Captain Kangaroo & Me
Posted August 24, 2009on:
As part of the Susan T. Hessel Breast Cancer Challenge, I noted the many cultural icons that I already had thrown into my blog posts. I then suggested that friends, family and even strangers challenge me with names of icons – human or otherwise – that I would have to include in these entries.
The first that came in was Captain Kangaroo from my friend, Rebekkah, and it really made me laugh. It was also a challenge. This would get no one-line, smart aleck entry from me. No it would not.
I thought first about writing about how Captain Kangaroo was an example of how when we are under stress we go back to what gave us comfort at an earlier time in our life, such as the foods that we loved as kids. If we were lucky, we had all sorts of positives in our childhoods when we felt safe and secure. I certainly did.
I grew up watching Captain Kangaroo – and can still hum the theme music. Of course I watched it around the time when I was told to “mouth the words” in school, so perhaps writing about the good Captain might be too stressful after all. Nah.
I researched a bit more about Captain Kangaroo, who got his name from the large pockets in his jacket. He was the original Clarabell the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show in the 1950s, which was much more raucous than Captain Kangaroo would later be. He evidently got into disputes with Buffalo Bob Smith and was fired. Kids knew the new Clarabell was a phony, which led to him being called back to the show. But a bunch of cast members later protested something or other and he was gone again.
In an interview, Keeshan said he learned a lot from Smith, but they had different philosophies. Keeshan was interested in education and morality lessons, while Buffalo Bob Smith was there just to be fun.
Much later in the 1990s there was an attempt to bring back the New Captain Kangaroo with Keeshan as an occasional visitor playing Admiral Kangaroo. He declined, believing it was not the quality of his earlier program, which ran from 1955 to 1984 on CBS and from 1986 to 1993 on PBS. The All New Captain Kangaroo bombed.
I read this long and apparently rare interview with Keeshan on line (http://www.tvparty.com/lostterrytoons.html). I was struck by this question from interviewer L. Wayne Hicks and the answer from Capt. K:
Q: I look back at the show and I think about Tom Terrific and ping-pong balls and Dancing Bear and I have this sense of well-being.
A: That latter is probably the most important thing you could say. However we got there, that’s where we were going. Giving you that sense of well-being, giving you that confidence, that good feeling that you were able to do anything, that you were able to accomplish some things. That you were able to undertake something that maybe other people would tell you you couldn’t do.
The last question was equally powerful:
Q: So how would you like to be remembered?
A: Oh, just that I made children feel a little better about themselves, in general. I certainly didn’t do it with every child, but that was my intent.
So how does this apply to my battle with breast cancer or someone else’s? There were no female cast members on Captain Kangaroo until the 1970s so it is a bit of a stretch to turn that show into a breast cancer post.
But maybe, like Keeshan said, this column will encourage women with breast cancer (including myself) to believe that “You were able to undertake something that maybe other people would tell you you couldn’t do.”
And, maybe, just maybe, someone will feel a little better about themselves from reading this blog entry. I feel better just writing it.
P.S. Have ideas for what kind of cultural icon I should work into my blog, please email me or post it as a comment. Sorry, I’ve already used Tevye, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Connors, Emelda Marcos and more. If you make suggestions, I’ll try to work them into my blog just for the fun of it and maybe an inspirational thought or two.