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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

The captain and the kids

Bunny Rabbit's face is buried in his paws. Mr. Moose's antlers droop. Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, has died at 76 in Vermont after a long illness.

And although he and the characters he created, from Crabby Appleton to Mr. Green Jeans, will remain cultural icons for millions of baby boomers, those who fight for better broadcasting suffered a loss, too.

Mr. Keeshan was an outspoken advocate for more intelligent and less violent television programming, something sorely needed today. Few knew more about children's programming than Mr. Keeshan, who first appeared on TV in 1948 as Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody Show, and went on to help invent the best of it.

Many were startled last week to learn that the grandfatherly looking Captain was only 27 when he began playing the role in 1955. With his walrus-like mustache, sugar-bowl haircut, and uniform-style coat with its huge pockets, he always looked on the brink of old age.

But he knew something that many have forgotten: The vital role of play.

Mr. Keeshan entertained and challenged youngsters as Captain Kangaroo for 30 years on CBS, and for six years more on public TV.

As a pioneer in children's TV programming, he had amazing insights into parenting, abilities that, sadly, escape too many parents now. He never gave parents a reason to fret over the show's content, as their younger counterparts do today.

He visited Toledo three times in his later years, in 1989, 1992, and 1996 and he continued to speak for children, write books, lecture, and lobby. He criticized the networks for not doing more to foster intelligent children's programming, and said he wished the government would spend less on defense and more on children.

His death comes less than a year after the death of his close friend, Fred "Mister" Rogers, who shared his tastes and values.

Whatever the future holds, these two gentle giants will be missed.

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