Report, Guidelines on Advertising to Children, recommended against Schwinn's on-air marketing practices using the show's host. In response, Schwinn and the show's writers altered the format in 1972. The Captain no longer insisted that his viewers purchase a Schwinn, but instead made regular on-air consultations of a new character, Mr. Schwinn Dealer.[7] A 1973 internal company news article concluded that the show's child audience had difficulty separating Schwinn's sales pitch from that of the show.[7]

Popular culture

Rock musician Frank Zappa wrote a composition named "Mr. Green Genes" on his album Uncle Meat and a sequel, "Son of Mr. Green Genes" on his album Hot Rats. This led to the urban legend that Zappa was the son of Hugh Brannum, the actor who played the character Mr. Green Jeans on Captain Kangaroo, a myth Keeshan, in his autobiography, Good Morning, Captain, officially dispelled in 1996.

Many popular songs make reference to Captain Kangaroo, including the Statler Brothers' 1965 hit song "Flowers on the Wall"; the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "The Brady Bunch"; the Bloodhound Gang's "Your Only Friends Are Make Believe"; and the VeggieTales song, "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything".

A Sunday Shoe strip has Skyler admiring somebody on TV: "He looks great for his age", "He's a great communicator", etc. The reader is led to believe, and his Uncle Cosmo believes, he was referring to President Ronald Reagan, but in the last panel Skyler reveals he has been referring to Captain Kangaroo. The strip was actually published in Keeshan's autobiography, "Good Morning Captain", in 1996.

Television appearances on network shows by Captain Kangaroo:

References

  1. ^ Classic TV Shows – Captain Kangaroo, Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog
  2. ^ "Bob Keesha". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved January 2, 2010.
  3. ^ "Keeshan, Robert James."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. Ed. Arnold Markoe, Karen Markoe, and Kenneth T. Jackson. Vol. 7: 2003–2005. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2007. Retrieved January 2, 2010.
  4. ^ CBS "US Open" broadcast, September 1, 2008
  5. ^ Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles: Lessons from the Leading Post-World War II U.S. Bicycle Brand, Babson College, MA (2007), p. 6 Article
  6. ^ Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles, Babson College, MA (2007), pp. 5–7
  7. ^ a b Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles, Babson College, MA (2007), p. 6

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