June 16, 1997 12:00 PM

BOB KEESHAN WAS HOPPING MAD. Well, maybe not that mad, but two months ago the original star of Captain Kangaroo, the children’s show that aired from 1955 to ’84, told PEOPLE that he was disturbed by the nature of the search for a new Captain. The producers of this fall’s syndicated series The All New Captain Kangaroo told him they were looking for a hip, modern actor. “The old Captain was cool,” said Keeshan, 69, “because he wasn’t hip.”

Mr. Keeshan, your worries are over. On May 29, Saban Entertainment introduced a decidedly unhip, proudly old-fashioned new Captain, actor John McDonough, 43. With a fondness for chamber music and a gift for reciting poetry (John Milton is a favorite), he lives with a sister, Trudy, and two collies, Boswell and Seamus, in the same Bloomfield, Conn., farmhouse he grew up in. And, he admits, “I’m still afraid of the basement and the attic.”

But he’s not afraid of the TV studio. “My whole life, I’ve been doing things for kids,” says McDonough. A 1976 English lit graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., he has performed for years with children’s theater groups in Hartford, Conn., public schools. Last March he went to a casting call in New York City, eventually winning out over 1,000 other hopefuls nationwide. “He was born to play this part,” says the show’s producer Rob Loos. “He’s just a very sweet, big, gentle teddy bear of a guy.”

McDonough, a Kangaroo fan since childhood, says he plans to be himself on the air, bringing his love of music, nature and bow ties to a new generation of viewers. Not that he’d mind becoming a legend to lollipoppers along the way. “I heard that on New Year’s, Fred Rogers calls Bob Keeshan or vice versa,” he says. “I’d love to be in on that call someday.”

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