“Name one person who achieved success without being mocked or misunderstood by people who failed to apprehend or agree with their vision?”
This was a question I posted on my Facebook page recently. I meant for the question to be taken rhetorically. My point was that everyone has to endure the experience of being mocked or misunderstood if they dare to engage in creative work.
A friend of mine jokingly replied, “I guess the obvious answer is Captain Kangaroo, because … who ever disagreed with him?” I laughed to myself and thought, “That’s funny, but true.” He was so charming that everyone loved him and his messages were so simple that everyone understood him.” I even considered updating my status to say “Unless your name is Captain Kangaroo, you’re probably going to be mocked or misunderstood at some point in your life if you dare to engage in creative work.”
But that’s when my curiosity got the best of me. I wondered if the unthinkable was actually thinkable. Did anyone ever mock or misunderstand Captain Kangaroo?
That’s when I discovered this gem of a interview with Bob Keeshan who was the actor and creator of the show. It’s filled with many fascinating and inspiring anecdotes, but among them were the following revelations about difficulties he initially had in getting other respected Hollywood figures to take his ideas seriously.
“I forgot what year it was, somewhere in the ‘60s, we did a “Carol Burnett Show” and Carol played the part of a network executive and I played myself. I was coming in and making a presentation. She was wonderful, of course, as she is. She said, “Let me understand this: You’re a captain, but not necessarily a captain of anything. And you have a bunny rabbit that actually communicates with you and you have this moose who talks.” She went down the characters. “A grandfather clock that speaks poetry.” And she was getting herself more hysterical as she enumerated all the elements of the show, which sound ludicrous when approached from that direction, of course. But that’s probably pretty much the reception we would get today from a network executive.”
Although Captain Kangaroo went on to become one of the most widely loved characters in television history, Keeshan had to overcome a tremendous amount of skepticism before he achieved that result:
“I thought it was great from the first minute of the first day. I was prejudiced. I thought we had a very different and new approach to programming for young people and if we remained faithful to our principles of catering to the intelligence and potentially good taste of the child then we had an opportunity to do some very, very good programming. I was probably one of the few that thought it would really make it because it was nonconventional. It did break a lot of rules. It wasn’t the commercial venture that most programming was then and it wasn’t one-tenth the commercial venture that most children’s programming is today. It did break all those broadcast business rules and fortunately we were in the right place at the right time. We had CBS and in those days CBS was really quite a wonderful place. We had Mr. Paley. We had Frank Stanton. They were the two top executives and they were very, very supportive. No. 1, they were understanding of what we were attempting to do and they took pride in it. So when the sales department complained they couldn’t sell the show, Frank Stanton stepped in and told them just relax. We’re going to stick with it. Of course, eventually it did become quite successful commercially, in three or four years and they weren’t complaining anymore, but it did have to prove itself. It had to break all those rules first.”
One of the harsh lessons of the creative process is that respect is earned by a combination of hard-work, persistence, and proven results.
As much as we’d all like to have our ideas taken seriously because of our sincerity or passion, the only way to build a lasting brand or legacy is to endure the mockery or misunderstanding that naturally greets unproven projects, plans, and promises.
If it happened for Captain Kangaroo, it can happen for you. And by “it,” I not only refer to the rewards of hard-work and persistence, but also to the risk of mockery or misunderstanding.
When I was a kid, my mother required me to finish my homework and chores before being allowed to watch my favorite TV shows. Whenever I protested, she would always say something like “Captain Kangaroo has already done his work. Now it’s time to do yours.” Those words from Mrs. Coleman seem like an appropriate way to end today’s note.
Captain Kangaroo has already done his work. Now it’s time to do ours. After all is said and done, it’s the only way to be taken seriously.
Cheers, T.K. Coleman