CBS sound man Robert Mott, in his deceptively titled book Radio Sound Effects, tells stories about working with some early television broadcasters, among them Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keehan. I’m reluctant to attempt to recount these stories, since my copy of the book is out on loan, but if I don’t say something the moment will have passed, as they so often do.

Who’s eating those carrots? Bunny Rabbit, as you know, was a non-speaking puppet who jealously guarded his carrots–and thoughtfully ate them off-camera. Mott squeezed a handful of popsicle sticks to get the munching sound. This was fine, until the time that Mott wasn’t watching what was happening on the Treasure House set. When he looked up while “munching” the carrots, he saw the Captain, Mister Moose…and Bunny Rabbit…all in plain sight. Watching something behind the counter, off-camera, and listening to it eat Bunny’s carrots. Keeshan, apparently in a playful mood that day, offered no explanation to his viewers, but continued to look behind the counter, allowing Mott to sweat it out.

And Mott did sweat for several long seconds before he found his answer. He remembered the annoying fly that had gotten onto the set and had disrupted the day’s taping. The crunching abruptly stopped, followed by the sound of a fly taking off and making his escape.

The Captain strolls outdoors. Keeshan liked to do this from time to time, and the Treasure House had a “back yard” for activities not meant to be performed indoors. (Of course, the back yard was also an indoor set: Even then I realized that.) Mott hated these segments. Keeshan would never script them: He would just describe whatever he was “seeing” in the area, and Mott had to scramble to generate the sound it made.

The Captain tests his new ship’s whistle. AKA “Don’t screw the sound man.” One of many set redesigns for the show had been that of a boat (the one the Captain was, er, Captain of, I suppose). Keeshan loved props that made noise, even if the noise had to be produced offstage by the sound man. One of the new additions to the set was a steam whistle. I’ve mentioned that Keeshan got “playful” from time to time. Another thing I should mention is that Keeshan never paid much attention to how the various sound effects were produced. Based on past experience, he probably imagined that the whistle would be achieved by having Mott physically blow a whistle. Mott, foreseeing trouble, had a ship’s whistle connected to compressed air instead, so that he could blow it with the press of a button. The button on the set, the one the Captain pressed, didn’t activate the whistle: Mott did.

When the Captain began talking about a tour of the new boat, and explained to the viewers that all these switches and buttons actually worked, Mott became suspicious. It wasn’t like Bob to fib to the kids that directly: He didn’t usually discuss how the Treasure House worked. When the Captain glanced at Mott while he was admiring the controls of his lovely new ship’s whistle, Mott’s suspicions were confirmed: Keeshan was trying to catch him unprepared. The Captain pressed the button, and got a startling, set-filling whistle. He continued to lean on the button, expecting Mott’s lungs to give out shortly. Seconds passed. The whistle continued. More seconds passed. The whistle showed no sign of running out of, er, steam.

At this point Keeshan apparently decided that the joke, such as it was, hadn’t worked as he had expected it would, and removed his hand from the button. Mott’s hand didn’t budge: The whistle continued. Keeshan hit the button again, and again. The whistle continued. The Captain banged on the wall and called down to the “engine room”: Lumpy “Mr Greenjeans” Brannum, behind the wall on a smoke break, had no more control over the whistle than Keeshan did, but dutifully called back, “We’re working on it, Captain.” The whistle continued.

Finally Mott released the whistle. The Captain closed the show with a remark about “getting the whistle fixed”, with an uncharacteristic onscreen glare toward the offscreen, unruffled Mott.

It’s not a cheap book, and Amazon is out of stock (it may be out of print), but you might find it in your local library. Mott does have a newer book out, Radio Live! Television Live!.

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