The earliest television memories of Baby Boomers, '80s kids and everyone in between might include Captain Kangaroo's TV show, featuring his friends Mr. Green Jeans (played by actor Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum), Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose and Dancing Bear.
Bob Keeshan (born Robert James Keeshan on June 27, 1927 in Lynbrook, New York) created and performed the Captain Kangaroo role. The character, named after the large pockets on his suit jacket, was designed to mirror the special relationships children build with grandparents.
After graduating from Forest Hills High School, serving in the United States Marine Corps during World War II and attending classes at Fordham University in New York City, Keeshan took the role as the original Clarabell the Clown on NBC's The Howdy Doody Show. Clarabell debuted in 1948 and became known in part for spraying Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle--a gag that's become synonymous with kid-friendly clown acts. Around this same time, Keeshan appeared on the show Time For Fun as Corny the Clown and played a character similar to Captain Kangaroo on the TV series Tinker's Workshop. He also starred in the short-lived mid-'60s series Mister Mayor.
Keeshan's nearly three decade run as Captain Kangaroo began when CBS premiered the original series on Oct. 3, 1955. In his part entertainer, part educator and part Schwinn bicycle salesman role, Keeshan won five Emmy Awards (1978, 1981-1984) and three Peabody Awards (1958, 1972, 1979). He also won a National Education Award in 1982.
The show survived changes to its own format and in society at large, lasting until 1984. Two years later, its reruns joined PBS' lineup of children's television programs.
Captain Kangaroo had an impact on two even more popular children's series. Keeshan was close friends with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood star Fred Rogers, leading to crossover moments featuring both characters. Plus, Sesame Street featured quite a few former Captain Kangaroo crew members across its 50-plus year run.
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Keeshan suffered a heart attack in 1981, but would return both as Captain Kangaroo and as a vocal opponent of how children's programming in the '80s often served as toy commercials with little to no educational value.
The longtime Captain Kangaroo star died in Windsor, Vermont on Jan. 23, 2004, at age 76 from what the Los Angeles Times described as a "long illness."
"Bob Keeshan was a true pioneer in children's television whose legacy goes unmatched," CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said in a statement (as reported by the LA Times. "He was a great entertainer, showman and innovator, and he will always hold a special place in the history of CBS and the hearts of television viewers."
Keeshan's memoir, Good Morning, Captain: Fifty Wonderful Years With Bob Keeshan, TV's Captain Kangaroo, was published in 1995. He's a member of the Clown Hall of Fame and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Overall, Keeshan's performance as Captain Kangaroo ranks up there with his original "boss" Howdy Doody, friend Mister Rogers and his peers on Sesame Street on the list of all-time great children's television characters.
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