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  • Writer's pictureJohn Shore

The Terrorizing Trauma of Captain Kangaroo

In my last post about pet-scarfing tomato plants, I mentioned Mr. Green Jeans—or, as he was affectionately known by Captain Kangaroo, “that senile farmer who keeps wandering onto my show.”

I’m kidding, of course. Mr. Green Jeans wasn’t a senile farmer. He was a pot farmer. (Fun fact: The giant pockets on Captain Kangaroo’s coat were for holding the sacks of weed Mr. Green Jeans gave him in exchange for letting him be on TV.)

The “Captain Kangaroo” children’s show ran from 1955 to 1984—so from “I Like Ike” to “Oh No Michael Jackson’s Hair Caught on Fire.” I watched it in 1963, when I was five—and in black and white, since I wasn’t from the future.

The photo shows the cast of “Captain Kangaroo.” From left to right we have Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, Captain Kangaroo, Grandfather Clock, Mister Moose and (a plainly high) Mr. Green Jeans.

Dancing Bear scared me. He was gigantic, silent, and danced like Frankenstein with rigamortis. Standing alone against a white wall, he’d simply wave his arms and legs around like some clumsy, weird-eyed giant drowning in the air. It was unnerving.

Bunny Rabbit: So small you couldn’t see him without practically smashing your nose up against the screen. Wore spectacles. (Fact: The American Society of Veterinarian Ophthalmology was founded two years after "Captain Kangaroo" went on the air. Coincidence? No.) Like Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit was voiceless. Unlike Dancing Bear, who never seemed to have any point at all, Bunny Rabbit made his points by repeatedly slamming his face against the table. Even I knew that wasn't the best approach to eyewear care.

Mr. Moose: Objectively annoying. A natural-born cigar smoker if it wouldn't have burned the hand keeping him alive. Made a lot of dumb, obvious jokes that only he thought were hilarious. “Just like you!” said my evil stupid and always tragically wrong sister.

Grandfather Clock: The jerking way his eyes and mouth moved just behind the flatness of his visage would give Leatherface nightmares. His whole persona was relentlessly melancholic. The subtext of his every word seemed to be, “Struggle, strive, be a coward or brave; in the blink of an eye you will be in your grave.” So that was fun.

Mr. Green Jeans: Seemed lonely. Clearly using an alias: whose first name is GREEN? (I always assumed his given name was Mr. Overalls, since that’s all he ever wore.) Usually arrived at the Captain’s dragging behind him some animal that was marginally exotic and obviously sedated.

The motionless creature would be huddled on the bottom of the cage he’d just wheeled in. “Why, look at that,” Captain Kangaroo would say. “What kind of animal did you bring us today, Mr. Green Jeans?”

Green would rub his chin. “Not really sure,” he’d say. Then he’d take hold of his pitchfork. “But I'll tell you what. Bet I can make it move.”

Pitchfork at the ready, he’d then slowly open the animal’s cage. The creature, sensing freedom, would stir. Now gripping his weapon with both hands, Green would say, “You might want to step back here, Cap. This might get pretty ugly.”

In response to the sudden awakening of their tribal bloodlust, Bunny Rabbit would start frenetically smashing his head on the table, while Mr. Moose screamed out derangedly nonsensical Knock Knock jokes and Dancing Bear broke into what can only be described as the Dance of Terror. Through the terrifying cacophony would come Grandfather Clock's voice, intoning, “Do it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”

And then Mr. Green Jeans—eyes wide, drooling tongue hanging out of his mouth—would lunge.

I'm telling you: at least once a week I remember how glad I am that show wasn't in color.

I have a friend who's my age—a guy who looks quite a bit like me, actually. He remembers “Captain Kangaroo” as a wonderful, engaging and fun show that made him feel comfortable, encouraged and even nurtured.

"How can you just come right out and say that?" I said to him.

"Why in the world wouldn't I?" he replied.

Boy. There is just no understanding some people.

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