Beloved children's television host Captain Kangaroo entertained and educated kids for over 30 years. With his gentle manner and whimsical puppet friends, Bob Keeshan created an iconic show that defined morning TV for generations. So, was Captain Kangaroo in the military? An enduring urban legend suggests that before he was Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan was a wartime hero who fought bravely at Iwo Jima. Is any of it true? Let's take a look at the facts behind the myth.

Key Takeaways:

  • Bob Keeshan served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve during WWII but never saw combat.
  • An urban legend claimed falsely that Keeshan fought alongside Lee Marvin at Iwo Jima.
  • Keeshan spent nearly 30 years as Captain Kangaroo, the longest running children's TV host.
  • His show promoted wholesome values using skits, cartoons, and friendly animal puppets.
  • While he was not a war hero, Keeshan was a beloved icon for millions of American children.

The Debunker

Bob Keeshan was born in Lynbrook, New York in 1927. After graduating high school in 1945, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve during World War II. However, the war ended before he was deployed overseas. Keeshan attended Fordham University on the GI Bill and graduated in 1951.

In the postwar years, he began working in children's television. From 1948-1952, Keeshan played Clarabell the Clown on the popular show Howdy Doody. In 1953, he created Time for Fun and Tinker's Workshop, playing clown and grandfather characters. This pioneered the idea of gentle, educational kids' TV.

Keeshan brought that concept to fruition when he created Captain Kangaroo, which premiered on CBS in 1955. He starred as the title character for nearly 30 years. With his short stature, big ears, and oversized pockets, Captain Kangaroo regaled multiple generations of children with songs, stories, cartoons, and his puppet pals.

Urban Legend of Captain Kangaroo and Lee Marvin at Iwo Jima

urban legend bob keeshan and lee marvin

Keeshan became an icon as Captain Kangaroo. But an urban legend also emerged claiming Keeshan was a war hero who had fought bravely alongside Lee Marvin at Iwo Jima and won medals for valor. Various stories circulated about his supposed wartime exploits.

Lee Marvin and the Tonight Show Myth

One source of the rumor was supposedly Lee Marvin talking about Bob Keeshan on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. According to the urban legend, Marvin said:

"Lee, I'll bet a lot of people are unaware that you fought alongside Keeshan at the battle of Iwo Jima, and that during the course of that action you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded."

In various versions, Marvin describes Keeshan's fictional bravery at Iwo Jima, and calls him the "bravest man I ever knew."

But in reality, officials disclaim this myth - Lee Marvin never made such statements. Marvin himself served heroically as a Marine in the Pacific, but was injured at the battle of Saipan, not Iwo Jima.

And while Keeshan enlisted in the Marine Corps, he never saw combat. The supposed Tonight Show conversation where Marvin told tales of Captain Kangaroo's war exploits never actually occurred.

Youth, Education, Military

Keeshan was born in 1927 in Lynbrook, NY. He graduated high school in 1945 and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Japan surrendered before Keeshan deployed overseas. He attended Fordham University on the GI Bill, graduating in 1951.

Pioneering Children's Television

Keeshan started in kids' TV in 1948 as Clarabell the Clown on Howdy Doody. In 1953 he created Time for Fun and Tinker's Workshop, playing clown and grandfather characters. This pioneered gentle, educational children's programming.

Did You Know: The original Captain Kangaroo costume worn by Bob Keeshan is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. Keeshan donated the colorful jacket with oversized pockets to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1980s. According to the museum's website, the iconic costume is housed in the "American Stories" exhibit along with other artifacts of American pop culture.

Heart Attack and Cancellation

In 1981, Keeshan suffered a severe heart attack after accepting a children's service award. He underwent triple bypass surgery and soon returned to Captain Kangaroo. This health scare highlights the importance of quality healthcare, particularly for our veterans.

Despite winning multiple Emmys post-surgery, CBS reduced his show's airtime. Frustrated with the changes, Keeshan left Captain Kangaroo in 1984 after 30 years. Reruns later aired on PBS.

After Captain Kangaroo

After leaving his iconic role, Keeshan hosted CBS Storybreak in 1985. He also founded a company providing workplace daycare programs.

In retirement, Keeshan became a children's advocate and author. He tried reviving Captain Kangaroo in the 1990s but was unable to obtain the rights. Keeshan passed away in 2004 at age 76.


Keeshan died in 2004 at age 76. His grandson Britton became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits, honoring his grandfather by carrying his photo.

Though Keeshan was not a war hero as rumored, he entertained and educated millions of children as Captain Kangaroo. His show left a lasting legacy.

Mr. Rogers, Capt. Kangaroo -- True American Heroes

Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers

The urban legend about Keeshan's wartime bravery mirrored similar rumors about Mr. Rogers having been a Navy SEAL. Comedian Eddie Murphy mocked these unlikely tales of children's TV hosts' secret badassery in his standup routine:

"Mr. Rogers was a U.S. Navy SEAL, a Vietnam veteran with 25 confirmed kills! Mr. Rogers had a tattoo that said 'Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone' on his chest!"

While absurd, these rumors speak to our tendency to underestimate the quiet heroes among us. As one viral message put it:

America's real heroes don't flaunt what they did. They quietly go about their day-to-day lives, doing what they do best. They earned our respect and the freedoms that we all enjoy. Look around and see if you can find one of those heroes in your midst.

Dialog from the Tonight Show

The urban legend began circulating after Lee Marvin was falsely claimed to have described Bob Keeshan's wartime heroics when speaking to Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. But no evidence exists of Marvin making such statements.

America's Real Heroes

Though untrue, the rumors revealed our admiration for selfless heroes. We should appreciate those who quietly serve their communities and country without expectation of reward or recognition.

While Bob Keeshan was no Iwo Jima war hero, he entertained and educated generations of delighted children as Captain Kangaroo. His show promoted kindness, curiosity, and love of learning. For 30 years, he was a gentle presence on morning TV.

So next time you hear a far-fetched rumor about a children's TV host's secret badass backstory, enjoy it as colorful urban folklore. But remember the real heroes are those who enrich our lives in simple, innocent ways.

FAQ: Was Captain Kangaroo in the Military

Did Captain Kangaroo serve in the military?

Yes, Bob Keeshan enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1945 during World War II. However, he never served in combat, as Japan surrendered before he deployed overseas.

What are some of the urban legends about Captain Kangaroo's military service?

Rumors circulated that Keeshan fought bravely at Iwo Jima alongside Lee Marvin, winning medals for valor. Other tales claimed he was a Marine sniper with numerous confirmed kills. But all these war stories are untrue.

How long was Captain Kangaroo on TV?

Captain Kangaroo premiered on CBS in 1955 starring Bob Keeshan. He played the title role for nearly 30 years until leaving the show in 1984. It was the longest continuously running children's TV program of its era.

Why did Captain Kangaroo leave the show in 1984?

After having a heart attack in 1981, Keeshan grew frustrated with CBS reducing his show's airtime. When his contract ended in 1984 after 30 years, he chose to leave Captain Kangaroo rather than continue accepting ongoing changes.

What was the legacy of Captain Kangaroo?

The show influenced generations of children with its gentle tone promoting kindness, learning, and curiosity. While not a war hero, Keeshan's portrayal of Captain Kangaroo left a positive impact on American youth culture.

Did Lee Marvin really talk about Captain Kangaroo's heroism on the Tonight Show?

No, the famous actor Lee Marvin never described Bob Keeshan's supposed wartime bravery on the Tonight Show or in any other interview. This appears to be an urban legend with no evidence behind it. The Naval Historical Center in Washington receives many inquiries about the fictitious story, which Marvin himself never actually told.

Was Mr. Rogers also rumored to be a war hero like Captain Kangaroo?

Yes, an urban legend circulated that Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was secretly a Navy SEAL and Vietnam War veteran with dozens of confirmed kills. This outlandish rumor mirrors the fictional tales about Captain Kangaroo's wartime exploits and illustrates how we sometimes elevate favorite childhood figures into "heroes."

How can I find old episodes of Captain Kangaroo to watch?

Many episodes of Captain Kangaroo are available online through official distributors like PBS and Apple TV. There are also DVD sets with classic clips and segments from the show featuring Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, and more. These can help parents share a piece of their childhood entertainment with younger generations.