Debbie Weems

Debbie Weems

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  • A talented woman with a tragic ending

    'Debbie Weems' was an American actress, singer, and stage performer. She may be best remembered for her recurring roles on Captain Kangaroo. Deborah Weems was born Feb. 3, 1951, in Houston, Texas to her parents Benjamin and Rowene. She grew up in a loving family with five sisters. During childhood her parents separated and each remarried. Debbie was part of that bigger family which included her step father Frank, often called "Posh" and step mother Susan. Her families were very supportive and encouraged Debbie Weems to pursue her talents. She attended Marlin Public Schools where we talents were recognized and from all reports she had a happy childhood. During the 1960s Debbie Weems attended the Interlochen Arts Academy (now called the Interlochen Center for the Arts) where she excelled in drama, music and theatre. She was selected as the lead role in many school productions such as “Annie Get Your Gun” and “The King and I” and “The Miracle Worker.” Debbie Weems also had smaller roles in many other productions. Friends from IAA remember her as a bubbly and energetic person who was fun. Debbie Weems was in a member of on stage productions of Godspell. She played various roles in Godspell where she sang and acted. The crowds loved her. She told friends that one of her favorite songs was “Day by Day” which she described as being personally very meaningful for her. Debbie Weems was also quite popular at the Lakewood Theatre also called the Lakewood Musical Playhouse, located in the now defunct Lakewood Park in Barnesville, PA. Debbie Weems was in the stock company in 1970. It is reported that Debbie Weems also played Mame in “Mame” and Daisy in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and Winnefred in “Once Upon a Mattress” and Nellie in “South Pacific” and Sally in “Cabaret.” These performances were all in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Debbie Weems lived in and around New York. She often spoke to friends of loving Central Park. It was a place for her where she could sing full out. Often crowds would gather around her as she played guitar and sang an impromptu concert. At times she would become set on a certain tune or melody. One fan recalls her concentrating on a tune from the short run of Tenderloin, "Little Old New York." It is reported that Debbie Weems also spent time at The Boston Conservatory of Music. In 1976 Debbie Weems put out an album called “Debbie Weems Sings Songs From Captain Kangaroo.” Her record was published by Wonderland Records. On that record there are the following songs: The World is Full of a Number of Things, It Takes Practice, Put Your Hands Way Up High, Be Kind to Each Other, Our Home Team, A Dixie Rag, I Like All Kinds of People, The Joys of Noise, Hey Diddle Diddle to the Farm, The Train Song, The Toy Ballerina, Harmony, The Bunny Rabbit Song, Additionally in the 1970s Debbie Weems did dozens of television commercials for various products, many by Proctor and Gamble. CBS scouts spotted Debbie Weems while she was performing on stage and subsequently she was hired. This put her in the role by which she may be best remembered, Debbie on Captain Kangaroo. From 1973-1977 Debbie Weems was a regular on the Captain Kangaroo Show where she played many roles. She was Debbie the newspaper reporter for the Daily Bugle, she was the voice of Baby Duck (a character many look to as an early prototype of Sesame Street’s Elmo) and did many other roles in the various skits that were central to Captain Kangaroo. Debbie Weems also sang frequently on the show. She also was part of the historic 6000 episode that was broadcast in 1976 and is archived, but not available to the public, at the Museum of Television. She spoke well of her time with the Captain to many people, as she was always a courteous and polite person. But that was mostly in the earliest years of her engagement on Captain Kangaroo. Her view toward the show seems to have soured over time.. Friends report that they had the impression she grew weary of the role not leading to more and bigger parts, especially in movies. Debbie Weems had believed what the CBS executive had told her about the role opening up many opportunities and advancements, but that did not take place, and from Debbie Weems’ perspective she was type cast. About the only Hollywood type role she landed was the small part in the 1977 movie, “Between the Lines” where she played Annie One. There are no commercially available episodes of Captain Kangaroo on VHS or DVD which feature Debbie Weems. Michael Keeshan (son of Robert Keeshan) was asked about the ownership rights to the original Captain Kangaroo Show. His reply was "The ownership question is a private and confidential matter." This seems rather odd as Saban Entertainment produced the "All New Captain Kangaroo" in the late 1990s which seemed to have been a flop. When Saban was asked about the ownership rights they refused to answer. CBS also refused inquiries about the ownership rights as did PBS. So who does own the rights to the original Captain Kangaroo? That is a lingering question. Some have speculated that shows prior to 1979 (28 years ago) may now be in the public domain. Is that accurate? If you know, please email me with those details. A legacy of Captain Kangaroo was demonstrated by an interesting photo of Captain Kangaroo. It was on top of Mount Everest! Bob Keeshan's grandson Britton Keeshan set a world record a few years back and climbed many of the world's highest mountains. He credits his grandfather and Captain Kangaroo for the inspiration. http://www.abroadvi ewmagazine. com/archives/ fall_04/climbing .html Debbie Weems was featured in an article by Frank Deford in the October 23, 1976 edition of TV Guide, called “Don’t Tell Your Mom About Debbie.” This article was very supportive of Debbie Weems and her pioneering roles in children’s television. In part the article states, “It was my children who first saw through my deceit and realized that I was madly, secretly in love with Debbie. Every morning I would come into the TV room and demand that they switch to Captain Kangaroo from the Flintsones. Raging that they wasted their precious time on mindless cartoons when they could be soaking up the culture that Dancing Bear and the Town Clown provide. My hands sweating, my eyes darting furtively, I would turn the dial ton Captain Kangaroo. “I think it’s time for the Moose Report,” I’d lie cleverly. One day as I turned to Captain Kangaroo, leaving Fred and Barney stranded in the bowling alley, my 7-year-old son piped up: ‘It’s OK Dad. Debbie’s not on Captain Kangaroo today, Dennis is.’ My heart sank. Sheepishly I turned the dial back to the Flintstones. ‘Don’t ever tell your mom about Debbie,’ I said. They assured me they wouldn’t, and for their silence, they are paid well in Popsicles and baseball cards. My wife does not know about the other woman. Debbie is the female lead on Captain Kangaroo. Her real name is Debbie Weems—I know, besides I made sure to check out the credits at the end of the show after I fell in love with her. She is blond and blue-eyed, forever rosy-cheeked—the last blush of innocence in a tawdry world….” (Quote used by permission of Frank Deford) Bob Keeshan (who played Captain Kangaroo) wrote about Debbie Weems in his book “Growing Up Happy” where he obviously tries to come to grips with her tragic ending and his influences in her life. Some of what he says implies that Debbie's emotional problems were due to childhood problems. That does not seem accurate after interviewing her family members. Additionally, workers at CBS have stated that Bob Keeshan was a hard man to work for and her was extremely demanding and ran things his way. Did that kind of stress contribute to Debbie Weems problems? Gus (Cosmo) Allegretti, the expert puppeteer who was also foundational to Captain Kangaroo, seems to have been the cast member who was closest to Debbie Weems. It is reported that they talked for hours and hours at times. He was the main person from Captain Kangaroo who took seriously the challenges that Debbie Weems encountered. James Wall (who played Mr. Baxter) was interviewed and stated that Debbie Weems was a beautiful and wonderful person of great talent. He says her death was a horrid tragedy. CBS ran episodes of Captain Kangaroo which prominently featured Debbie Weems through 1978. This was after her tragic death. Friends and associates have wondered why CBS would run previously unaired shows so sort a time after a suicide. Friends report that Debbie Weems mental health and emotional state deteriorated in 1975-1977. Some report that she was chain smoking and that she may at times have been using illegal drugs. The drug scene was huge in New York in the mid 1970s especially in the theatre circles in which Debbie Weems was associated. Some claim that she was quite discouraged by the boasts about advancement that CBS executives had previously made which did not seem, from her point of view, to be coming true. Others have reported that Debbie Weems had relationship problems and that a failed courtship fueled her demise. Debbie Weems might have reasonably expected her position on Captain Kangaroo to open many doors into acting. Instead, Debbie Weems seems to have felt that she was “type cast” as “that cute girl on Captain Kangaroo.” She told friends that this “type casting” severely hindered her getting other roles, especially roles geared toward an audience other than children. This may have been quite difficult for Debbie Weems to cope with and may have significantly contributed to her depression and emotional instability. For many months before her death Debbie Weems struggled with mental health and emotional issues. Debbie Weems was hospitalized at “The Country Place” but did not overcome the problems. Staff at “The Country Place” have reported that Debbie Weems was such a fine actress that they were never sure if they were interacting with the real Debbie or just a role she was playing. One attendant reported that she cried incessantly for days at a time. Debbie Weems also seems to have struggled with some physical health problems. She complained to some friends that her jaw caused her immense pain. Some people have also reported that she may have had an eating disorder. One wonders if Debbie Weems had a Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome that was undiagnosed and/or perhaps anorexia both of which were poorly understood in the 1970s. On Wednesday February. 22, 1978 Debbie Weems left a treatment facility with an attendant to go to her home in New York to get some things of a personal nature. That day it is reported that she fell from the 16th floor of that high building. Her death has been considered a suicide. Graveside funeral services were held at noon Saturday February 25, 1978 at the family plot in Marlin, Texas. Her family surrounded her at the funeral. The Reverend. Allan Green and the Reverend H.B.Streater and the Rev. F.P. Goddard officiated. Debbie Weems was only 27 years old when she died. Bibliography: Bob Keeshan, “Growing Up Happy” ISBN 0425123154 Additionally the book "Captain Kangaroo: America's Gentlest Hero" by Bob Keeshan is extremely rare. John Thornton