Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Goodbye Mister Moose

Those of us who grew up watching Captain Kangaroo loved his pals, especially Mister Moose and his corny knock-knock jokes. The set painter-turned-puppeteer who created Mister Moose has died at age 86.

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Literally generations of Americans, dating back to Baby Boomers like me, were glued to the TV when Bob Keeshen appeared on screen, with his flapping pockets and pre-Beatles mop-like hairdo.

However,  a lot of the show’s appeal came from its cast of quirky characters, many of which were the brainchildren of Cosmo Allegretti. He also played cameo roles on the show as, fittingly, Captain Kangaroo’s painter. But mostly he was the animation and voice behind characters that delighted us, but hid his face.

Allegretti had experience as a puppeteer before he was hired on as the show’s set painter. He got his break when a puppeteer earned the ire of the show’s producers. Allegretti’s creations included Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, Rollo the Hippopotamus, Miss Worm, Cornelius the Walrus and Dennis the Apprentice. He also was the voice of  Grandfather Clock.

But Mister Moose was his perhaps his grandest creation. Before Sarah Palin made us think of moose as prey for “hunters” firing high-powered rifles from helicopters, Mister Moose came across as the kind of animal any kid would want in his living room.

He spouted riddles and lame jokes, which resulted in ping-pong ball assaults on Captain Kangaroo’s heavily styled head. He was the good, goofy companion all of us wanted.

Mister Moose was the reason many kids like me also loved Rocky and Bullwinkle, who seemingly could have been his wisecracking  cousin.

While Allegretti’s death has attracted wide attention, there seems to be very little written about him, despite his role on the Captain Kangaroo show, which ran for 30 years, and later acting roles in movies in movies such as “Prince of the City” and “Author! Author!”.

It would be wonderful to know how Allegretti dreamed up his characters and cultivated their separate personalities. Were they based on his own childhood fantasies or comic extensions of people he knew as an adult?

Puppets scare some people, probably because they wonder about the person behind the puppet. Allegretti doesn’t seem scary. Based on his puppet characters, he seemed to possess a gentle, sweet spirit. Pictures suggest he didn’t have leading-man good looks, so maybe his puppets were Allegretti’s way of being on stage without baring his own insecurities.

Keeshen died in 2004, causing a ripple of attention and recollections about those quiet days of children’s television that taught low-key lessons. Allegretti’s passing should evoke similar memories, because he and his creations were just as responsible for the show’s enduring appeal as what popped out of the Captain’s pockets.

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