A lot of us can probably remember Captain Kangaroo, which was one of the longest running network children's shows of all time, airing continuously on CBS from 1955 until 1984 and then in re-runs on PBS from 1986 to 1993. The show starred Bob Keeshan as the Captain, named for the huge pouch-like pockets on his jacket. Keeshan had previously played the clown Clarabell on the Howdy Doody Show.
The show, which was originally broadcast live, had a loosely structured variety format, and it emphasized social learning and good behavior as it taught young children about the world around them. It took place in the Captain’s Treasure House, where the Captain read stories, met guests, showed cartoons, and interacted with a regular cast of both humans and puppets, including the Captain’s sidekick Mr. Green Jeans, a farmer and amateur inventor, who would introduce viewers to different animals and demonstrate some of his various inventions.
Other regular characters included Mr. Baxter, who exuded a sense of calm when things got a little too silly, and Slim Goodbody, a character who wore a body stocking painted with the body’s internal organs on it. And there was also the Banana Man, a clown who would constantly pull a seemingly endless supply of bananas (and watermelons) from inside his coat. The Banana Man did not speak but he hummed continuously in a high-pitched falsetto and would occasionally exclaim “Wow!” in the same falsetto voice.
Puppet characters included the mischievous Mr. Moose, who would pepper the Captain with riddles and knock-knock jokes, which always culminated with hundreds of ping-pong balls raining down on the Captain’s head. There was also the non-speaking but thoughtful Bunny Rabbit, the curious Miss Frog, the quiet Mr. Whispers, and the scholarly Word Bird.
Regular features on the show included “The Magic Drawing Board” and “Reading Stories,” which introduced viewers to classics of children’s literature, like Make Way for Ducklings
and Curious George
There were also several cartoon segments that were shown regularly. Probably the best-known was Tom Terrific
, which aired on the show in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Tom Terrific
consisted of 3-5-minute segments drawn in simple stick-figure black-and-white animation. The star character Tom was a little boy who could change into any shape he wanted, usually to save his not-too-bright sidekick, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, from the villain Crabby Appleton and other bad guys. Other cartoon segments included Lariat Sam, Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, Ludwig, The Most Important Person, The Toothbrush Family, Crystal Tipps, and The Wombles.
Keeshan conceived of Captain Kangaroo as a warm, grandfatherly character, and the show had a gentle feeling and gentle pace. It was a full 60-minutes long for most of the years that it aired, which allowed it to include a rich and diverse range of segments and characters without seeming frenetic or too busy. As portrayed by Keeshan, the Captain became a beloved and iconic figure who still represents the best of what television can offer its youngest viewers.
If you’d like to see what the Captain Kangaroo show was like, you can watch an old episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Whu__edQ-M
Jo Holz was formerly the head of research for Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street
. She is the author of Kids' TV Grows Up: The Path from Howdy Doody to SpongeBob