Friday, July 10, 2009

Captain Kangaroo goes to war & more lies

After receiving another breaking news flash about Bob Keeshan and Lee Marvin in a recent e-mail, the time is ripe to reprint a story published many moons ago. I have updated it somewhat.

By Steve Crum

One of my favorite urban legends is the oft told “fact” of an alligator lurking beneath New York City. The gator, the story goes, was originally a baby reptile flushed down someone’s toilet. It not only survived, but grew to enormity. A great tale is this, in fact the basis of the 1980 schlock flick Alligator. But it is all hooey, a croc(k), per se.

There are hundreds of such urban legends--fabricated stories that have survived their way into oral history via our gossiping society--these days spread at light speed through the Internet, iPods, e-mails, cell phones, and so on. If you have a computer, at least once a day you’ll be part of a group mailing of jokes, political spews, and/or words of wisdom and encouragement. Yes, some folks cannot wait to forward that supportive or vindictive (aka political) thought of the day to everyone on their address list. I also receive warm and cuddly animal photos along with Happiness is... captions, which take up a third of my mailbox capacity.

Now and then come those forwarded urban legends. After all is said and immediately erased, it is the latter that stays with me. Urban legends have curious memory power. Currently there are Michael Jackson “legends” being spread. The chestnut about the late Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan and his military relationship with Lee Marvin and other movie and TV “war heroes” is making the rounds again. So imagine this column is an e-mail from your Aunt Clara as a couple of these urban falsehoods are soundly kicked in their respective, fibbing butts.

Bob Keeshan (TV’s Captain Kangaroo) and Lee Marvin (Oscar winning actor) were decorated war pals. The story goes that years ago on a Johnny Carson Tonight Show, guest Lee Marvin was asked about his war experiences. “Lee,” said Carson, “I’ll bet a lot of people are unaware that you were a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima, and that during the course of the action, you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded.”

Marvin responded, “Yeah, yeah...I got shot square in the ass and they gave me the Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Mount Suribachi. The bad thing about getting shot up on a mountain is guys getting shot hauling you down. But Johnny, at Iwo, I served under the bravest man I ever knew. We both got the Cross the same day, but what he did for his Cross made mine look cheap in comparison. The dumb bastard actually stood up on Red Beach and directed his troops to moved forward and get the hell off the beach. That sergeant and I have been life long friends.”

Marvin continued: “When they brought me off Suribachi, we passed him and he lit a smoke and passed it to me lying on my belly on the litter. ‘Where’d they get you, Lee?’ he asked. ‘Well Bob, they shot me in the ass and if you make it home before me, tell Mom to sell the outhouse.’ Johnny, I’m not lying. Sgt. Keeshan was the bravest man I ever knew! You now know him as Bob Keeshan. You and the world know him as Captain Kangaroo.”

Both Marvin and Keeshan were indeed Marines during World War II. Marvin was wounded in the buttocks (a severed sciatic nerve), but while in Saipan. Marvin was already shipped back to the United States with a Purple Heart by the time Keeshan was even in basic training (as a reservist, no less). No way could they have crossed paths during the war.

Neither received the Navy Cross. Keeshan entered the Marines just before the war ended, and did not attain the rank of sergeant. There is no evidence, a video even, backing the urban legend.

More recently, another urban legend circulated that the late Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was once a Navy Seal. Still another cites him as an ex-Marine sniper. Both are false.

Mel Gibson was the real life Man Without a Face, the basis of his 1993 film. Radio commentator (now deceased) Paul Harvey devoted an entire segment to the “rest of the story” concerning director-star Mel Gibson’s role in the film, The Man Without a Face. The e-mails I receive include an introduction saying, “Here is a true story by Paul Harvey. Pass it to anyone who you think would find it interesting and inspiring. You will be surprised who this young man turned out to be. Do not look at the bottom of this letter until you have read it fully.”

The lengthy story, written in Harvey style, tells of a young man whose face was horribly disfigured after being attacked by thugs. Thought to be dead, the young man was taken to the morgue, but luckily moaned before he was admitted. After weeks of prayer, a kindly priest hooked him up with a plastic surgeon who miraculously rebuilt his face.

“The young man,” Harvey said, “is Mel Gibson.”

Harvey did not say it. In fact, he never said anything like this about Gibson or anyone in reference to The Man Without a Face. But it makes a good story. I guess.

There is another Mel Gibson falsehood that made the Internet rounds a few years back, claiming Paul Harvey endorsed Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is a quite believable and long piece, written in Harvey’s inimitable prose. However, it was actually written by Keith A Fournier, founder of the The Catholic Way web site.

For even more rumor funsters, visit tall tale central on the web at
For a loving tribute to Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan, please follow this link:

Lee Marvin's memory is celebrated here:

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