Robert James Keeshan
June 27, 1927
Lynbrook, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 23, 2004 (aged 76)|
Windsor, Vermont, U.S.
|Alma mater||Fordham University|
|Occupation||Television host, producer, actor|
|Relatives||Britton Keeshan (grandson)|
Robert James Keeshan (June 27, 1927 – January 23, 2004) was an American television producer and actor. He created and played the title role in the children's television program Captain Kangaroo, which ran from 1955 to 1984, the longest-running nationally broadcast children's television program of its day. Keeshan also played the original Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody television program.
Keeshan was born to Irish parents, in Lynbrook, New York. After an early graduation from Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York, in 1945, during World War II, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, but was still in the United States when Japan surrendered. He attended Fordham University on the GI Bill. He received his bachelor's in education in 1951.
An urban legend claims that actor Lee Marvin said on The Tonight Show that he had fought alongside Keeshan at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. However, Marvin never said this, not having served on Iwo Jima (Marvin was wounded during the Battle of Saipan), and Keeshan never saw combat, having enlisted too late to serve overseas.
Network television programs began shortly after the end of the war. Howdy Doody, an early show which premiered in 1947 on NBC, was one of the first. Debuting on January 3, 1948, Keeshan played Clarabell the Clown, a silent Auguste clown who communicated by honking several horns attached to a belt around his waist. One honk meant "yes"; two meant "no". Clarabell often sprayed Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle and played practical jokes. Keeshan had conflicts with Smith and in late 1952 left the show, or possibly was fired, after hiring an agent for himself and other workers on the show.
By September 21, 1953, Keeshan came back to local TV on WABC-TV, Channel 7 in New York City, in a new children's show, Time for Fun. He played Corny the Clown, and this time he spoke. Later that same year, in addition to Time for Fun, Keeshan began Tinker's Workshop, a program aimed at preschoolers, with him playing the grandfather-like Tinker.
Developing ideas from Tinker's Workshop, Keeshan and his long-time friend Jack Miller submitted the concept of Captain Kangaroo to the CBS network, which was looking for innovative approaches to children's television programming. CBS approved the show, and Keeshan starred as the title character when it premiered on CBS on October 3, 1955. Keeshan described his character as based on "the warm relationship between grandparents and children". The show was an immediate success, and he served as its host for nearly three decades.
Keeshan also had a Saturday morning show called Mister Mayor during the 1964–65 season. Keeshan, in his role as the central character in both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Mayor, heavily promoted the products of the Schwinn Bicycle Co., a sponsor, directly on-air to his audience. By 1972, Keeshan had introduced another character on Captain Kangaroo to recommend Schwinn products, Mr. Schwinn Dealer, due to the Federal Trade Commission ruling against children's show hosts directly endorsing their sponsor's products during their programs after 1969.
Keeshan had a longtime close friendship with Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Each paid visits to the other's show (Keeshan on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Rogers on Captain Kangaroo) in 1970, and the two appeared together on the PBS special Springtime with Mister Rogers in 1980. The following year, Fred Rogers appeared briefly in Keeshan's TV special Good Evening, Captain (following Keeshan's 1981 heart attack), in which Rogers and Dick Clark both presented Keeshan with flowers at the end of the show.
Keeshan did voice recordings for a number of albums for Columbia Records, Golden Records and RCA-Victor. Several were of children's songs performed with other characters from Captain Kangaroo, but other albums included A Child's Introduction to Jazz, narration for Peter and the Wolf conducted by Leopold Stokowski, and Captain Kangaroo Introduces You to the Nutcracker Suite.
Heart attack and cancellation
Keeshan suffered a severe heart attack just moments after stepping off a plane at Toronto Pearson International Airport on July 11, 1981, which pushed the start of a revamped version of his show back to at least mid-August. He had come to the city to accept a children's service award.
Following the heart attack, Keeshan received three Emmy awards for Outstanding Performer in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Despite these accolades, Keeshan's show was shortened from its hour-long format to 30 minutes in 1981, to make room for the expansion of the CBS Morning News lineup. The program was retitled Wake Up with the Captain, and moved to a new 7:00 am time slot. At the start of 1982, the show was rescheduled to an even earlier slot of 6:30 am. In the fall of 1982, CBS installed it as a weekend-only hour offering, and two years later, in the fall of 1984, the show became a Saturday half-hour entry.
Tired of CBS's constant reductions of his show, Keeshan left Captain Kangaroo when his contract with the network ended in December 1984, just nine months shy of the show's 30th anniversary. By 1987, repeats of the show were airing daily on many PBS stations.
Keeshan's show was given a farewell of sorts with Captain Kangaroo and Friends, a primetime network TV special that aired in 1985.
After Captain Kangaroo ended, Keeshan hosted 1985's CBS Storybreak, which featured animated versions of children's literature. Keeshan appeared in framing sequences for the animated stories, showcasing the book versions and suggesting similar books for the viewers to seek out. In 1987, Keeshan founded Corporate Family Solutions with former Tennessee Republican Governor Lamar Alexander. The company provided day-care programs to businesses.
Keeshan lived on Melbury Road in Babylon Village, Long Island, New York, before moving to spend the last 14 years of his life in Norwich, Vermont, where he became a children's advocate, as well as an author. He published his memoirs, entitled Good Morning, Captain, in 1995 by Fairview Press. He was a strong advocate against video game violence and took part in congressional hearings in 1993. In addition, he joined with parents' groups in the 1980s who protested children's TV shows based on toys like He-Man and Transformers; he felt that toys turned into TV shows did not teach children anything about the real world. He also made a rare film appearance in The Stupids in 1996.
Keeshan was an adopted member of the Dartmouth College class of 1942, receiving an honorary doctorate from the college in 1975. He was also awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters by Fordham University in 1975. Le Moyne College, a Jesuit liberal arts college in Syracuse, New York, awarded him an honorary doctor of humane letters in 1983. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of New Rochelle in 1985, after serving for several years on its board of trustees. In 1997, he received an honorary doctorate from Middlebury College, the alma mater of his grandson Britton Keeshan, for his work in children's literacy. That same year he starred as the Wizard in the St. Louis Muny Outdoor Theater production of The Wizard of Oz.
In the 1990s, Keeshan expressed an interest in bringing back a new version of Captain Kangaroo as a gentler and kinder answer to the violent cartoons on children's television. Despite having sponsors and television stations lined up, Keeshan was unable to obtain permission from ICM, the company that owned the rights to Captain Kangaroo at that time.
Keeshan died in Windsor, Vermont, on January 23, 2004, at age 76. He was survived by three children: Michael Derek, Laurie Margaret, and Maeve Jeanne. His wife of 45 years, Anne Jeanne Laurie Keeshan, died February 25, 1996. Keeshan's grandson, Britton Keeshan, became the youngest person at that time to have climbed the Seven Summits by climbing Mount Everest in May 2004. He carried photographs of his grandfather on that ascent, and buried a photo of the two of them at the summit.
Keeshan received many awards, including:
- Iris Award for man of the year from NATPE, 1965
- Honorary doctorate of humane letters from Alfred University, 1969
- Several other honorary doctorates and degrees
- Five Emmy Awards (1978, 1981–1984)
- Three Peabody Awards (1958, 1972, 1979)
- National Education Award, 1982
- Induction into the clown hall of fame, 1990
- American Medical Association Distinguished Service award, 1991
- Induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, 1998
- "Bob Keeshan | American television producer and entertainer". Encyclopedia Britannica.
- "Keeshan, Robert James | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com.
- "Bob Keeshan, Who Played Captain Kangaroo on TV, Is Dead". The New York Times. January 23, 2004.
They were Irish on both sides of the family
- Flocker, Michael (2002). Vermont: The Green Mountain State. Gareth Stevens. p. 41. ISBN 9780836851465. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
- Fatama, Rahman. "Robert Keeshan". www.fordham.edu.
- Zec, Donald. Marvin: The Story of Lee Marvin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980, ISBN 0-312-51780-7, p. 217.
- snopes (February 22, 2016). "FALSE: Captain Kangaroo and Lee Marvin : snopes.com". snopes.
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- "Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, the original Clarabell the Clown". January 28, 2012.
- "The Museum of Broadcast Communications – Encyclopedia of Television".
- Info on Mr. Keeshan's involvement with Time For Fun and Tinker's Workshop can be found in "The NYC Kids Shows Round Up"section of the "TV Party" website at www.tvparty.com
- Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles: Lessons from the Leading Post-World War II U.S. Bicycle Brand, Babson College, MA (2007) Article Archived May 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
- Petty, Ross D., Pedaling Schwinn Bicycles, p. 6.
- "Bob Keeshan". Discogs.
- "'Captain Kangaroo' suffers heart attack, show delayed". The Free Lance-Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Associated Press. July 13, 1981. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- "'Capt. Kangaroo' Goes Home". Los Angeles Times. United Press International. August 3, 1987. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Sullivan, Patricia (January 24, 2004). "'Captain Kangaroo' Was Friend To Generations of Youngsters". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- Newcomb, Horace, ed. (February 3, 2014). Encyclopedia of Television (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 1242. ISBN 978-1135194796.
- Bruni, Frank (February 9, 1997). "Are They Dead Yet? Well, Yes and No". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
- Keeshan, Robert (1996). Good Morning, Captain: Fifty Wonderful Years with Bob Keeshan, TV's Captain Kangaroo. Fairview Press. ISBN 978-1577490005.
- Walsh, Bill. "Corporations Buying and Selling Captain Kangaroo". Media Literacy Review. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- Ruibal, Sal (June 2, 2004). "Keeshan spans globe to honor famous 'Kangaroo'". USA Today. Retrieved September 20, 2007.
- Wilson, Scott (August 19, 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland – via Google Books.
- "Honorary Degrees, I-L". Alfred University, Herrick Memorial Library. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- "Keeshan, Bob". The Museum of Broadcast Communications: Encyclopedia of Television. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
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