Boomers Grew Up With “The Captain”

By Doug Patton

January 26, 2004

Doug PattonOn October 3, 1955, a magical thing happened in our home and in the homes of baby boomers all across America. Via our family’s black-and-white television set, a grandfatherly figure named “Captain Kangaroo” found his way onto our living rooms and our hearts for the very first time. He would stay for 36 years.

At the time the show debuted, I figured “The Captain” had to be at least fifty or sixty years old (ancient in the eyes of a seven-year-old). Actually, he was 28, but it really didn’t matter. To us, his was the most unique and entertaining program on television. At a time when there were only two or three channels to watch on television, and when children’s programming consisted mainly of mindless cartoons and not much else, the captain was a breath of fresh air in the innocent world of millions of boomers. We already had “Howdy Doody,” of course. And “Gunsmoke” debuted the same year as the Captain, but it was he who taught us things while he entertained us, and we loved it.

From his “Treasure House,” Captain Kangaroo, played by actor/writer/producer Bob Keeshan, created a world within our world, and he populated it with characters we never grew tired of watching: Bunny Rabbit, who never talked; Mr. Moose, who seemed to talk incessantly; Dancing Bear; Miss Frog; Grandfather Clock; Fred the Magic Drawing Board; Flora and Albert; Dennis The Apprentice; Uncle Ralph and many others. In their own way, each of them taught us something.

I remember telling my great aunt that Captain Kangaroo had taught me some magic words: “Abbra Cadabbra, Please and Thank You!” She informed me in her usual prim, proper and grumpy tone that I didn’t need the “Abbra Cadabbra.” Somehow, it was a lot more fun learning civility and manners from the Captain.

One of my favorite parts of the show was a simple, line-drawing cartoon called “The Adventures of Tom Terrific.” As the title implied, Tom Terrific’s life was special and exciting. It had to be. After all, he had adventures! Looking back, it is amazing the positive things I learned from that little cartoon.Captain Kangaroo

Tom had a dog named “Manfred the Wonder Dog” and a very special, funnel-shaped hat that enabled him to turn into any object he wanted in order to help people. In one episode, Tom used his magic hat to turn himself into a mouse in order to make it through a narrowing tunnel. When he seemed stymied at a point through which even a mouse couldn’t fit, I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t he just change himself into something smaller – an ant, maybe?” I guess there are limits to what even a magic funnel-hat can do for you.

Long before “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street” or “The Muppets,” there was “Captain Kangaroo.” I would be in my forties, with grown sons of my own, before the Captain would sign off the air for good.

Bob Keeshan was a gentle soul whose talents enabled him to write, direct, produce and act, which he did for all of his adult life. Yet he will always be remembered for the lovable character he created nearly half a century ago. As a teenager, he had fought at Iwo Jima during World War II and returned to make a positive contribution to the lives of an entire generation.

Keeshan, who had been ill for several years, died last week at the age of 76. Say “hello” to Mr. Greenjeans for us, Captain.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country, and on selected Internet web sites, including www.GOPUSA.com, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service (www.TalonNews.com). Readers can e-mail him at dpatton@neonamp.com.

print