Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remembering the Captain on His Birthday

Today would have been the 85th birthday of Bob Keeshan, the man who was TV's Captain Kangaroo for decades.

The Captain Kangaroo show was on the air before I was born — in fact, my family didn't get a TV until several years after I was born — but that is the earliest memory I have of TV. Well, that and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

At first, that was all that Mom would allow my brother and me to watch. She gradually relented on some things — like letting us watch Bozo the Clown and his cartoons in the afternoons.

I guess she knew she couldn't keep us from watching that one. We could see it at any of our friends' homes after school, and there was a TV in the school cafeteria which usually had Bozo on in the afternoons so if we were detained at school for any reason, the chances were pretty good we could see Bozo there, too.

Most mothers have to face that moment when they realize they cannot monitor their children's activities 24 hours a day. I suppose Mom knew we would be making more decisions as we got older, and she would just have to trust that she had given us the basic knowledge we would need to make the right ones.

But TV really was an emerging technology when my brother and I were little, and Mom didn't feel bound to rules on which she had been raised because there were none. She made the rules about TV viewing, and she absolutely put her foot down when it came to the Twilight Zone reruns that followed Bozo. Twilight Zone was well beyond our years, as far as she was concerned. And, with the benefit of age, I must say she was right about that.

(I do love Twilight Zone, though. A week from today, I will be doing what I have done for years — I'll be watching the Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon on the Syfy channel.)

But Bozo was just the next step. After that, Mom gave in on The Flintstones (which was being shown in primetime in those days) and Saturday morning cartoons. It wasn't long before my brother and I had gone beyond animation, and Mom started letting us watch programs with actual humans.

Of course, that really wasn't new for my brother and me. Captain Kangaroo had humans ... and some puppets, too. It also showed some cartoons.

Well, anyway ...

As I say, Captain Kangaroo is the first TV personality of whom I have any real memory. In hindsight, the show must have been patterned after a children's radio program. The acting was really nonexistent, and most of the humor consisted of sight gags accompanied by raucous sound effects.

Mr. Moose was a good example of that.

Mr. Moose was a puppet of a — you guessed it — moose. When Mr. Moose was on the screen, I suppose it prompted the same Pavlovian effect that was achieved in the old Fibber McGee and Molly radio show. Fibber McGee and Molly wasn't a children's show, but I'm sure it inspired things on Captain Kangaroo — such as when Fibber McGee announced he was going to look for something in his hall closet.

If my parents told me about it once, they must have told me hundreds of times. When Fibber McGee opened the door to the hall closet, everything in it came crashing down around him — everyone knew that was coming — and that, essentially, was what happened with Mr. Moose.

Mr. Moose had no closet at the aptly named Captain's Place. His shtick was conniving the captain into standing where he would be in the line of fire — of a deluge of ping pong balls.

All these years later, that is what I remember best from Captain Kangaroo.

Well, that and Mr. Green Jeans.

Mr. Green Jeans was a human who wore a pair of overalls that, supposedly, were green, but you couldn't prove it by me. We had a black–and–white TV when I was a child — didn't move up to color until I was about 11 or 12, which was too old to be watching Captain Kangaroo anymore so I never did confirm whether Mr. Green Jeans really did wear green jeans.

I assumed he did, though. I mean, Captain Kangaroo wouldn't lie about a thing like that, would he?