The Captain…Our Mentor and Grandfather

Imagine a children’s program that capitalized on the relationship children shared with their grandparents—and its host and advocate for children—Bob Keeshan.  He instinctively understood the needs of children and launched a children’s morning program on CBS in 1955 dedicated to making children feel safe, entertained, and understood. 

Keeshan was a born mentor and an intuitive grandfather figure.  His programs were solely committed to entertaining kids and finding the humor in everyday experiences from a child’s point of view.  They were also planned and orchestrated around teaching good solid moral values—something so lost in society today. 

Captain Kangaroo was Bob Keeshan and Bob Keeshan was Captain Kangaroo – who played himself for three decades.

I parallel “The Captain” with my own childhood history.  Like most of you, I grew up with Captain Kangaroo every weekday morning before school while consuming a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – “The Best To You Each Morning.”  Mornings were also spent with my grandfather, who made us feel safe and loved. 

Few things exceed the love I shared with my grandparents more than a half-century ago—particularly my grandfather, Lt. Paul W. Proctor, who enjoyed a career with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and White House Police for three decades.  He served under several presidents dating back to the 1920s, retiring under Harry S. Truman in 1947 after suffering a heart attack.  He retired to Arlington, Virginia across from Fort Myer where he’d lived out his life with my grandmother until he passed peacefully in 1966.    

My grandfather had a kind, gentle demeanor much like The Captain.  He calmly explained things to my sisters and me in ways we could understand.  He was extraordinarily patient with us even when we were acting up.  He was also no-nonsense.  He never once spanked us.  However, when he glared across a room at you and instructed you how to behave, you did exactly what you were told. He was firm…but long on love. What’s more, the values he taught us live on today in each of us. We’ve never forgotten what our mentor instilled in us.

Keeshan was no nonsense too, especially in his advocacy for children.  Later in life, he voiced great concern over the violence in children’s video games.  Of course, not enough people were listening as witness some of the violent video games I’ve seen lately.  Keeshan once said “Violence is part of life, and there is no getting away from it,” adding, “But there is also gentleness in life, and this is what we have tried to stress on our shows.”  Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House was a place where children could come and feel safe even if they were living in unspeakable conditions.

We need more Bob Keeshans in our world today—those who look out for kids who set a proper example.  We’ve evolved from being a kind and respectful society to a disgusting appalling social climate where it has become fashionable to be trashy, rude, and insulting.  I ask what’s to be gained by being rude and insulting? 

Time for a long look at ourselves.

Captain Kangaroo taught us common decency despite raining ping pong balls, Bunny Rabbit antics, and the practical on-screen practical jokes that made of us laugh a half century ago.  It was all meant in good fun.  The ability to laugh at one’s self.

Though it is impossible to believe today, Keeshan was just 28 when he launched Captain Kangaroo.  It was those big deep pockets like a Kangaroo pouch that inspired the name Captain Kangaroo.  As time passed, Keeshan’s advancing age made it easier to play the part.  He was such a convincing character that people, especially children, believed he really was Captain Kangaroo living in the Treasure House.

In his biography, “Good Morning Captain,” he said his youngest daughter, Maeve, visited the set and sat in the Captain’s lap. When “The Captain” returned to the set void of his on-screen costume, Maeve said, “Daddy – Daddy, you just missed Captain Kangaroo!” 

That’s how good he was at portraying his role.

This holiday season and a dream I recently awakened from recently inspired me to recognize Bob Keeshan in Boomer Journey.  The valuable things he taught us so long ago need to find renewed purpose for children on the morning screen.  I firmly believe children haven’t changed much since 1955.  What they’re being taught has. 

I think as time went on dwindling advertising dollars overcame The Captain’s purpose on CBS, which whittled this show down to 30 minutes, then – canceled it in 1984.  CBS had lost morning market share to the other networks and needed a quick fix.  Baby Boomers had come of age and Captain Kangaroo lost its core audience. 

Yet, children needed a continuing mentor like Bob Keeshan. 

Captain Kangaroo aired on CBS for 29 years spanning 1955-84.  It swiftly became an institution for children and adults alike and for three decades.  When CBS canceled The Captain in 1984, PBS quickly picked it up and ran it until 1994.  As long as I live, I will never forget the Captain Kangaroo theme known as “Puffin Billy” written in 1934 by written by Edward G. White and recorded by the Melodi Light Orchestra.  It had a soft gentle lighthearted feel that still rings in our heads 60 years later. So do the memories of our own Bob Keeshan—Captain Kangaroo—who will forever live on in our hearts.

Good Morning, Captain… 

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