As a change of pace, I thought that I'd introduce you to one of my favorite television shows from early childhood (for those of you who don't already know it): Captain Kangaroo
Captain Kangaroo was to my generation what Mister Rogers was to my younger brother's generation: an adult on TV who was a gentle, reassuring guide to growing up. I just bought a memoir by Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo), and he says in it, "Everyone involved with the show believed that our audience was composed of intelligent human beings worthy of our respect and with potentially good taste." Exactly. Unlike most adults, Captain Kangaroo never talked down to me.
I'm sorry to report that what I remember most about the show is the giant tube of Colgate toothpaste that the captain would wind up during every show so that we could sing its advertising jingle. (This was the 1960s, remember.) However, the most profound effect the show had on me was to introduce me to many of the best children's picture books during that era and earlier. In his memoir, Good Morning, Captain
, Bob Keeshan says, "We read more than 5,000 books on the show, many of them multiple times."
My mother later told me that I avidly listened to the captain reading books. My own memory is of listening to picture books through the Weston Woods films, which appeared on Captain Kangaroo. Well before Ken Burns came along to use the Ken Burns effect
of panning and zooming across a still image and backing it with narration and music, Weston Woods had already used that technique with children's picture books.
Here's Make Way for Ducklings
, my favorite Weston Woods film. You have to sit through a long ad to see it, but it's worth it. And here's an audio version
of the same story, which was created to accompany a filmstrip version of the film. (We had Weston Woods filmstrips at my public library when I was a kid.) Note the beeps; they were to tell the listener to page forward the filmstrip to the next frame.Weston Woods
is still going, under the auspices of Scholastic Books. Here's a clip from a more recent book-film: Duck for President
became a sad victim of CBS's drive for greater audience numbers than they could achieve through a children's program. In 1984 the program ended after nearly thirty years, making it the longest-running nationally broadcast children's TV show of its time. (As Wikipedia
observes, "In the early years of the series, Keeshan wore make-up in order to look suitably old for the character, but the show ran for so long that by the end, he was wearing make-up to look younger
.") PBS picked up the show between 1986 and 1993, mainly airing reruns. Bob Keeshan remained an advocate of good children's television till his death in 2004. I still miss the captain.
Some episodes:An episode from 1961
, two years before I was born. It starts with the show's memorable theme music. At 15:30, Bob Keeshan's acting at its best, followed by a juggling act, showing all the things that could go wrong in early television. (Note also the faint sound of the camera crew laughing.) At 27:25, see an intimate moment between the captain and the viewer. And at the very end, the captain dusts away the credits as he says, "Everybody, please remember your prayers." It was a different era.Captain Kangaroo advertising Rice Krispies in 1967
. I was four by then and watching the captain. And yes, I remember the Rice Krispies train. (Not the tree, though.)An episode from 1976
(in four parts). The new opening cleverly incorporated a snatch of the music from the previous opening. By then, I was thirteen, and my younger brother was the one in our family who was watching Captain Kangaroo.Captain Kangaroo in the 1990s, when he was on PBS
. The episode starts with a classic encounter between the captain and Mr. Moose. At 3:25, Bunny Rabbit joins into the fun. At 6:05, the captain tells a story.
Lovely Mr. Green Jeans
, the captain's companion. I still have autographed postcards of the two of them that I received from the show in the 1960s.An interview with Bob Keeshan
in 1999.News report tributes on the day of Bob Keeshan's death