November 10, 1969 – a wonderful little show debuted on PBS for kids called Sesame Street. It helped children learn letters, numbers, and over the years has tackled subjects like death, divorce, hurricanes, and autism. With human and Muppet residents, and many guest stars, the show has been an incredible educational program.
I grew up with Sesame Street. I remember the songs “The Ladybug Picnic”, “The Alligator King”, “The Pinball Number Count”, “Sing (Sing a Song)”, “The People in Your Neighborhood”, “Rubber Duckie”, “C is for Cookie”, and, of course, “Ma Nah Ma Nah”. I remember when Hooper’s Store was still run by Mr. Hooper!
When my boys were growing up, I sat down with them and watched the show of my youth. Elmo had pretty much become the face of the show, as the last 20 minutes of it was dedicated to Elmo’s World. Some of my favorites were still around, though. Ernie and Bert were still talking about pigeons, bottle caps, and Rubber Duckie. Oscar was still grouchy. Big Bird and Snuffy were still best friends (I remember when nobody but Big Bird could see Snuffy!). Cookie Monster was still crazy for cookies. Count Von Count still told you the number of the day, and Grover was still Super Grover (and still occasionally drove that one blue Muppet guy crazy in the restaurant).
Some new Muppets have surfaced over the years and some have gone away. I read an article about Sesame Street that estimates that there were over 1000 characters on the show in 50 years. Here are some characters that were on when I watched, but are no longer. Some you may remember, some you may not.
Kermit the Frog
Kermit, of course, went on to great success as the host of The Muppet Show, but he was your on the street reporter on Sesame Street. He often drew numbers and letters and taught us about them. He also would often be found interviewing another “missing” Muppet….
Don Music was voiced by the late Richard Hunt. Don was a musician, lyricist, and pianist who would write songs. These songs were often close to real songs, and Kermit would often steer Don to the real lyric. Up until Kermit, Mary didn’t have a little lamb, she had a bicycle!
Don would struggle to write his songs and would often get frustrated and band his head on the piano (or wall, or whatever) and yell, “I’ll never get it!” The word is that kids at home laughed at this and would often imitate Don’s actions. I’m guessing banging your head on a piano in real life probably hurts more than it hurt Don. Sadly, his character was retired.
I guess Roosevelt Franklin is probably the most famous of the “retired” Muppets. Matt Robinson, who also was the first Gordon on Sesame Street, provided the voice for him. He has his own school – Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School. Why was he retired? One article I read said this:
“Parents wrote to the Children’s Television Workshop to complain that Roosevelt was a negative stereotype of African-American children, citing his rowdy nature and the fact that his classes closely resembled after-school detention. Roosevelt only lasted from 1970-1975, but he has appeared in many Sesame Street books.”
It’s been a long time since I have seen a clip of him, so it’s hard for me to remember just how “stereotypical” he was.
This guy was a professor. In high school (and in college), there is nothing worse than a teacher or professor who is just plain boring. What was funny about him was that he was SO boring, he’d put himself to sleep while lecturing on letters or numbers. He wasn’t on the show too long. Guess he was REALLY boring!
Seen here with Grover (who was often his assistant), Herbert stepped in when Kermit the Frog was phased out. He began to teach numbers and letters with Grover’s help. Kermit, however, did return to Sesame Street on occasion over the years, and Herbert was eventually retired by the sixth season of the show.
Bruno, the Trashman
Bruno was created by Caroll Spinney (the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch). During the first few years of the show, Oscar couldn’t really move around. If he wanted to move, a cast member had to carry his trash can somewhere, or they showed the can moving with two feet under it. Spinney saw a puppeteer on the Gong Show and it inspired Bruno. With Bruno, he could walk with Oscar’s trash can, and operate him while doing so thanks to a hole in the stomach. Bruno never spoke. He appeared in the Sesame Street movie Follow That Bird and then spent many years in storage. While in storage, Bruno deteriorated and the decision was made to not rebuild him.
I always loved this guy! He was voiced by the great Jerry Nelson. He was “the world’s greatest detective”, and obviously a rip off of Sherlock Holmes. I remember him yelling, “Egads!” anytime he “discovered something. He was a very prominent character in the 70’s and 80’s, but was phased out as newer characters were introduced. He is still a very popular character in the German version of Sesame Street.
The Amazing Mumford
Mumford is another Muppet voiced by Jerry Nelson. Remember his magic words? “Ala Peanut Butter sandwiches!” I believe the picture above is from a show where he cannot make the cookie (with the letter of the day) disappear. Cookie Monster, of course, finds a way to make it disappear – he eats it.
Guy Smiley was the “perfect host”. He hosted quiz shows, contests, and other things that needed “a host”. I always loved his name! When I was a kid, Guy was on almost every show, but you’re lucky if he shows up today. That’s a shame. His name alone should make you smile!
Happy 50th Birthday!
It is just amazing that this show continues to be a wonderful source of learning for children. Television is not such a friendly place for kids today. Even some of the cartoons made for kids, tend to cross a line. The songs and characters of Sesame Street will continue to help kids learn the alphabet and numbers for years to come, as well as tackle some tough life issues.
Thanks for the memories! Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!