Long-running children's television show and the lead character of that show. In fact, "Captain Kangaroo" was the longest-running network children’s show of all time, running from 1955 to 1984, all on CBS.

The Captain, who got his name from the huge pockets on his red jacket, was really Bob Keeshan, a former Marine who'd also played Clarabelle the Clown on "The Howdy Doody Show". Unlike "Howdy Doody" and many other children's shows, "Captain Kangaroo" did not have a live studio audience. Keeshan, who was also the producer of the show, believed that a studio audience was a distraction for the cast--he wanted everyone focused on the cameras, since that was the best way to connect with the show's primary audience, kids viewing the program on television.

"Captain Kangaroo" also put most of its focus on showing children that learning could be fun--reading, science, music, and dance were all prominently spotlighted. Keeshan was also keenly aware of commercial pressures, but he was able to deflect most of them. He even picked which commercials could air during the program--he preferred ads for toys that encouraged creative play, like Etch-a-Sketch and Play-Doh.

Still, it wasn't all learning and chores--there were tons of entertaining characters and goofy situations. Mr. Green Jeans was a farmer who brought all kinds of interesting animals to the show. Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit were puppets who pulled pranks on the Captain and always dropped ping-pong balls on his head. Grandfather Clock told stories and spoke in rhymes. The Magic Drawing Board illustrated stories and lessons. Dancing Bear was--well, he was a bear who danced. Dennis was a clumsy handyman. The Banana Man never said anything but "WOW!" as he pulled stuff (including huge numbers of bananas) from his coat.

The program also broadcast a number of Terrytoon cartoons, including a regular series with Tom Terrific, who could change into anything, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, and Crabby Appleton. There were also a number of visits from celebrities, like Bill Cosby, Imogene Coca, Alan Arkin, Pearl Bailey, Carol Channing, Marlo Thomas, Doug Henning and Slim Goodbody.

Besides Keeshan, the cast included Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum as Mr. Green Jeans, Cosmo Allegretti as Dennis, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Grandfather Clock, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Word Bird, and Dancing Bear, Larry Wall as Mr. Baxter, Debby Weems as Debby, Terry Kelly as Orville the Dragon, and A. Robbins as the Banana Man.

A few years ago, while shopping in a sporting goods store, I came across a box filled to the rim with ping-pong balls. I was seized with a nearly irresistable urge to dump them over someone's head, but I decided not to. It's a tribute to Captain Kangaroo, both that I came up with the idea and that I remembered the lesson that it wasn't nice to drop ping-pong balls on someone's head.

Research from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/K/htmlK/keeshanbob/keeshanbob.htm and from the Yesterdayland website (www.yesterdayland.com)

Update: Keeshan died on January 23, 2004, at the age of 76. In an era of dull-as-dishwater, dumb-as-a-stick, and super-commercialized children's programming, Keeshan's brainy and fun influence will be missed.

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