Bob Keeshan, who entertained generations of children as TV’s Captain Kangaroo, died Friday in Vermont after a long illness. He was 76.
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 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.
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.
Lynbrook, N.Y., native became a page at NBC while he was in high school. He joined the Marine Corps in 1945.
After NBC, his first TV job was working for Bob Smith, a mentor and creator of “The Howdy Doody Show.” In 1948, Keeshan became the voiceless, horn-honking Clarabell the Clown on the pioneering kids’ show, a role he created and played for five years.
Later he played Corny the Clown, host of a noontime cartoon program in New York City.
“Captain Kangaroo” debuted on Oct. 3, 1955, and Keeshan remained in that role until 1993. He was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1987 and by many other organizations.
Keeshan, who moved to Vermont in 1990, remained active as a children’s advocate, writing books, lecturing and lobbying on kids’ issues.
He was critical of today’s TV programs for children, saying they were too full of violence.
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.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that Fred and I were not very happy with the way children’s television had gone,” Keeshan said.
Keeshan’s wife, Jeanne, died in 1990. Survivors include a son and two daughters.