Captain Kangaroo was a staple of kids' shows from the mid-1950s up until the 1980s. It was one of the gentlest, kindest shows ever put on TV. With the exceptions of Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street, it was also one of the longest runs for a kids' show ever. Why did they take it off the air? How much do you really know about Captain Kangaroo? It's a very interesting story, and we're going to tell you all about it. Let's get started!
The show and character of Captain Kangaroo was the brainchild of Bob Keeshan, who also played the good captain. The show was on the air from 1955 through 1984 in first-run episodes. There was a brief revival in 1986. After that, the company that owned the show, American Public Television, remixed reruns with newly shot footage. That version stayed on until 1993.
Mr. Keeshan had been a children's entertainer for a long time before Captain Kangaroo. He was the original Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show. In the 1950s, CBS asked their talent for ideas for a new children's show. Captain Kangaroo was the result. The show's first episode was broadcast on October 3, 1955, the same day as The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on ABC.
If you've ever seen an episode of Captain Kangaroo, you probably remember how it started. A bunch of random faces appeared, always saying "Good Morning Captain!" followed by the theme song. Most of the time, these were just random people. Every so often, the producers would cut a famous person, such as Adam West or William Shatner, into the mix. Fred Rogers even made an appearance!
Speaking of Mister Rogers...Fred Rogers and Bob Keeshan were good friends. They even made appearances on each others' shows, which was unusual for the time. Episode 1126 of Mister Rogers Neighborhood featured an appearance by Captain Kangaroo. He also came to Fred Rogers's funeral in 2003. Sadly, Bob Keeshan would die one year later in 2004.
The original idea for the Captain Kangaroo character was to model him after a kindly grandfather. If you've seen the show, you probably remember his soft, slow voice reading stories. His goal was to make his young viewers feel as comfortable watching him as they would with their own grandfathers. This made for a gentle, nice tone.
Captain Kangaroo didn't have much of a structure but there were a bunch of recurring segments that made up the show. One of the most famous was called "The Most Important Person". It aired on the show from 1972-1975 and influenced child development of the time. This was similar to other shows at the time, including Free To Be You And Me.
"Reading Stories" was one of the most popular segments and longest-lived. In this segment, Captain Kangaroo would read out loud from various different children's' books. This would often cause a spike in the sales of those books, especially at the height of the series' popularity. The Sweet Pickles series was one of the ones featured, and it proved to be one of the most popular too.
The show had a lot of recurring characters too. The most famous was probably Mr. Green Jeans, played by actor Hugh Brannum. He was one of the few people that were on the show for its entire 30-year run. He first met Bob Keeshan when they worked at a radio station together after World War II. Both of them had been Marines during the war. Brannum was devoted to the character and show. A lion cub once bit his finger on a live episode, and he just put his hand in his pocket and finished!
Keeshan had a serious heart problem in 1981. It was very dangerous for him and he had to have surgery. He thought about not coming back to do the show anymore, but he received 5000 cards and letters of encouragement in the hospital. He came back, and CBS gave him a prime time special called Good Evening Captain to honor him. Fred Rogers and Dick Clark both appeared on the special and gave flowers to him.
In 1980, the longtime director of Captain Kangaroo, Peter Birch, suffered from a heart condition. CBS felt that the show's time had passed, so they began moving it from timeslot to timeslot. They shortened the running time from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. The final blow came in 1984 when a 30-minute version of Captain Kangaroo was put in a 6:30 AM timeslot, opposite Good Morning America and The Today Show. Keeshan got fed up with the meddling and let his contract expire.
CBS had very little interest in Captain Kangaroo after it was canceled in 1984. They gave the show a primetime farewell called Captain Kangaroo And Friends in 1985, and that was the end of it on CBS. The show's rebroadcast rights were sold to PBS, and the rights to the character were sold to ICM Partners. The show was shown on PBS up until 1993, with a slightly updated introduction.
In the 1980s, Captain Kangaroo developed two spin-off shows. One of them was Picture Pages, which starred Bill Cosby. That show ran until 1989 in a few different formats. The other one was Slim Goodbody, which starred John Burstein. Believe it or not, Slim Goodbody is still around! Burstein tours as the character to this day, and is still encouraging kids to be healthy.
Bob Keeshan continued to be an advocate for children after Captain Kangaroo was off the air. He started a company with former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander which aimed to provide kids' daycare for corporations. He became strongly opposed to video game violence and testified in front of Congress in 1993. He also tried to revive Captain Kangaroo in the 90s to provide an alternative to the toy-based cartoons of the era but didn't have rights to the character.
Even though Bob Keeshan didn't have the rights to his most famous creation, it didn't stop others from trying to recreate it. The Fox network tried a new version of Captain Kangaroo in 1997. Called The All-New Captain Kangaroo, it starred John McDonough as a new version of the good Captain. Keeshan refused to be involved and the show failed. It only lasted one season but does have a small cult following.
In May 2018, Mark Wahlberg told fans of Ellen that he was planning a new version of Captain Kangaroo. This time, Captain Kangaroo would be a scientist. He would work with the other cast members to teach kids about the STEM discipline fields. A production company called Captain Kangaroo Productions has been set up and the show is in development.
We hope you enjoyed this story on Captain Kangaroo. When the reboot comes, it will have a lot to live up to. The original was one of the most endearing kids shows to ever grace the airwaves. If you enjoyed the show, please share this article with your friends! Thanks for reading!