A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Was Mr. Greenjeans Frank Zappa's father?

November 11, 1985

Dear Cecil:

As you can see from our Index page, we at Harper's are fascinated by facts. But even our crack research team is occasionally stumped. And so, with our resources exhausted, we turn to you, hoping you can rescue us from this dark night of our inquisitive souls. We have heard that Mr. Greenjeans, Captain Kangaroo's faithful sidekick, was, in real life, Frank Zappa's father. Is this true, or just another rumor perpetuated by a myth-hungry nation?

Cecil replies:

One of the advantages of the fast-paced world we live in, gang, is that there are many technological marvels that make the job of the investigative reporter easier. One of these is called the telephone. Give it a whiz next time you're in a jam. Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum, AKA Mr. Greenjeans, has died, but the folks at Bob Keeshan Associates, which produced the old Captain Kangaroo show, tell me he had one son, whose name, suffice it to say, isn't Frank.

The late Frank Zappa, the well-known president of Pumpko Industries, Ltd., and founder of the Mothers of Invention, was the son of Francis Vincent Zappa Senior, a research scientist who worked at Lockheed. Frank Junior was born in Baltimore, but when he was still a kid Dad moved the family out to California. The whole story is told in Zappa's biography, No Commercial Potential by David Walley (1972), which features pictures of Papa Zappa and the rest of the Zappa clan. The origin of the Mr. Greenjeans rumor is shrouded in obscurity, but I note that an instrumental tune on Zappa's 1969 Hot Rats LP is named "Son of Mr. Green Genes." Make of it what you will. (Updated to reflect Zappa's death in 1993.)

More on the Zappa-Greenjeans connection

As long as you're running barefaced plugs for other organizations, I'm a writer for Jeopardy! Like Harper's and their index, we too are fascinated by facts (preferably in groups of five, having something in common), and I have another fact or two regarding the Frank Zappa-Mr. Greenjeans-Mr. Green Genes connection.

The song "Son of Mr. Green Genes" on 1969's Hot Rats album is a theme-and-variations offshoot of a song called — can you guess? — "Mr. Green Genes" on a 1968 album called Uncle Meat. Zappa did it again later: the 1970 album Weasels Ripped My Flesh had a song called "The Orange County Lumber Truck" that resurfaced on the 1974 Roxy and Elsewhere album under the name "Son of Orange County." So brace yourself for questions about where he (and his dad) grew up.

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