Friday, January 23, 2004

Captain Kangaroo is dead
Bob Keeshan, childrens' advocate and star of Captain Kangaroo for 36 years, died this morning.

Fred Rogers died about the time I started blogging and I was surprised at the outpouring of sadness from the blogging community. I respected Rogers and felt bad, but I'm old enough that I didn't have a strong emotional attachment to him. Captain Kangaroo is a different matter.

Like Rogers, Keeshan's genius lay in being calm, respectful, and intimate with us rather than pandering to our sociopathic natures as kids. He created a warm safe place for an hour each morning. While Rogers was a friendly neighbor, Keeshan was everybody's grandfather. I'm not sure whether he ever thought it out this way, but he picked a valuable role to play. In the years after WWII, as families became more mobile, many kids didn't know their grandfathers; the role of grandfather was empty and needed to be filled.

Like all good childrens' show hosts, Keeshan had a special talent for creating memorable characters to act as his sidekicks. On Captain Kangaroo, the most important one by far, was Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh (Lumpy) Brannum, a former big-band bass player). I think that Mr. Green Jeans was second only to Smoky the Bear in developing an environmental consciousness among the baby boomers.

Keeshan had strong opinions about his business and about taking care of kids. He personally approved any ads that ran on his show, rejecting products that he thought exploited kids or were a waste of time. He sat on the boards of numerous foundations. He wrote books for parents and lobbied congress. In his later years he became a full-time advocate, working Fred Rogers to push for better programing and with Lamarr Alexander to provide corporate day-care facilities.

I think all of the great kid's hosts of that day are gone now. Rogers, died last year, Miss Frances of Ding Dong School in 2001, Shari Lewis in 1999, Buffalo Bob Smith in 1998, and Mr. Green Jeans in 1987 (the late Jim Henson was the next generation, but he belongs in the same pantheon). Now we have mostly corporate crap and, though some it is quite good, it just doesn't have the same warmth as those cheesy old black and white shows. I'll mis him.

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