Montpelier, Vermont: Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo on television, died at 76. The show, consisting of visits with puppets like Mr. Moose telling knock-knock jokes (shown here), won several awards and was wildly popular with children. As a young man, I kind of liked him, too. Just a throw-back, I suppose.
The Captain did the same thing every day. Sporting a Beatles haircut and large moustache, and wearing what appeared to be an English bus-driver’s uniform whose huge pockets were filled with unexpected objects, he puttered around in the “Treasure House”, chatting with the puppets and Mr. Green Jeans, an eternally unemployed neighbor.
It strikes me now that Captain Kangaroo was very lucky to have Mr. Green Jeans as a neighbor, because most folks wouldn’t be able to visit every single day like that.
Once the Captain was selling something, some kind of “Fun Kit”, consisting of scissors and glue and crayons, and my little brother George wanted one.
Christmas was fast approaching, and that gave me an idea.
In my low teens, and eternally short on cash due to having spent it, I realized that I could make a Fun Kit for George. It would have all the right stuff inside, because the Captain had spelled it out on TV.
I found a box and decorated it. In the box I put scissors, glue, crayons, and some other things as were proper. I wrapped it up and waited. That Christmas was spent at my grandmother’s house, and it was there that George opened his present. He scowled.
“That’s not a Fun Kit,” he said.
I sulked and sulked, but all was not lost, as it turned out, because George had an insistant habit of shaking Christmas presents, trying to puzzle them out by sound.
And therefore, to enhance the Fun Kit, I’d found a burned-out light bulb, and packing the Fun Kit tightly so it would make no sound, I had included the lightbulb near the surface. As expected, right up until Christmas day, George had shaken the package every day, but it only made the small tinkling sound that you’d expect from a burned-out light bulb. “What is it?” George had asked, again and again, “What is it?“
I would smile and say that it was a light bulb.
“No, no!” he’d cry, “What is it?” And it turned out that, although the Fun Kit was a dismal flop, the light bulb became a great hit in our family, and we gave each other light bulbs at Christmas-time for many years to come.
So I guess I owe you after all, Captain Kangaroo. Thanks for the light bulbs.
An ex-marine, the Captain first appeared on TV as Clarabell the Clown on Howdy Doody. Along with (now deceased) Mister Rogers, the Captain deplored the modern direction of TV for children, citing violence and vengeance as extreme and unhealthy. Even though I like fight-em-up movies, I’d have to agree with the Captain.
“Play is the work of children,” he said, “It’s very serious stuff. And if it’s properly structured in a developmental program, children can blossom.”
His wife had died in 1990. Probably he missed her. Perhaps he’s seeing her again. Perhaps he is peaceful.