Today is the birthday of the great Bob Keeshan (1927-2004). In No Applause I spoke of children’s entertainment as one of the last places you could find vestiges of pure vaudeville, and Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan’s CBS show from 1955 through 1984 showcased many such remnants.
Keeshan had gotten his start playing Clarabelle the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show (1948-1952). On Kangaroo he ran the whole show, still playing a mute clown character called the Town Clown, but mostly playing emcee as the sweet-mannered Captain, reading stories to children, announcing various segments and special guests (often major celebrities), and engaging in comedy routines with various puppets and costumed characters, many of which were played by Cosmo Allegretti: Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock, Rollo the Hippo, Dennis the Handyman, etc. Others in the cast included Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum, a musical veteran of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians who played the Captain’s right hand man Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Bainter the Painter, and other characters. And then there was the Banana Man, based on vaudeville’s Banana Man A. Robins, but played by one Sam Levine. Other regular features included Magic Drawing Board and “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings”, later parodied on SNL by Mike Myers.
Here’s a can’t-miss routine that was a highlight of the show as I remember it. Every show (it ran every weekday morning before school). Mr. Moose would trick the Captain into saying a secret word that would release a humiliating cascade of ping pong balls on top of his head. Here’s what the bit looked like:
To find out about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc