Keeshan, 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.|
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 month.
|The Captain with Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, Mr. Moose and Mr. Bunny.|
|The Captain and Mr. Green Jeans with Mr. Baxter, Debbie and Dennis the Apprentice.|
|Mr. Rogers stops by The Treasure House.|
|The Captain chatting with Grandfather Clock.|
|One of the Captain's albums.|