So many kids grew up loving Captain Kangaroo—and Gus "Cosmo" Allegretti played a big part in that.
The actor and puppeteer, responsible for such characters as Mr. Bunny Rabbit, Grandfather Clock and Dancing Bear on the classic children's show, died July 26 in Arizona. He was 86 and had emphysema, friend and attorney John Munzel told reporters
Allegretti was working as a set painter on Captain Kangaroo but ultimately became talent after he volunteered to create a replacement for someone else's puppet.
Captain Kangaroo was the longest-running nationally broadcast children's show of its day, airing on CBS from 1955 until 1984 with Bob Keeshan in the title role.
In addition to creating the hand puppets Mr. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose, Allegretti was also either the voice or hand (or both) of Dennis the Apprentice, Miss Frog, Mr. Whispers, Dancing Bear, Grandfather Clock and Uncle Ralph. He was also TV Fred, who appeared behind the blackboard in the Captain's Treasure House, and the artist behind the Magic Drawing Board.
Asked in a 1996 interview how some of those iconic characters came about, Keeshan, who died in 2004, told TVParty.com that Allegretti's Dancing Bear was a good example of how random some of those creations really were.
"We had a meeting and we were listening to a record that we'd just received," Keeshan said. "Believe it or not, it was a record, not a tape or a CD, but it was a record called the 'Dancing Bear.' We just sat around and said, 'How do we do this?' Somebody said, 'How about Gus in a bear suit?' Gus being Gus Allegretti. Gus said, 'Yeah, I'm game,' and so we had a nice bear suit made that Gus crawled into.
"It was not a lot of fun but he is a great talent. Then we just had him dance to this record, the 'Dancing Bear,' and that was that. Then we got mail. A lot of people said, 'Oh, we love that dancing bear. Let us see him again.'"