Biography of Don McCune
THE EARLY YEARS
Don McCune was the first of 5 children born to Ed and Grace McCune. He was born on December 29, 1918 in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Later that year, the family moved to Illinois, where two brothers and two sisters were born.Don's ability to read and write well above his grade level became apparent very early, however in those days there was neither enrichment nor remedial classes. As it turned out, Don conversely needed remedial classes in speech. It's ironic that he would some day make his living by speaking. Fortunately, a dedicated teacher helped Don recite tongue twisters to help correct the problem.
By high school, it was apparent that Don had a beautiful singing voice, as well as being a fine artist. (He couldn't do math worth a darn). Don loved acting and got the lead in every musical that the high school performed.
Don became a Tenderfoot Boy Scout in 1931 and discovered how much he enjoyed hiking and camping. As Patrol Leader, he took his group on camp outs which earned his patrol points toward a free trip to summer camp. His patrol won the district competition so many times that they were eventually asked not to participate!
Don graduated from West Aurora High School in Aurora, Illinois in 1937. Being the oldest of the five children, Don felt he would be a financial burden to his parents because in the Depression years jobs were in short supply. He said good bye, and with 3 dollars in his pocket, hitch-hiked to Washington State to work on his grandfather's farm near where Grand Coolee Dam was being built. He stayed there a year and then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps that President Roosevelt created to put young men to work. Don became a surveyor and lived at the Icicle River Camp in Cashmere, which is still there.
In 1938, he married Carole McCune, the daughter of his step-grandfather who had remarried his grandmother's sister. (His grandmother had died and the step-grandfather married his wife's little sister.) Don and Carole had two children: Alan and Julie.
When WWII erupted, they moved to Seattle where Don worked at Todd Shipyard in Seattle. He also tried to enlist in the army twice, but was classified as 4F both times because of his flat feet. (It's ironic he would eventually make his living for 21 years hiking around the northwest).
While working in the shipyards, Don also enrolled in the University of Washington, taking one class in radio broadcast. His professor, Ted Bell, was the manager of KRSC Radio in Seattle and recognized Don's speaking talent and rich baritone voice. He told Don, "You can spend your time here -- or you can come to work for me." Thus ended Don's college career.
SEATTLE RADIO DAYS
Don became a DJ on KRSC radio in 1943. Don also worked with the famed Leo Lassen, who was broadcasting Rainier Baseball from Sick's Stadium in Seattle.
Don also did live, big- band broadcasts from the famous Trianon Ballroom. He secretly made a 78-RPM recording of him singing the song "The Story of Sorrento" which he played on his radio shift, never mentioning the artist. It was the song most requested by listeners! Soon his radio job developed into a full-time career. Don asked a young waterfront balladeer by the name of Ivar Haglund [Keep Clam] to sing his tunes about the northwest on the radio, tunes Don would eventually sing himself as "Captain Puget™". About this time, he divorced.
ACTING IN SEATTLE
Don became an actor in the Seattle Repertory Theatre about 1947. He won the lead role in "Calico Cargo", which was the story of the famous "Mercer Girls". That same story line eventually was made into the TV series, "Here Come The Brides".
He moved on to KING Radio where he worked until he began to have voice problems, due mostly to his long hours and overuse of the his voice.
In January 1949, he began a job in Fairbanks, Alaska as station manager for KFAR Radio. Eventually, Don went back on the air there, creating the popular radio program series, "From Out of the North", which featured tales of the north country.
It was on these shows that Don honed his storytelling skills; he developed a fantastic knack for giving the listener the feeling of being on location with Don -- wherever that location was. The show was syndicated and heard throughout the northland.
Don also did a radio program called "Tundra Topics", which provided people in remote areas with information, messages, and stories. Don remarried, and adopted his wife's son Gary, and together they had a son, Craig. Later, he divorced again.
Don became KFAR's Station Manager. Television came along, and Don put KFAR television on the air in 1954. He served as the NBC Alaska Correspondent, and was a television pioneer at a time when no one had any idea what to do with this new medium of communication.
THE CAPTAIN PUGET SHOW
In early 1957, KOMO TV in Seattle solicited entries for auditions for a new children's show called "The Captain Puget Show".
A friend of Don's, former Disney photographer William W. Bacon III, took a series of promotional photos of Don aboard the sternwheeler DISCOVERY in Fairbanks. Don submitted the photos to KOMO, and won the role of Captain Puget™. Don then moved back to Seattle, an event that marked the start of a Seattle and Pacific Northwest broadcast legend.
On The Captain Puget Show, Don sang sea chanteys and songs about the Pacific Northwest, showed "Three Stooges" movies, cartoons, and took youngsters on filmed adventures around Puget Sound. (It was the filmed adventures that later led to the Exploration Northwest TV series.)
In 1958, Don was awarded the National Sylvania Award for the best locally-produced children's show in the nation.
Few people remember it, but Ivar [Keep Clam] Haglund was Captain Puget's "First Mate" for the first two years of the show.
A young girl moved to Seattle in 1962, and upon seeing the Captain on television, declared that she would grow up and marry him. (She did!) Captain Puget Show fans remember that Don ended each show with the words, "Smooth sailing and bye for now."
The Captain Puget Show ran for 9 years, until 1966. For the rest of his life, most people fondly remembered Don as Captain Puget, a fact that always puzzled him.
Only one show of the Captain Puget Show was ever recorded -- out of 2,400 live daily broadcasts! As was the case for most of the children's television shows of the period, videotape technology had not yet been invented, so the shows had to be filmed (kinescoped), which was very expensive.
Exploration Northwest was a series of half-hour outdoor adventures filmed in Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Don went out in the field with a film crew on all of the shows. They travelled all over the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska and the Yukon Territory filming adventure stories about a wide variety of topics, including fishing, hunting, camping, sports, Indian history, steam ships, tug boats, sailing, horseback rides, and more.
Don wrote the scripts and narrated all 412 episodes of the show, which won 26 Emmy Awards for documentary excellence. Don McCune was a great storyteller and gave you the feeling of being there, wherever "there" was that week.
Many thousands of families watched it together every week. Don was truly in his element with the "Exploration Northwest" series, which was produced by KOMO TV, Channel 4, in Seattle.
He continually returned to Alaska to film a variety of episodes for Exploration Northwest, because of his love for the north country. The topic of the Yukon Gold Rush was one that fascinated Don, because like the gold Rushers, he too had gone to Alaska to seek his fortune. Don and the film crew retraced the Trail to the Klondike in 1969 and 1970, making 5 separate episodes which told the entire epoch event.
The series was produced for 21 years and ran in prime-time with high ratings in Seattle from 1960 until 1981, when Don retired.
About 412 episodes of Exploration Northwest were produced by KOMO TV. With the advent of color television, many of the earlier black-and-white shows were discarded.
Exploration Northwest fans will remember that Don ended each show with the phrase "Next week, another exciting, true-life adventure! Remember, it's all on Exploration Northwest."
Although he was Don McCune doing Exploration Northwest, northwest people in the called him "Captain Puget™" -- who just happened to now be doing Exploration Northwest! He would be fondly called Captain Puget™ by fans the rest of his life.
After he retired, Don continued to write and narrate video productions on a freelance basis, but mostly he wanted to be actively involved with his three children, who were now in grade school.
THE DAKOTAS EPISODE
Trial at Grand Forks
In February of 1963, Don was invited to appear on a 60-minute episode of the ABC nationally-syndicated western "The Dakotas".
Don had great fun rubbing elbows with the likes of Chad Everett (Deputy Marshall Del Stark) and Jack Elam (Deputy Marshall J.D. Smith), and seeing how the big boys do their thing in Hollywood.
Linda McCune recalls with a chortle, "I still remember Don's one line in the episode. The scene is a crowd of people on main street at the town's gallows. Apparently the criminal is a woman and Don's one line is: 'How do you feel about hanging a woman, Marshall?' "
Filming of the episode, entitled "Trial at Grand Forks", took place at the Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood during Febuary of 1963; it aired on March 25, 1963. Other regulars in the show were Mike Greene (Deputy Marshall Vance Porter), and Larry Ward (Marshal Frank Regan) who later on played the character Frank on the M*A*S*H TV series.
Don also hosted another television series for KOMO from 1962 to 1977 called "Challenge". It was an inter-faith dialogue among a rabbi, priest and minister who took turns leading the discussions on pertinent moral issues of the day.
It was Don's job to write an introduction for the discussion, and introduce it on camera before turning it over to the panel.
This show was way ahead of the ecumenical movement and Don's charismatic image was perfect to set the stage for each week's show.produced; only six were saved.
DON'S PUBLISHED WORKS
Trail to the Klondike
Now in its second printing!
In 1970, Don and the Exploration Northwest crew did a series of five special shows about the Klondike Gold Rush, Don's favorite subject. Don and the crew retraced the route of the stampeders over the infamous Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett and thence down the Yukon River to Dawson City by canoe. During that trip, still photos were also taken.
During the production of this show, Don met a woman named Ethel Becker, daughter of P.B. Anderson. P.B. Anderson helped build the two boats that famed photographer Eric A. Hegg and his party used to travel downriver to Dawson City.
Becker was responsible for saving many of Hegg's photos. She gave Don a large number of Hegg's fabulous prints. With these prints, considerable research about the history of the Klondike Gold Rush, and his experience of retracing "The Trail to the Klondike", Don spent rainy days and Sundays working on a manuscript for a book entitled "Trail To The Klondike", about the climb of Chilkoot Pass, thinking perhaps he could get it published in time for the 75 year anniversary of the Gold Rush. He didn't, so he tucked away in his desk drawer.
Published posthumously in April 1997 by the Washington State University Press, the book was their best-selling title for a long time. When WSU Press sold all copies, the copyright reverted to The Don McCune Library who published a second printing.
(Out of Print)
Don wrote the text for a large, lavish coffee-table book entitled "Washington", published in 1981 by Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho. Photographer Duane Davis supplied the gorgeous full-color photos for this book, which has become a northwest classic.
THE MUSIC OF DON McCUNE
Don was well-known for his distinctive baritone voice and his unique delivery style on radio and television. But you may not remember that he also recorded wonderful music such as ballads, sea chanteys, and Christmas music. His version of the "The Alaska Flag" song is the classic recording of that song, revered by Alaskans.
". . . I'd trade a royal palace for a shack on Puget Sound . . . " is the ending stanza of one of Don's favorite songs, entitled "Ode to Puget Sound".
In 1992, the Maritime Bicentennial Celebration of the discovery of NW waters was in full swing. Don and Linda produced, along with composer/arranger Craig Jensen, a recording of Captain Puget™ Songs, titled "Looking Back with Captain Puget". Nostalgia by the baby boomers led to many requests for personal appearances of Captain Puget™. He dug out his old captain's hat and complied. The album was a big hit in the northwest, so Don and Linda again with Craig Jensen, produced a Christmas album called "Christmas Tides".
In 1970, Don McCune married his biggest fan, Linda Street, who had been writing fan letters to Captain Puget since 1962. Don and Linda were married on the Rialto Beach near LaPush, Washington, a spot where Don had proposed to her. She became the mother of their three children, Zane, Clint and Grace.
Don stayed involved with many environmental and service groups. He was most active within the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), where he had been the founding father, serving as local President, National Vice President, and National Trustee. NATAS presented him with both The Governor's Award and the Silver Circle Award.
He was also involved in his community of Woodinville, Washington, in the role of Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 422, Hollywood Hill Saddle Club President and liturgist and council member at his church. He took time to volunteer in his children's classrooms, reading stories, going on field trips and bringing copies of his Exploration Northwest episodes to Washington State History classes. He also had more time to ride his two Appaloosa horses.
In 1993, just 11 days before he died, Don went back to Fairbanks where he was invited to speak at a Native Indian and Eskimo Celebration.
On his 74th birthday, after a bit of indigestion that resulted in a trip to the hospital, he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, and after a brief battle, he died on March 27, 1993.
KOMO TV viewers flooded the station switchboard with calls upon hearing of his death. KOMO responded by producing in less than one week, a half hour special on the life of Don McCune. They titled it, "Looking Back," the same title of his Captain Puget™ album.
Don's Lutheran pastor officiated at the burial with a Lutheran Service, and to assure Don's spirit of a safe journey to the spirit world, Linda asked Chief Seattle's great, great grandson to perform a Duwamish Indian Burial Ceremony.
Don's gravestone reads, "Smooth Sailing . . . and Bye For Now", his familiar closing line on the Captain Puget Show. Through his roles in television as Captain Puget™, Exploration Northwest and on Challenge, Don McCune helped shape and define the character of television in the northwest.