Steamboat Springs Editor's Note: Tom Ross is on vacation. This column originally appeared on Jan. 26, 2004.
I lost one of the best friends I never met last week when Bob Keeshan died at the age of 76 in Windsor, Vt. I am told that as a 2-year-old in San Antonio, Texas, one of my most oft repeated phrases was, "Wanna see 'Roo!" Roo, of course, was Captain Kangaroo of the famed children's TV show, who happened to be Keeshan's alter ego. Every day at 8 a.m., he calmly endured pingpong ball barrages at the hands of a puppet named Mr. Moose. The moose always unleashed the pingpong balls immediately after telling an exceptionally bad knock-knock joke.
Aardvark a thousand miles for one of your smiles.
Didn't I promise you exceptionally bad knock-knock jokes?
Those of you who are younger than 25 probably have no idea who Keeshan was, though he was on the air until 1984. By then, a snappier show called "Sesame Street" was teaching trigonometry to 3-year-olds. However, those in their late 40s or early 50s grew up with Keeshan's soft-spoken TV character, Captain Kangaroo. He sported a Beatles haircut when the Beatles were still in grammar school, and he wore the same coat with the contrasting piping on the lapels every day. Captain Kangaroo's coat had large patch pockets on it, and I'm told it was bright red, though it was difficult to be sure on black and white television. He filled his pockets with carrots with the leafy tops still attached. Another character on the show, Bunny Rabbit, was always conning the captain out of his carrots. Bunny Rabbit was a puppet who wore horn-rimmed glasses. Captain Kangaroo worked the pingpong ball gag and the carrot con to death every morning, and somehow it was immensely appealing to kids of the '50s and their mothers.
"I liked Captain Kangaroo because he never patronized children. He treated them like real people," my own mother recalled. Most children's shows of the day featured studio audiences with rows of well-scrubbed kids sitting on bleachers. They gave the actors a bunch of semi-hysterical fans to interact with. But Captain Kangaroo wasn't afraid to rely solely on looking and speaking into the camera. He taught us to be good to one another, and he espoused the virtue of patience. The show was m-e-l-l-o-w. It was so mellow, one of the characters was a grandfather clock with eyes, who always drowsed off in the middle of the proceedings.
Captain Kangaroo's sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans (the actor Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum) would usually bring a zoo animal onto the set. Later they would pull a shoebox full of art supplies out from under the counter and make a little project. Then, it was story time, and Captain Kangaroo would patiently turn the book around so all the kids at home could see the pictures.
Finally, Captain Kangaroo would introduce that swell cartoon, "The Adventures of Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog," and it was almost time to lock up the Treasure House for another day.
Norma Lee who?
Norma Lee I wouldn't attempt to pad my Monday column with bad jokes that I found on the Internet. However, if Bob Keeshan was able to influence an entire generation of American children with knock-knock jokes day after day, I should be able to get away with it once in awhile.
Thanks for the memories, Captain Kangaroo!