Remember that one day when you could wake up without an alarm? When you would get your favorite bowl of cereal and sit between the hours of 8 and 12? This is a blog dedicated to the greatest time of our childhood: Saturday mornings. The television programs you watched, the memories attached to them, and maybe introducing you to something you didn't realize existed. Updated every weekend.
Conceived by star Bob Keeshan based on the “warm relationship between
grandparents and children”, Captain Kangaroo became the longest-running
national network children’s show (and the longest-running overall until it was
passed by Sesame Street in 1999, where many people who worked on Kangaroo
went to work following its conclusion).
along with long-time friend and director Jack Miller, had taken notice
of the success of The
Uncle Al Show—a local children’s show out of Cincinatti, Ohio—and approached
the network they were currently working for, ABC, with the idea to produce one
of their own. However, the network had previously attempted and failed at doing
so before and passed on the idea. Pitching it again a year later, they were
given the weekend to have the show ready for a pilot on Monday morning. Working
with the station’s crew, they created a set and a costume, Keeshan dyed his
hair gray after being unable to get a wig done, and used music from the station’s
library to come up with Tinker’s
Workshop. Debuting on November 15, 1954, the series centered on kindly
toymaker Tinker (Keeshan) in his toyshop somewhere in a Swiss village, where he
would use kids’ love of toys and play to impart important values, skills and
other lessons to their audience in between reruns of old theatrical shorts.
Keeshan as the Tinker.
CBS was on the constant lookout for innovative
approaches to children’s television programming at this time. In the summer of
1955, they approached Keeshan and Miller about coming up with a similar show to
Tinker for them. They decided to try and create a better format with a
kindly old tour guide and captain of the guards of a children’s museum called “The
Treasure House.” Keeshan got out of his contract with ABC and the network
bought out the rights to Tinker, leaving Keeshan and Miller free to
develop the new show for CBS. The result was Captain Kangarro.
Mr. Green Jeans and Dancing Bear prepare a cake for the Captain.
Kangaroo debuted on CBS on October 3, 1955. Keeshan played the title
character The Captain, who was given the nickname “kangaroo” due to the large
pockets on his trademark jacket (originally blue, but later red). Initially,
CBS wanted Al
Lewis to host, but he wouldn’t be released from his contractual obligations
to host The Uncle Al Show. The
show didn’t have a strict format; the only constant was that the entirety of
the action took place in or around the Captain’s house, known initially as The Treasure
House and later The Captain’s Place. However, there were recurring segments and
bits, such as “Reading Stories” sessions where the Captain would read a book to
his audience, The Magic Drawing Board where he would interact with animated
characters, and a running gag of his getting ping pong balls dumped on him. For
the show’s introduction, the Captain would enter the House/Place and hang his
keys on the hook, which would then cause the theme song to stop playing.
However, sometimes the Captain would miss the hook or drop the keys, and the
song would continue playing until they were finally hung. The Captain would end
each the show encouraging parents to spend some time with their children, first
directly to them and later more subtlety via a song listing activities to do
outside instead of watching television. The first show of each month was also
when the Captain would wish a happy birthday to every kid who celebrated that
The Captain with Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, Mr. Moose and Mr. Bunny.
The Captain would interact with a
variety of characters. On the human side was farmer Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh
“Lumpy” Brannum), the mute Town Clown (also Keeshan) and Sam Levine as The
Banana Man. There were animals like the silent Dancing Bear, living appliances
like the rhyming Grandfather Clock, and puppets like Mr. Bunny and Mr. Moose (all
Cosmo Allegretti, who was the primary puppeteer for the show). Levine had purchased
the props and gimmicks from Adolf
Proper’s estate and resurrected The Banana Man for the show, whose gimmicks
included communication through sounds and instruments, quick costume changes,
and pulling an impossible number of props from his coat pockets. He played the
role until his death in 1974.
The Captain and Mr. Green Jeans with Mr. Baxter, Debbie and Dennis the Apprentice.
As the show went on, more cast and characters came and left.
In 1965, Bill McCutcheon and Jane Connell joined as friends Mr. and Mrs. Homan.
Stage manager James E. Wall talked his way into the audition to play Mr. Baxter
in 1968, turning Captain Kangaroo into one of the first integrated
children’s shows on television. Debbie Weems appeared as Debbie and provided
the voice for the puppet character Baby Duck. A decade later, John Burstein
joined as Slim Goodbody, who wore a suit displaying the parts of the human body
and offered tips on nutrition and exercise (in compliance with the U.S. Department
of Health, Education and Welfare’s push for more educational content on
television). Puppeteer Kevin Clash would not only control the puppet character
Artie, but would appear as himself in many sketches. Carolyn Mignini was the
last new cast member added, playing Kathy and a variety of other female roles.
In 1978, local Pittsburg children’s show Picture Pages was
integrated into Captain Kangaroo. Created by Julius
Oleinick in 1974, the show interacted with its audience via puzzle booklets
given away at local supermarkets. The Captain would conduct a series of lessons
on basic arithmetic, geometry and drawing on his magic drawing board. In 1980,
Bill Cosby was brought on to take over the segment and drew with the aid of his
character-topped magic marker named Mortimer Ichabod Marker, or M.I. for short.
When Captain Kangaroo ended, the segment was adopted as part of Nickelodeon’s Pinwheeluntil
that was cancelled in 1989.
the live-action routines, there were a number of cartoon shorts shown
throughout the program. While two were created specifically for Captain
Kangaroo, the majority of them were imported from other countries. They
Tom Terrific, running from 1957-59 and rerun for years after. Created by Gene Deitch under the CBS-owned
Terrytoons studio, the
series focused on a boy hero who lived in a treehouse and could transform
himself into anything via his magic “thinking cap”. Along with his lazy
sidekick, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, he battled the evil forces of Crabby
Appleton, Mr. Instant the Instant Thing King, Captain Kidney Bean, Sweet Tooth
Sam the Candy Bandit and Isotope Feeney the Meany. The show was done in a
simple style reminiscent of children’s drawings, and every character was voiced
by Lionel Wilson. 26
episodes were produced and were aired in five parts across each episode of a
given week. For the Saturday broadcast, the episodes were edited into a
two-part adventure with all of the daily cliffhangers and recaps removed.
Alternating with Tom Terrific every other week was The
Adventures of Lariat Sam. Created by notable game show announcer Gene Wood, the cartoon was a
western comedy centering on sheriff Sam, who protected the tiny town of Bent
Saddle with his poetry-reading horse, Tippytoes. Their primary foe was the
outlaw Badlands Meeney and his stooge, J. Skulking Bushwack. Sam often defeated
them, as the title implied, by using his lasso and manipulating it in various
physics-defying ways. Dayton
Allen provided all the character voices, and Wood sang the theme song
himself. Like Tom Terrific, the series was animated by Terrytoons.
The Most Important Person was a mixed animated and live-action series of
60 shorts produced by Sutherland
Learning Associates. They helped translate everyday things in the life of
children so that they could be better understood and allow them to develop a
strong sense of self-awareness and self-importance. A spin-off series, The Kingdom of Could Be
You, explored various occupations and gave children an idea of
what they could become when they grew up. Both series were made possible by a
grant from the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Child Development, and were later syndicated individually or as part
of other children’s programs.
Produced for the BBC between 1971 and
1974, Crystal Tipps and Alistair followed the adventures of a young girl
and her dog in a fanciful world.The 5-minute shorts were created by Hilary Hayton and Graham McCallum, who drew the
artwork using felt markers and an airbrush. The series was produced and
animated by Q3
of London, which was formed by former BBC executive Michael Grafton-Robinson
specifically for these shorts and another series, Fingerbobs, instead of
expanding the BBC’s Children’s Department of Graphics Unit into a full-blown
animation studio. The shorts were silent except for the music accompaniment by Paul Reade. However, when aired
on Captain Kangaroo, Allegretti added voice-over narration in his Mr.
Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings was another British animated series from 1974
created by Edward McLachlan
and produced by FilmFair. Young Simon had a magic chalkboard on which things he
drew came to life in the Land of Chalk Drawings that Simon could enter by
climbing over a fence near his home. The 5-minute episodes dealt with the
unintended consequences Simon’s drawings had over the Land. Originally narrated
by Cribbins, Keeshan dubbed over it with a new narration when it aired on his
Ludwig was another British import about a magical egg-shaped gemstone that
lived in a forest and often came to the rescue of the animals that dwelled
there. Ludwig possessed facets that could open up to reveal arms, legs, or
various gadgets whenever he needed them. A human birdwatcher (Jon Glover) constantly watched
Ludwig and served as the viewer’s point of view and narrator. The 25 five-minute
episodes were produced by Mirek
and Peter Lang,
who wrote them with Jane Tann and
also animated them. The music was arranged and played by Reade and was
comprised of the works of Ludwig van
Beethoven, for whom the central character was named. The series would begin
an end with a small section of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1”.
Coming from Australia in 1974 was The Toothbrush Family, which
centered on a group of anthropomorphic toiletry items conceived by Marcia Hatfield as a way to get
kids to focus on their hygiene when her son refused to brush his teeth. The
main characters were father Tom, mother Tess, kids Tina and Toby, and Gramps,
along with toothpaste Flash Fluoride, electric toothbrush Hot Rod Harry,
hairbrush Bert Brush, Cecily Comb, Nev Nailbrush, Susie Sponge, Shaggy Dog,
Callie Conditioner and Sally Shampoo, who all came to life at night in the
light of the moon. Hatfield wrote the episodes with Al Guest and Jean Mathieson providing the
screenplays, which were then produced by Rainbow Animation. Len Carlson and Billie Mae Richards provided
all of the character voices. A revival was made in 1998 focusing on some new
The Red and the Blue was another stop-motion series, this time
hailing from Italy’s Misseri Studios
and created by Francesco Misseri.
It centered on two Claymation shapeshifting characters—one red, one blue—on a
white plane in which they interacted. They often try to outdo each other by
assuming various forms that would one-up the other. For instance, if Blue
became a boat, Red would become an island.
Another Rainbow Animation production from Canada, The Undersea
Adventures of Captain Nemo was a reimagining of the Jules Verne book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the
Seaby Guest and Mathieson. The show followed ocean researcher
Captain Mark Nemo (Carlson) and his kid assistants, Christine and Robbie (both Richards),
as they went on adventures in their nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus.
The 5-minute episodes attempted to teach children about oceanography and
The Captain chatting with Grandfather Clock.
Captain Kangaroo was initially broadcast live daily on weekday
mornings. For the first four years, it was performed twice a day for the
Eastern and Central time zones, and recorded on kinescope for the Western as
Keeshan refused to perform three times a day. Eventually, it would be scheduled
for the same time in all time zones. It was also given a 6th
Saturday morning broadcast until 1968; replaced briefly in the 1964-65 season
by Keeshan’s other short-lived show, Mr. Mayor. The Mayor character was
Kangaroo in everything but name and look. It was a gambit by Keeshan to show he
to abandon the Captain if he couldn’t acquire the full rights from an
unwanted partner he was saddled with due to the Captain’s evolution out of the
Tinker character from their previous series. The gambit paid off, and the Mayor
was retired for the Captain full time.
While many shows had begun
broadcasting in color by the time Captain Kangaroo hit the air, CBS
wouldn’t adopt a color format for it until late 1966. Throughout the show’s
run, it was nominated for several Emmy Awards,
winning three. It also won two Peabody
Awards and a Young Artist Award.
Although extremely popular, Captain Kangaroo’s ratings rarely eclipsed
its network competition’s. In 1981, CBS moved the show early to 7:00 AM and cut
it down to 30 minutes, retitling it Wake Up with the Captain, to make
more room for the expanded The CBS Morning News. In 1982, it was moved
further back to 6:30 AM when very few people would be awake to see it. It was
restored to an hour format in 1982, but remained in poor time slots in various
time zones. Many CBS affiliates had also stopped carrying the show and declined
a rerun package for Sunday mornings. When CBS decided to cut the show back down
to a half hour again in 1984, Keeshan angrily decided to let the show end when
his contract with the network expired. However, Keeshan would return to the
network the following year to host CBS
Storybreak, which was essentially inspired by his “Reading
Stories” segment. A fond farewell to the Captain was given with the primetime
special Captain Kangaroo and His Friends that same year.
The original Captain Kangaroo theme song, “Puffin’ Billy” (about
a steam locomotive), was used from 1955 until 1974. Written by Edward G. White
and recorded by the Melodi
Light Orchestra, it was from the Chappell
Recorded Music Library, a British stock music production library. Mary Rodgers wrote lyrics for
the song in 1957, making it the official Captain Kangaroo theme. In
1974, Robert L. Brush composed the new theme, “Good Morning, Captain”.
Originally, it featured elements of “Puffin’ Billy”, resulting in White
receiving credit on the song, but copyright issues caused the song to be
rerecorded in 1979 with those elements removed. When the show was retitled, a
new theme called “Wake Up” was used until the title, format and second theme
were reinstated. Lynn Ahrens
wrote a final theme, “Here Comes Captain Kangaroo”, which would be used from
1982-84 and subsequent reruns.
Keeshan spent the remainder of his life in the service of children as an
author and a speaker. He founded Corporate
Family Solutions with Tennessee Governor Lamar
Alexander to provide day-care programs to businesses. In 1993, he
participated in the congressional
hearings against video game violence. In 1995, he published his memoirs,
Morning, Captain, through Fairview Press. He also
considered a revival of the Captain as an answer to increasingly violent
cartoons on TV, but was unable to obtain permission from ICM, who held the rights to the Captain
at the time. Ultimately, Keeshan died in 2004 before getting to bring the
Captain back one last time.
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