Created by the Captain, aka Bob Keeshan (who had originally played Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show), the show was telecast live to the eastern timezones, and broadcast on kinescope to the West Coast.
Here are two interviews with the Captain himself — one from 1955 and the other from 20 years later — as Keeshan explains the his goals, and reflects on the role his beloved TV show played in the eyes of millions of young viewers.
Captain Kangaroo for the kids (1959)
The Petaluma Argus-Courier (Petaluma, California) March 16, 1959
Don’t give away Captain Kangaroo’s secret
It would be a favor to a gentle fellow named Bob Keeshan if you would fail to explain to the youngest members of the household that a gentle television character named Captain Kangaroo is also Keeshan.
“Absolutely no good comes of it,” Keeshan told Charles Mercer of Associated Press. “Either the children are disappointed that Captain Kangaroo is not actually Captain Kangaroo, or else they think their parents are lying. It’s like learning there is no Santa Claus.”
In an age when television programming has largely decided to ignore the youngest children, “Captain Kangaroo” remains the only children’s show appearing six days a week on any of the networks.
This program is a hardy plant thriving among the sagebrush and exotic orchids of today’s “adult” television entertainment. It has garnered awards and high praise from educators and parents-to say nothing of the children themselves.
As Keeshan quickly points out, the program’s longevity (more than 1,000 shows) is thanks to the enthusiasm of CBS-TV and many of its affiliated stations. For the sad truth is that “Captain Kangaroo” loses money. Recently, a CBS spokesman said the network loses more than one million dollars a year on the show.
Happily, however, there is every indication that “Captain Kangaroo” will continue to be with us and the children for a long time to come.
Pressed to analyze the character of Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan said:
“Captain Kangaroo treats children as intelligent human beings and never talks down to them. He is not afraid to ask them to think. And he believes that they have good taste. He likes people in general and children in particular.”
Good morning, Captain Kangaroo!
As the keeper of the keys of a Children’s wonderland, “the treasure house,” with pockets always loaded with goodies, he treats his young audience to beautiful music, dancing, unusual games and toys, live animals, entertaining cartoons, simple studies of nature, and useful tips on how to make things.
“The word most applicable to Captain Kangaroo,” said Keeshan. “is ‘gentleness.’ In my opinion, this is a quality not found often enough in men these days. Too often gentleness is confused with weakness. Especially to the boys — the young men of our audience — we try to convey the thought that a man can be strong but gentle.
“Everywhere these days — in the movies, television and books — we get the idea that strong men must be physically strong. Too many of the heroes solve problems with violence. But young people have to be taught that violence solves nothing, that you can’t go around having your way. by punching people in the nose.”
As the father of three pre-school age children, Keeshan knows whereof he speaks. With his wife, Jeanne, and their three children, he recently moved two miles closer to his New York office and studio. Now he lives only 43 miles, distant — in Babylon, Long Island.
The Captain unmasked (1968)
Here, see what the real Robert Keeshan looked like when he wasn’t in the Captain Kangaroo character — meaning minus the makeup, wig and mustache. From The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) December 22, 1968.
TV’s most experienced babysitter (1975)
by Jim O’Brien, Philadelphia Daily News – October 3, 1975
When CBS decided to give Cher’s “family hour” show a family touch, who did they call on? The world’s most experienced babysitter, that’s who.
Captain Kangaroo, who today marked his 20th anniversary on the tube, seemed out of place and time when he turned up on the “‘Cher” show the other night.
It hardly seemed proper for the low-key, mild-mannered Captain to be trading double entendres with the network’s Chief of Naval Operations, but it could hardly shake the impregnable image of the man who has been mesmerizing youngsters for two decades.
When Cher remarked that it seemed she had been waking up with the Captain for as long as she could remember, millions of parents around the country could only nod and agree.
Some 90 million Americans under 25 are members of the Captain’s generation. Every week, year after year, the Captain gains new viewers from 8 to 9am each day, and the show eventually may become the longest-running in the history of television.
Bob Keeshan is Captain Kangaroo, and beneath that mild exterior, there is a man who enjoys his job, but has some firm opinions about babysitting and his responsibility to the millions of children he entertains.
If the Captain seemed somewhat out of place on Cher’s show, he was right at home on a recent Sunday night when he held a press conference at the famed F.A.O. Schwartz toy store on Fifth Ave. in New York City.
Surrounded by stuffed pandas and $600 dolls, the Captain spoke about his show, his long-running role of surrogate parent, and the indifference of millions of parents who take little interest in what their children are watching on the tube.
For every parental activist, there are scores who could hardly care less, he complained.
“Would you call the police and ask them to keep an eye on your kids because they were going out to play?” asked the Captain.
He deplores the parents who refuse to take responsibility for children’s TV viewing, and praises the efforts of those like Action for Children’s Television (ACT) that has not only encouraged, but fought for, better television.
“And the media,” he said while looking straight at the assembled writers, “have consistently ignored the innovative quality in many kids shows in the last few years. A good many improvements go unnoticed.”
(The Television Information Office reported this week that a special survey conducted by the Roper Organization, Inc. found that parents of children 12 and under believed by a two-to-one majority that TV programming for children had improved over two or three years ago. The Television Information Office is an arm of the National Association of Broadcasters.)
On the subject of commercial and children’s programming, the Captain takes pride: “You know we produce our own show and I set my own standards on commercials. There was one a few years ago that I did not approve of and I went right to the top of the CBS network and got it knocked off.”
On the subject of the educational aspects of children’s programming, the Captain knows where he stands: “Children’s TV and our show in particular should not be viewed as a home classroom. We aim first of all to be entertaining. If there is learning involved, we try to do it in an entertaining way.
“The big difference is that in the classroom, there is a one-to-one relationship between the teacher and the child, and there is no way we can match that.”
Have children’s shows or children themselves changed in the 20 years his program has been on the tube?
The Captain paused for a moment, then observed, “A little both ways, I suppose. Basically, though, I think the young children who watch our show are not much different than those who did in the beginning.”
As for his own show, the program has used more celebrities as occasional guests in the past year. And, over the years, there have been other minor changes. Actually, Keeshan is marking his 25th year as a performer in TV.
He was “Clarabelle the Clown” for five years with “Howdy Doody” before creating his own show. Keeshan’s “dedication” to good children’s programming began in 1951 when his son, Michael, was born. He vividly recalls that and it seems typical of Keeshan and the character he plays.
He and his wife, Jeanne, also have two daughters, Laurie and Mauve.
Last year, in Philadelphia, the Captain was the grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Next to Santa Claus, he was probably the most popular figure in the annual event.
The Captain decided not to do anything special on today’s show to mark the anniversary. “That 20-year figure wouldn’t mean anything to the kids out there. And we play to our audience. It’s their show.”
That may be the most definitive answer as to why the Captain has stayed afloat so long.
Good Morning, Captain! Captain Kangaroo theme & opening credits
Featuring Alice Ghostley, Bruce Jenner and Alan Alda