MONTPELIER, Vt — Bob Keeshan, who gently entertained and educated generations of children as television’s walrus-mustachioed Captain Kangaroo, died Friday at 76.
Keeshan, who lived in Hartford, Vt., died of a long illness, his family said in a statement.
Keeshan’s “Captain Kangaroo” premiered on CBS in 1955 and ran for 30 years before moving to public television for six more. It was wildly popular among children and won six Emmy Awards, three Gabriels and three Peabody Awards.
The format was simple: Each day, Captain Kangaroo, with his sugar-bowl haircut and uniform coat, would wander through his Treasure House, chatting with his good friend Mr. Green Jeans, played by Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum.
He would visit with puppet animals, like Bunny Rabbit, who was scolded for eating too many carrots, and Mr. Moose, who loved to tell knock-knock jokes. A favorite sketch involved Mister Moose dropping ping-pong balls on the Captain's head.
But the show revolved about the grandfatherly Captain Kangaroo, whose name was inspired by the kangaroo pouch-like pockets of the coat Keeshan wore.
“I was impressed with the potential positive relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, so I chose an elderly character,” Keeshan said.
In a statement issued by his son Michael, Keeshan’s family said: “Our father, grandfather and friend was as passionate for his family as he was for America’s children. He was largely a private man living an often public life as an advocate for all that our nation’s children deserve.”
Promoted good parenting
Keeshan, born in Lynbrook, N.Y., became a page at NBC while he was in high school. He joined the Marine Corps in 1945.
His first television appearance came in 1948, when he played the voiceless, horn-honking Clarabell the Clown on the “Howdy Doody Show,” a role he created and played for five years.
“Captain Kangaroo” debuted on Oct. 3, 1955. After the PBS show ended in 1992, he continued to play the role for a time in videos and public appearances.
Keeshan, who moved to Vermont in 1990, also remained active as a children’s advocate, writing books, lecturing and lobbying on behalf of children’s issues.
He was critical of today’s TV programs for children, saying they were too full of violence. And he spoke wherever he went about the importance of good parenting.
“Parents are the ultimate role models for children,” he said. “Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.”
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When Fred Rogers, the gentle host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” died last year, Keeshan recalled how they often spoke about the state of children’s programming.
As for “Barney and Friends,” Keeshan found the popular 1990s show gentle but boring — “what we used to call ’a program in a telephone booth.”’
“There’s no room to stretch,” Keeshan said in 1993. “They have to break out and get away from that and build more characters and build other aspects to the show.”
In 1987, Keeshan and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander co-founded Corporate Family Solutions, an organization that provided day-care programs to businesses around the country.
Keeshan believed children learn more in the first six years of life than at any other time and was a strong advocate of day care that provides emotional, physical and intellectual development for children.
“Play is the work of children. It’s very serious stuff. And if it’s properly structured in a developmental program, children can blossom,” he said.
Keeshan was the author of numerous books, including "Growing Up Happy: Captain Kangaroo Tells Yesterday's Children How To Nurture Their Own" and "Good Morning Captain: 50 Wonderful Years With Bob Keeshan: TV's Captain Kangaroo." He also wrote a series of books about a character called "Itty Bitty Kitty."
Keeshan’s wife, Jeanne, died in 1990. He had three children.
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