Did Captain Kangaroo fight at Iwo Jima with actor Lee Marvin?
Was Mr. Green Jeans the father of musician Frank Zappa?
Captain Kangaroo, Bob Keeshan, a native of Lynbrook, New York, graduated early from Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York. In 1945, because of World War II, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He had not yet been sent to an overseas assignment when it was announced that Japan had surrendered. On the GI Bill, Bob attended Fordham University and Hillsdale College just about the time television network programs began airing.
Bob soon found a job with NBC Studios working as a page doing odd jobs for Howdy Doody, a pioneer children’s show which premiered in 1947.
He was paid so little that the show’s host Buffalo Bob Smith would give Bob $6 after every show. On January 3, 1948, Bob was promoted to the role of Clarabell the Clown, a silent prankster who communicated by honking horns connected to a waist belt. One horn for “yes.” Two honks meant “no.”
Bob met a fellow Marine known as “Lumpy,” a musician who had played in the Marine band during the war. Later Lumpy joined the Four Squires and afterwards moved on as a musician for Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. This group had a regular radio show when Bob first became acquainted with Lumpy. It just so happened that Lumpy began hosting his on New York WABC-TV local TV series, Uncle Lumpy’s Cabin in 1951.
By the following year, Bob left Howdy Doody as Clarabell over a salary dispute. In 1952 he returned to TV in a speaking role as Corny the Clown in Time For Fun at WABC-TV where Lumpy was playing.
That same year he began an additional role playing the grandfather type character of Tinker for preschoolers in Tinker’s Workshop. It was in this work that Bob and long-time friend Jack Miller developed the concept of Captain Kangaroo. CBS loved the idea.
Here are over 20 facts about the beloved Captain Kangaroo program that most people don’t know:
—CBS premiered the show on October 3, 1955, the same day Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club began on ABC. Both were mega-hits. Bob had described his character as based on “the warm relationship between grandparents and children.” He went on to be Captain Kangaroo for almost three decades.
—Lumpy’s real name was Hugh Brannum, but the world knows him as Mr. Green Jeans. His character was loosely based on stories about a boy named “Little Orley” that Lumpy told with the Fred Waring orchestra on the radio and on recordings. Mr. Green Jeans was a friendly neighbor-handyman who helped the Captain at the Treasure House. Sometimes he would bring various zoo animals to visit.
—From 1955 until 1984, Brannum not only was Mr. Green Jeans, he played the roles of the Professor, Greeno the Clown, the New Old Folk Singer, Mr. McGregor, Percy, Uncle Backwards, and Mr. Bainter the Painter.
—According to Bob Keeshan, Mr. Green Jeans was an enhancement of Brannum’s real personality. The shows were performed before a live audience and during one taping, a lion cub bit Brannum’s finger and drew blood. Brannum stuck his bleeding hand into his pocket and never broke character for the remainder of the episode.
Two major myths about Bob and Lumpy:
Myth #1: Bob Keeshan fought next to actor Lee Marvin in the military during WWII at Iwo Jima. The legend goes that Marvin told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show about fighting with Keeshan. It never happened. Neither were there.
Myth #2: Hugh Brannum was the father of musician Frank Zappa. This was not true but many people think the rumor started because of a Zappa composition titled “Son of Mr. Green Genes” on his 1969 album, Hot Rats.
—The iconic theme song for Captain Kangaroo was not unique to the show. “Puffin’ Billy” was actually borrowed from Chappell Recorded Music Library in Britain. Usually the show began with the theme music starting up, then the Captain would unlock and open the doors of the Treasure House from the inside. Children would get their first glimpse of him. Then he would put the Treasure House keys on a nail, and the music would stop. On occasion, the Captain could not get the keys to stay on the nail, and when they fell off, the theme music would begin playing again.
—The “Kangaroo” came from the deep pockets in his captain’s coat. Sometimes Bob played the parts of Mr. Pennywhistle, Mr. Doodle, Wally and the Town Clown.
— During the first four years, the show was telecast live twice each day. One performance for the East Coast and another for the Midwest. Because Bob would not perform the show live three times daily, it was broadcast on kinescope for the West Coast.
— One important person on the show was Cosmo Allegretti an actor-puppeteer who originally started as a painter on the sets. His Captain Kangaroo characters were Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dennis the Apprentice, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, and Uncle Ralph. He created many of the puppets on the show and became the puppet master for the series. He died in July of 2013 at the age of 86 at his home in Phoenix, Arizona.
—After Cosmo’s death, his Dancing Bear costume sold for $200,000. Mr. Moose is on display with one of the Captain’s original navy blue jackets at the Smithsonian Institution. (In the 1970s, the jackets went from blue to red.).
—Bob Keeshan stepped off a plane at Toronto International Airport on his way to accept a children’s service award on July 13, 1981. Moments later he suffered a heart attack and underwent triple-bypass surgery. While in the hospital he received over 5,000 get-well wishes from fans.
—Beginning in 1974, before the theme song came on, the program always began with various people saying “Good Morning, Captain!” Most were unknown, but occasionally special guests would appear. Among the notable greeters were Star Trek’s William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the “Peanuts” characters, Mister Rogers, and the stars of “M*A*S*H” and “The Price is Right.”
—In season 21, episode 3, Dolly Parton appeared as a special guest to not only wish the Captain a good morning during the very beginning of the show, but was overtaken by overwhelming laughter in the middle of a song she and the Captain sang together.
—Other celebrities who appeared on the show included Carrie Fisher, Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby, Nipsey Russell, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dick Shawn, Arte Johnson, Andy Griffith, Alan Arkin, Adam Arkin, Shari Lewis, Skitch Henderson, Pearl Bailey, Carol Channing, Stephanie Mills, Lorne Greene, Walter Cronkite, Marlo Thomas, Jack Gilford, Minnie Pearl, Danny Aiello, Doc Severinsen, Emmett Kelly, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Grier, Stubby Kaye, Alan Sues, George Kirby, Godfrey Cambridge, Dudley Moore, Bob Denver, Jo Ann Worley, John Ritter, Gale Gordon, Barbara Rush, Eli Wallach, Estelle Parsons, Mary Kay Place, Fannie Flagg, and Jean Stapleton.
— Keeshan left Captain Kangaroo when his contract with CBS ended in December 1984, just nine months shy of the show’s 30th anniversary. In 1985 he was honored with a primetime network TV farewell special called “Captain Kangaroo and Friends.”
—Bob Keeshan passed away in January of 2004 and is buried in New York. Along the way he received five Emmy awards and several honorary doctorate degrees. Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo was such a significant person in so many young lives, he still lives in the hearts and minds of millions.
—Britton Keeshan, at age 22, climbed Mount Everest to become the youngest person to ever climb the Seven Summits. After reaching the peak, he buried a photo of his grandfather in the snow, leaving his legacy “at the top of the world.”