Cats Magazine/April 1997
|Time-out For Cats
My conversation with Bob Keeshan was the prelude to a day filled with meetings for the 69-year-old Captain Kangaroo, the longest-running character in television history. The winner of several Emmy, Peabody and Gabriel awards, as well as a respected storyteller, lecturer and children's advocate, Keeshan had barely recovered from a four month media tour. He no sooner finished promoting his book of memoirs, covering 50 years in children's programming, than it was time to take one of his regular 15 trips a year to the West Coast.
Keeshan seemed delighted to skip the usual show hiz questions, fielded all too often during the media tour, and talk about his three cats. Obviously, they are dear to him. "People who have children are always amazed at how different one is from the other," he observed. "That certainly is true of me. I have three children and six grandchilden, and each one is very different from the other. I find that's also true with cats. They have their own personalities and their own backgrounds. They act in very different ways and react differently to various situations."
Home for Keeshan and his pets is Norwich, Vt. He moved there
four years ago from suburban Long Island.
Keeshan acquired each of his cats at different times, adopting them as homeless strays. "My oldest is Wheelock Cat, named after the first president and founder of Dartmouth College," explains Keeshan. He says Wheelock is about 11 or 12 years old and in magnificent health. Describing Wheelock's personality, Keeshan dubs him "the cool cat."
"Nothing fazes him. He just takes things as they go," says Keeshan about the red, striped feline he calls a ginger cat. "He's dominant, but not in any obvious way. It doesn't really show, but I know he's the dominant one among the three."
The second cat, a black one, is a few years younger than Wheelock. "He's called Purr Cat," says Keeshan, noting this cat was named by his adult children and his grandchildren. "Thats a natural name for him. This cat purrs all the time. He's a very, very affectionate cat and an absolute sweetheart."
Obliging Purr Cat gets along with everyone, except dog Roughy. "Roughy's a very nice, quiet, sweet dog, and two of the cats -- the youngest and the oldest -- get along with her very well," Keeshan says. "Purr Cat just never took to Roughy. They get along in the sense they don't fight or anything. It's just that they're not that close. They keep their distance."
In contrast, the third 6-year-old cat adored the dog from the moment Keeshan brought the cat home from an animal shelter. "She's called Puppy because when she was a kitten -- she was about 10 weeks old when we got her, maybe even younger -- the dog simply treated her like a puppy, and the kitten regarded the dog as her mother," recalls Keeshan, adding, "They still snuggle together."
White with black spots, Puppy certainly has the look for the locale. "She's colored like the typical Vermont cow," says Keeshan, amused. "You could call her a Vermont cow cat."
Run Of The Place
Keeshan describes the cats as "outdoor cats" because they're allowed to spend as much time as they like outside. The cats curtail their outdoor adventures during the frosty Vermont winters -- they spend most of their time indoors. When asked how the cats behave during this 'confining season,' Keeshan says rather than being territorial, each simply goes to his or her favorite spot.
"I can almost always tell you where I'll find each cat at any given time," he says. "When they first come in, they each pick a hot air vent and sit on it to get themselves thoroughly warm. Then they'll go to their respective places. Wheelock goes to the chair in the kitchen where he can be found almost 24 hours a day. Purr Cat likes a high stool in the kitchen, or he might go over to the window and sit on the back of a chair and stare out the window."
Puppy, the diminutive female, prefers to find odd places to
sleep. "If I've done some laundry and I've put the laundry bag on top of the dryer,
she'll find it and curl up on that," says Keeshan. "If I've received a delivery
and there's a box sitting around, I can look in the box, and she'll have crawled inside.
She's a cat who'll be very, very aloof at times and then incredibly affectionate at other
"The series is based on fact," says Keeshan, who has completed five books about the kittenish character to date. "Very often I travel out of La Guardia or JFK airports in New York. To get from Vermont to those places, I'll come down the day before and stay overnight. But I hate Manhattan, so I stay in a hotel in Westchester County, the Rye Town Hilton."
Keeshan asked the parking valet about the kitten and learned she had simply come out of the nearby woods several days ago. The hotel staff cared for her and liked her very much.
"In the following weeks, when I would visit the hotel, I
might find the kitten at the front door, inside by the front desk or even in the dining
room," says Keeshan. "Sometimes you would see her just walking around the lobby.
They have a fireplace in the lobby, and she liked to sit there, too. It was kind of cute.
The hotel staff kept her for about six or seven weeks, then one of the staff actually
adopted her and took her home."
The kitten eventually finds her way to a fine hotel where various employees protect her from the hotel manager who tolerates no animals in his facility. "Itty Bitty Kitty," the first installment in the series, has an unresolved ending. One can't help but wonder, does the kitten ever find her way home?
Keeshan reveals, "She doesn't return home, but what she
does do in one of the future books, 'Itty Bitty Christmas,' is have her family visit her
for the holidays. She asks a bluebird to invite them and lead them to the hotel. Of
course, the hotel staff knows the manager won't tolerate one cat, much less a family of
felines, but they do find a place downstairs, close to the warm boiler room, where Itty
Bitty Kitty is reunited with her mother and her siblings."
Keeshan dedicated "Itty Bitty Kitty" to colleague Ruth Mary Manecke. "Ruth Mary produced 'the Captain.' I worked with her for 40 years," he says. "She's a zoologist and supplied all the animals for 'Captain' in the 37 years it was on the air. When I told her the story about Itty Bitty Kitty, she said, 'Oh, that's just a natural for a story. It would be a wonderful story to tell.' She made the link for me and encouraged me to write the books."
Animals & The Captain
Although time naturally has blurred distinctions among the more than 10,000 episodes of 'Captain,' Keeshan does recall one notable feline guest. "I remember specifically one cat, a cougar," he says. "Ruth Mary was so good at giving me advice. She said, 'Now don't turn your back on a cougar. That's just an invitation to trouble.' I heard her, but I didn't take it that seriously. I did turn my back while I was talking to my audience, and the cougar reached up with his paw and got a hold of my wig, and was ready to pull the wig off. Ruth Mary said that was one time she really thought she'd have to go on set before the camera and grab him. The moment she was about to do that, I was able to reach around and the cat crawled into my arms."
Having just spent months answering questions about the children's show that dominated his television life, Keeshan is looking forward to returning home to his animals in Vermont. "With all the traveling that I do, I won't board my animals," he insists. "I have a friend who either comes in herself once a day or she has her daughter do it. That's the absolute service -- to have someone you can count on. She's a woman who loves animals, and it's a nice arrangement."