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There's a New "Captain" in the Treasure House!

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Meet the new Captain Kangaroo! His name is John McDonough and Education World had an opportunity to talk with him about his background and about his goals for "The All New Captain Kangaroo."

Photo of Captain KangarooOn Saturday morning, all across the United States, millions of nostalgic parents will corral their little ones to the TV screen as a familiar theme song rings out over the airwaves.

Copyright© 1997 Saban

A new generation of preschoolers is about to be introduced to John McDonough. But the kids -- and the parents too -- will call McDonough by his other, more well-known, name: Captain Kangaroo.

McDonough is the new "Captain," the star of "The All New Captain Kangaroo." Produced by Saban Entertainment, the syndicated show begins airing nationwide September 13 on 135 TV stations.

Last week, McDonough, er, Captain Kangaroo, graciously took time out of his demanding schedule to sit down and talk to Education World.

Here's what he had to say.

EW: Does one teacher in your past stand out in your memory?

CK: More than one, certainly. I was a sensitive child and I remember my third grade teacher telling me a story that made me cry. She realized that I was having difficulty with the emotion of the story and she didn't want to draw attention to me because she was sensitive to me. Casually, I remember in retrospect, she drew the attention of the other students elsewhere. Then she took me out into the hall and told me to look at the sunny side. "It's only a story," she said. Her caring and her nurturing and her explaining things was really wonderful and left a big impression on me.

You've recorded books for the blind. You've done a lot of children's theater. How have those things helped prepare you for your new role as Captain Kangaroo?

When I was doing children's theater with the Plum Cake Players, I learned how to communicate with the children in the audience. That's where I learned how to get and keep children's attention, and when to move on. There's nothing like a live audience of kids to teach you how to keep things moving.

What other experiences in your past have helped to prepare you to be the Captain?

The antithesis of performing for a live group of kids would be recording a book for one child to listen to. When I'm recording a book, I imagine the microphone in front of me as the ear of a child. Recording books is a very different kind of theater -- theater of the mind. You must make it a spectacle and also take it down to make it very personal. That's really helped me in trying to communicate with the individual child in their living room.

In the show, the captain is the butt of Mr. Moose's persistent knock-knock jokes -- which always bring ping-pong balls raining down on you!

I haven't learned very well, have I? He gets me just where he needs me!

I know you must be tired of those jokes, but I have one for you. Ready?...
Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Doris.

Doris who?

Doris closed. That's why I knocked!...
What's your favorite knock-knock joke?

I've heard so many. I can tell you about one I heard when I was going to get on a plane recently. A child ran up and told me...Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Impatient cow.

Impa-

(Interrupting impatiently!) Moo-o-o-o! Moo-o-o-o-o!

Here's another... Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Candy?

Candy who?

Candy ping-pong balls be held back this time?

Probably not. It's probably too late. Technically, we have to be sure that the ping pong balls aren't dropped from too great a distance. Physics tells us that even a light object gains force as it gains velocity!

What are your memories of the Captain Kangaroo selection process? Was it a grueling ordeal?

It was, in that you never quite knew how you came across and whether they were interested in you or not. I think that toward the end the level of ability of all of the applicants was pretty good. The question was Did they want young? 0ld? Musically trained? What? There were lots of wonderful people in the wings. I don't know what to say. I'm dumfounded that they chose me.

Do you know that the Captain's initials are the same as Calvin Klein's? Do you plan to market a line of CK cologne?

I don't think that there's going to be a cologne. I hope not. Maybe essence of carrot!

Each of the episodes of "The All New Captain Kangaroo" is constructed loosely around a theme of importance to preschoolers. The theme of one of the first episodes is following directions. What other themes will you be exploring?

Friendship, dealing with emotions and anger, sharing, persistence, rejection -- not being chosen, aggressiveness and competitiveness, love of the arts, dealing with boredom, table manners. There are so many of them. Is that 13? We've taped 13 episodes already. We're working on one on conservation. Mr. Green Jeans will provide some gardening tips in that one.

Who is advising the show regarding the needs of preschoolers?

We have an advisory board made of educators, pediatricians, and media folks. They've been very helpful with some tricky issues. We talk to them as often as we can.

Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Nobel.

Nobel who?

Nobel, that's why I knocked...
What one behind-the-scenes story can you tell me that the preschoolers who watch your show don't really need to know?

Lots of funny things happen off camera that the preschoolers don't need to know. There are four cameras going most of the time. It's very difficult to keep track of which one is on at any given time. It's difficult for me anyway. But one time one of the directors called out "Mr. Moose, will you please look at Camera 3?" To that Mr. Moose responded: "Do I have to remind you, sir, that I have plastic eyeballs?"

What's the most unusual thing the Captain has found in his pockets recently?

A little wooden etcetera. Frequently the script calls for me to pull out of my pockets "a toy whistle, a piece of fruit, magicians' scarves, etcetera." The prop people decided to build me a little wooden etcetera. One day when the script called for me to pull a list of items -- "etcetera" -- out of my pocket, I pulled out my little wooden etcetera!

On each Treasure House episode, you'll read aloud a children's book. And I understand that the Captain's cause celebre will be the Reading is Fundamental Program. This seems like a perfect match for your talents. What plans do you have for your RIF involvement?

We're working on a plan in which I'll be trying my best to instill in parents and siblings in all walks of life to read with the children. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to do what I do best, which is read books...The spot on the show where I read is my favorite part of the show.

What one book so far has been your favorite one to read aloud?

Of the ones I've taped so far is one called Mama Zooms [by Jane Cowen-Fletcher, Scholastic 1993]. It's written from the perspective of a child whose mother is in a wheelchair, but you really don't understand that until the last picture where the family is shown together and you see the father and the child next to the mother in her wheelchair.

Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Tulsa.

Tulsa who?

Tulsa 'nother story, Captain!...
On the show, you'll be meeting lots of animals from Busch Gardens and Sea World. Which animal do you look forward to meeting most?

In the ones that we'll be taping soon I get to meet a Bengal tiger. I can't wait. They're gorgeous animals and I've never seen one up close. I did meet Harriet, the tarantula. She wasn't cute and cuddly but she wasn't unlike holding a honeybee. A large, very large honeybee.

Does the Captain have a Web site?

I don't think so, but I think they're working on it.

Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Knoxville.

Knoxville who?

Knocksville get an answer if you knock long enough!...
What's been your biggest surprise about being the Captain since taking on the role?

They want me to be me. That was a huge surprise. I'm so used to putting on a costume and becoming someone else and they wanted me to put on the costume and become -- me! It's not what I was prepared for, but it was a great relief -- because I didn't have to do that much research.

Have you met or talked with Bob Keeshan, the original Captain Kangaroo?

No I haven't but the latest I've heard is that he's very interested in waiting and seeing what the show's going to be like. I certainly hope that he'll be pleased. He's been skeptical, you know.

If you could say anything to him or ask anything of him, what would that be?

I'd say that I hope he has as much fun watching the show as we are having producing it. We owe it all to him.

Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Anaconda.

Anaconda who?

I can't get together with you for breakfast this Saturday, anaconda I have to watch "The All New Captain Kangaroo"!...
The Captain has always been the butt of pranks planned by Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose. And the new show has a new prankster too -- Joey the Kangaroo. In the first episodes you end up wearing a birthday cake and a carrot cake. What's your favorite kind of cake to wear?

The carrot cake, that was pretty good!

What would you say is your major goal for "The All New Captain Kangaroo"?

My major goal is to become a friend to a child somewhere who feels either neglected or lonely.

Is there any other message you want to send to EW readers?

Just that we have some very important and very exciting guests coming up. Stay tuned. All I can tell you is that I'm VERY excited about introducing some of these people.

No hints?

I'll, um, no, uh, but, I, uh...I'm afraid our time is just about up.

I can take a hint. Do we have time for one last knock-knock?...
Knock-knock.

Who's there?

Alaska.

Alaska who?

Alaska no more questions!

Thank you. And I hope you enjoy the show.

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