Don McCune (1918-1993) was renowned as TV's Captain Puget. In this People's History, "Captain Puget's" wife Linda McCune recalls his life.
Captain Puget as a Boy
Don McCune was the first of five 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 campouts 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 $3.00 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.
First Marriage and Children
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 World War II 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 that he would eventually make his living for 21 years hiking around the Northwest).
On the Radio
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.
Don became a DJ on KRSC radio in 1943. Don worked with famed Leo Lassen, who broadcasting Rainier Baseball from Sicks' Stadium in Seattle. Don also did live, big-band broadcasts from the Trianon Ballroom. He secretly made a 78 RPM recording of himself singing the song "The Story of Sorrento," and played it on his radio shift, never mentioning that he was the artist. It was the song most requested by listeners.
Ivar the Balladeer
Soon his radio job developed into a full-time career. Don asked a young waterfront balladeer by the name of Ivar Haglund, later famous for his Acres of Clams restaurants, to sing his tunes about the Northwest on the radio, tunes Don would eventually sing himself as Captain Puget. About this time, he divorced.
Soon (about 1947) Don became an actor in the Seattle Repertory Theatre. He won the lead role in Calico Cargo, which was the famed story of the 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 1949, he accepted a job in Fairbanks, Alaska, as station manager for KFAR Radio. He eventually went back on the air, creating the popular radio program series, "From Out of the North," which were tales of the north country. Everyone within radio reception of KFAR tuned into this program every Saturday night. He also married again to a woman named Bonnie. (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.)
A Television Pioneer
With the invention of television, Don put KFAR TV on the air in 1952 as station manager and served as an NBC correspondent from Alaska. He was a television pioneer at a time when no one had any idea what to do with this new medium of communication.
In 1957, KOMO TV in Seattle held auditions for a new children's show called "The Captain Puget Show." Don won the role and moved back to Seattle. In 1958, he was awarded the National Sylvania Award for the best locally produced children's show in the nation. Captain Puget sang sea chanteys and songs about the Pacific Northwest (some which he learned earlier from Ivar Haglund) as well as taking kids on short filmed adventures around the Northwest.
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.) The Captain Puget Show ran for nine years until 1966.
It was a natural progression while doing the Captain Puget Show for Don to evolve into the series "Exploration Northwest," which began in 1960 also on KOMO TV. "Exploration Northwest" consisted of half hour adventures filmed in Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.
Don went on all the film excursions, wrote the scripts and narrated the show -- which won 26 Emmy Awards for excellence in production -- from skindiving to skydiving and every topic in-between. He was truly in his element with this series. Interestingly enough, although he was Don McCune doing "Exploration Northwest," the people in the Northwest called him Captain Puget, who just happened to now be doing "Exploration Northwest." Fans fondly called him Captain Puget for the rest of his life.
He continually returned to Alaska to film 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 five separate episodes which told the entire event. Don felt that these shows were among his best lifetime efforts.
Because of this, in 1971 he wrote a manuscript from his TV scripts about the climb of Chilkoot Pass, thinking perhaps he could get it published for the 75 year anniversary of the Gold Rush. He didn't, so he tucked it away in his desk drawer.
KOMO TV also assigned Don to host another series 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 the perfect one to set the stage for each week's show.
Through these three roles in television, "Captain Puget," "Exploration Northwest," and "Challenge," Don helped shape and define the very character of of television in the Northwest.
In 1970, Don McCune married his biggest fan, Linda Street, who had been writing fan letters 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 his three children, Zane, Clint, and Grace.
Family and Community
In 1981, Don authored the book, Washington, photographed and published by Duane D. Davis. That year, KOMO TV took "Exploration Northwest" off the air. It had run for 21 years, longer than any network show. Don decided to retire from KOMO TV that year. He 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.
He stayed involved with many environmental and service groups. He was most active within the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, of which 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 1992, the Maritime Bicentennial Celebration of the discovery of Northwest 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, Christmas Tides.
Bye For Now
On his 74th birthday, after a bit of indigestion, he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, and after a brief battle, 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 rests in the pioneer cemetery in Woodinville, Washington, near where he and Linda made their home. Don's gravestone reads, "Smooth Sailing ... and Bye For Now," his familiar slogan from the Captain Puget Show.