Although it went off the air in 1984, Bob Keeshan’s Captain Kangaroo television show continues to inform and influence the American psyche. More sophisticated than Romper Room; earthier than Mister Roger’s Neighborhood; and more fantastic than Howdy Doody, the Captain Kangaroo Show captured generations of viewers with the force and intensity of a Hula Hoop craze. The lessons the Captain taught us, intentional or otherwise, are still unforgettable today:
- Never trust a Bunny Rabbit (or a Mister Moose). The keystone to Captain Kangaroo’s personality was a trusting innocence that bordered on gullibility. The man wanted more than anything else to be liked, and so would put up with the most appalling abuse from his cohorts. While the show itself was set in a bland and benign never-never land, there were sinister characters at work. I’m not afraid to name names – Bunny Rabbit and Mister Moose! The mute Bunny Rabbit, with his respectable glasses perched on his nose, was the acknowledged ringleader, while Mister Moose, with his laid back yellow antlers and folksy, high-pitched voice, acted as a jeering Greek Chorus. The Captain could never learn to leave these two shady characters alone; the upshot was always the same – a deluge of ping pong balls upon his Dutch boy haircut. The lesson for today’s youth is still quite clear: Hand Puppets Are Evil.
- Beware of green jeans bearing gifts. Green Jeans, played by Hugh Brannum, appeared on the surface to be a genial country hick who often brought cute little barnyard animals for the Captain to inspect and enjoy. What has been carefully expunged from the record all these years is that Mr. Green Jeans had his own agenda in buttering up the Captain with his pets, clearly revealed in the taped-but-never-shown episode where he introduced the Captain to a Gaboon viper, mislabeling it as an ‘inchworm’. The ugly truth is that Hugh Brannum was after the Captain’s job, and would stick at nothing to obtain it. Fortunately the viper had just ingested a large rat and was rather sluggish, so it did not strike the Captain. It is interesting to note that after this episode Mr. Green Jeans was always shadowed by Dancing Bear, who allegedly had ties with the Mossad . . .
- There will always be a Banana Man. Despite the depressing intrigue and abuse that swirled around the Captain like an oily fog, there were always those moments of pure and delirious enchantment when the Banana Man would make his appearance. This gifted zany, a throw-back to Vaudeville, visited the show about four times a year with his trunk full of foam rubber bananas and other clownish accoutrements. He represented the simple and joyous side of childhood silliness. Even the avowed cynic had to smile at his uninhibited nonsense.
- Clocks can talk, as can radios. Grandfather clock not only kept time but dispensed wisdom as well. His maxims are still with us today, although it is mere urban legend that he came up with the phrase “It’s Miller Time!” The old-fashioned cathedral radio that the Captain would turn to (and turn on) during good times and bad, also dispensed sound and rational advice. From this we learn that the inanimate world has valuable lessons to impart to us, if we will only seek to ‘hear’ them. (Not Intended as an Endorsement for the Use of Any Recreational Substance.)
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