Why So Many URban Legends About Old-time Kiddie TV Hosts?

Cecil just debunked, for the millionth time, the rumor that Frank Zappa was the son of Mr. Green Jeans from the Captain Kangaroo show. But oddly enough, that’s not the only urban legend going around about that show. It seems like I’ve seen hundreds of e-mails and web sites claiming that Bob (Captain Kangaroo) Keeshan was the most bloodthirsty Marine on Iwo Jima during WW2. In many cases, the e-mail claims that Lee Marvin was on the “Tonight” show telling Johnny Carson that Captain Kangaroo was the bravest Marine he ever saw, when they were on Iwo Jima together.

Only snag is, it never happened. Keeshan WAS in the Marine Corps, but he was still in boot camp when the Japanese surrendered, so he never saw any action of any kind. Keeshan stated this publicly many times, as he was embarrassed by phony claims of heroism on his behalf.

But at least Keeshan WAS a genuine Marine. Fred Rogers, on the other hand, was never in the military at all… but Lord knows how many times I’ve seen claims that he was the most deadly sniper in the Army/Marines during WW2/Korea/Viet Nam, depending on which version of the legend was being floated.

Am I imagining things, or are there a disproportionate number of Urban Legends about kiddie TV hosts?

Soupy Sales got a lot of them too, apparently, judging from Snopes. I think it’s because people enjoy irony: It’s ironic to believe that a neighborly, loving guy like Mr. Rogers was once a ruthless killer, so people like to believe that. And so the legend spreads.

What has me puzzled is that the date on the story (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_018.html) is November 1985 and says that Brannum/Green Jeans is dead, yet Brannum died in 1987.

Lots of the old columns have been updated over the years, but not very methodically, given the lack of money for such an undertaking. Probably most updates happened during the AOL years.

In addition to the irony factor, a lot of these guys were big-name hosts in the era of network TV. That means everyone in a certain age group is guaranteed to know who they are and have a broad familiarization with their persona.

Cultural touchstones always attract urban legends, and the more famous the person, the more common (and, commonly, bizarre) the legends.

Yes, when we re-post classic columns, there is a sporadic and sort of random updating process. We don’t have the time or money to pay someone to thoroughly fact-check, as Ed does for Cecil’s current columns, so we have a Staff person who uses best judgement.

While this question relates to a couple of Cecil’s columns, it’s also broader, so I’m going to move it to General Questions forum.

And my answer would be that an urban legend needs someone who is out of the public eye. A rumor that Colin Powell died when a piano fell on him from a seventh floor apartment… well, that rumor wouldn’t get very far to becoming an urban legend since you could see Powell alive every other day on the news. Similarly, a rumor that Colin Powell served in the Cuban Army would be met by a quick denial from Powell, who can get media attention whenever he wants it.

OTOH, an old-time TV star can’t get media attention to deny the rumor, because who wants to hear an old-time TV star say that she’s still alive? or wasn’t a commando assassin? Newspaper corrections to front page headlines always appear on page 7 or 8, in a tiny box.

Now, if she wanted to say that the rumor is true and she WAS a commando assassin, then she could probably get coverage.

So, old-time TV stars fit the bill perfectly. They’re well-known (at least, to certain age groups), and they’re no longer in the public eye and so not able to deny the rumor.

Another kiddie show UL, the infamous “Leroy fahted!”

I saw this in a book of bloopers one time, only it was “Howdy Doody.” The phot showed Buffalo Bob holding a mike near a kid’s mouth. The Buffalo Bob balloon said, “What’s so funny?” The kid’s balloon, the kid looking (as best I can remember) sorta like Will Robinson (or Anthony Fremont), was saying, “I farted!”

I’ve heard a nasty rumor about Pee-Wee Herman.

What? Oh…