Robert J. (Captain Kangaroo) Keeshan (1927-2004) Biography
See index for SATA sketch: Born June 27, 1927, in Lynbrook, Long Island, NY; died January 23, 2004, in Windsor, VT. Entertainer and author. Keeshan was famous as the star of the children's program Captain Kangaroo, which was broadcast on television for nearly forty years. Beginning in 1943 as a page for the National Broadcasting Corp. in New York City, Keeshan had been involved in the world of broadcasting since his teenage years. He left television briefly in 1945 to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended Fordham University from 1947 to 1950 with the intention of becoming a lawyer, but Keeshan was drawn back into television when he was offered a job on the Howdy Doody show in 1947. Initially, his role on the show was simply to help with props and keep the children entertained off camera when the program went to a commercial, but he progressed to television appearances that evolved into his nonspeaking role as the first Clarabell the Clown. Fired in 1952 when he and host Bob Smith had a disagreement, Keeshan was given a new role as Corny the Clown on the Time for Fun show in the mid-1950s, and he also played a toy maker on the program Tinker's Workshop in 1955. That year, producers at the Columbia Broadcasting System asked him to do a pilot for a children's program, and this turned into Captain Kangaroo. Sometimes compared to Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood fame, Keeshan was renowned for his gentle, nonviolent programming for children, which featured such characters as Mr. Moose and Dancing Bear, the adventures for "Tom Terrific," storybook reading, and advice to children about such sensible topics as good manners and health practices. Intended for preschool audiences, Captain Kangaroo enjoyed a successful run from 1955 until 1993 and received six Emmy awards, three for best children's program in 1978, 1981, and 1982, and three for outstanding performer in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Always concerned about children's welfare, Keeshan often lectured on the subject long after his program went off the air, and in 1987 he was a cofounder of Corporate Family Solutions, which provided day care for working parents. Keeshan published a number of children's books, too, including She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not (1963), Hurry, Murry, Hurry! (1996), and Just Right for Itty Bitty Kitty (1997); for adults, he wrote Growing Up Happy: Captain Kangaroo Tells Yesterday's Children How to Nurture Their Own (1989) and the autobiography Good Morning, Captain (1996). Among his numerous awards, Keeshan most recently earned a Frances Holleman Breathitt Award for Excellence from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1987 and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Medical Association in 1991; in 1990 he was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2004, section 1, pp. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004, p. B22.
New York Times, January 24, 3004, p. A13.
Washington Post, January 24, 2004, pp. A1, A7.
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