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Children’s TV Icon Keeshan Dies at 76

Bob Keeshan, who played bushy-mustached children’s personality Captain Kangaroo, died at age 76.

"Bob Keeshan was a true pioneer in children’s television whose legacy goes unmatched," said CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves. "He was a great entertainer, showman and innovator and he will always hold a special place in the history of CBS and the hearts of television viewers."

Long Island-born Keeshan began as a receptionist at NBC Radio’s Manhattan office. There, Bob Smith offered him small parts acting on Triple B Ranch and as special assistant for The Howdy Doody Show.

Keeshan’s first appearance as Clarabell, the mute clown who communicated by honking a horn, generated enormous response and convinced him to take the role. Keehsan left the series in 1952 and went on to play a toymaker on WABC-TV New York’s Tinker’s Workshop, as well as a succession of other clown characters, such as Corny on the cartoon program Time For Fun.

Keeshan and long-time friend Jack Miller pitched the Captain Kangaroo series to CBS, which approved. Keeshan supervised and contributed to daily scripts of the show to insure it maintained his standards of appropriate children’s entertainment.

Captain Kangaroo debuted on CBS in 1955 (on the same day as the premiere of The Mickey Mouse Club) and became the longest-running children’s series in network history, lasting 29 years before leaving the air in 1984.

During the show’s run, Keeshan continued to use innovative approaches and engaging children with science, literature, and music. He rejected pressures towards commercialization of children’s programming and applied pressure to remove from the airwaves cartoons that he felt were too violent or promoted racial stereotypes.