Golden Age of Television - Actors on "Captain Kangaroo"
Tribute to a Great Soul
Captain Kangaroo ran during early weekday mornings on CBS for over 30 years from 1955 to 1984. From 1956 to 1864 and again in 1982, the show was joined by the Saturday Morning Treasure House and another day of fun for kids. Some adults also watched. The weekday broadcasts dropped off and the Saturday show remained for the last year or so of the program's run.
After Bob Keeshan (1927 - 2004) retired as Captain Kangaroo, which he created, another actor was tried in the title role, but failed very badly. To date, no one else has tried to play the part. However, I am thinking that if Tom Hanks can play Walt Disney, it is just a bit further stretching toward playing Captain Kangaroo in a full length film.
If you ever watched the show, who were your favorite actors - the humans or the puppets? I liked the hilarious cloth comedians Mr. Moose and Mr. Bunny Rabbit, and some folks adored Grandfather Clock even when his hands stuck, but many people loved Dancing Bear.
Cosmo Allegretti (1927 - 2013)
Last Man Standing
Unfortunately, Dancing Bear died in 2013 at the age of 86. He was portrayed in a bear suit by Cosmo Allegretti. Little did we know, but Mr. Allegretti played most of the other puppet part as well. Hired as a painter on the original sets, he rebuilt a professional puppet that the show's exeuctives rejected and created several more. From then on, he was a puppet master and even portrayed Dennis the Painter as a human being. Moreover, he was the Magic Drawing Board's artist.
Allegretti never seemed to tire of his many parts, because he was always funny and always energetic in portraying them. His part as a space alien in an Earth diner was worthy of the Coneheads on Saturday Night Live.
At random times, I still think of Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit and laugh, even though their Golden Age of Television was way back in the 1950s - 1960s.
While Moose and Bunny are at home now in the Smithsonian Institution, Dancing Bear's costume recently sold for $200,000 at auction.
Allegretti created Mr; Moose and Bunny Rabbit from his experience as a puppeteer before coming to Captain Kangaroo. He likely could have become one of Jim Henson's crew of Muppeteers, but he sayed with Bob Keeshan the friendly group on the show. From behind the camera, they used to try whoever was being shown forget their lines and laugh. Several times, I saw the Captain break up, laughing.
Born the same year as Keeshan. Allegretti outlived him by nearly a decade and was the sole surviving member of the cast of regulars.
Another Treasure House
Pee Wee Herman's wonderful playhouse was the Captain's Treasure House gone mad. the Playhouse series was also shown on CBS, from 1986 - 1990. Pee Wee's Magic Screen character resembled a similar device of the Captain's. Pee Wee also had a talking clock and many Guest stars, as did the Treasure House. In addition, Pee Wee ran cartoons from the Golden Age of Cartoons.
Bob Keeshan said of the show in 1996, "With the possible exception of the Muppets, you can't find such creativity anywhere on TV." (Entertainment Weekly)
The Captain's Side Kick
Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum (1910 - 1987) played Mr. Green Jeans on Keeshan's show, the farmer side kick of the Captain. Much of the interaction between the two characters was reminiscent of vaudeville.
Brannum was a well known singer and composer during the Big Band Era before coming to the children's show. He performed with the famous Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. That was the first step toward his Green Jeans character, because Waring had his own radio show and that is where Brannum met Bob Keeshan.
In the Treasure House, Mr. Green Jeans often presented animals of various species, keeping with his farmer's duties. Many children saw their first kinkajou and coatimundi on the show in the days before Jack Hanna decided that he wanted to be a zoo director when he grew up.
The Teasure House had a penchant for painters, because Hugh Brannum also played the part of Mr. Bainter the Painter, although he may never have appeared in the same scene as Donald the Painter (played by Allegretti).
Hugh Brannum and Bob Keeshan were both US Marines during WWII, but neither of them saw action, despite rumors to the contrary. Both stayed in the US during the war and Brannum played instruments for one of the US Marine Corps Bands. Nearly 20 years younger that Brannum, Keeshan joined the servce too late to be shipped out to a war zone.
For a few years, the Treasure House opened with a Good Morning, Captain sequence in which performers from other CBS shows wished the Captain a good morning. In one episode, the greeting was given by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) while in Star Fleet uniform. Watching the sequence at the time, I thought that the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans would make a pretty good rendition of an older Kirk and Spock. Today, I think I was correct. I have visions of Shatner and Nimoy doing a parody skit of the Treasure House.
Tribute to Cosmo Allegretti, the Last Survivor
As the popularity of early morning news programs like Today and CBS Morning News grew, Captain Kangaroo was pushed earlier into the morning hours and finally off the weekday programming schedule altogether and onto Saturday mornings as a final stop. Because school began so early in the mornings, I enjoyed only a couple of years of the show during its original run.
Losing Cosmo Allegretti in June 2013 causes sorrow for those of us that could watch him and the other Treasure House characters any time between 1955 through 1984 or in reruns after those years. His puppet characters made us smile and laugh as much as the human actors did and now we have only film memories.
During newscasts of war and murder and debates about political contrivances, I'd give anything to see Bunny Rabbit steal carrots from the Captain, or Mr. Moose play a trick on him. I'd like to see Dancing Bear dance with a ballerina again.
If I visit the Smithsonian display below, I will laugh and remember the ping ping ball joke Mr. moose played as often as he could. I will also remember the story he told, which must have been from vaudeville:
A boy moose and his uncle were tired from walking on a visit to New York City and were looking for a place to rest and perhaps get something to eat. The boy kept seeing restaurant signs, but his uncle would not stop at any of them.
When the boy finally asked why not, Uncle Moose replied:
"Restuar-aunt", "restaur-aunt", but no place to rest your dear old uncle!
- Captain Kangaroo television show, 1955 - 1984.
- Keeshan, B. Good Morning, Captain: Fifty Wonderful Years with Bob Keeshan, TV's Captain Kangaroo. 1996; Fairview Press.