Missing Muppets – Do You Remember Them?

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.

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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).

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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

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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

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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.

Roosevelt Franklin

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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.

Professor Hastings

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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!

Herbert Birdsfoot

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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

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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.

Sherlock Hemlock

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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

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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

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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!

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Emotional Day

It is still a year away, but it is becoming very real, very quickly.

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Last month, on the last day of school, my oldest called me and proudly announced, “I’m a senior, dad!”  It’s not like I didn’t think this time was coming, I knew it was.  I knew when I held him as a newborn baby that time was going to go quickly.  Life already moves quickly, and they say that when you have children, it moves a whole lot faster!  I would definitely agree!

First steps.  First words.  First day of pre-school.  First day of kindergarten.  First holiday program.  First day riding the bus.  First day of middle school.  First day of high school.  First band concert.  First awards ceremony.  How quickly these firsts fly by.  Next year, we begin to see the Last first day of school, the last final exams, and eventually, the last last day of school.

Today, we took my son, Dante’ out to have some senior pictures taken.  Times have certainly changed from when I had mine done. 31 years ago, they had the photographer set up in one of rooms in the school.  You made an appointment.  You got dressed up in a suit and tie and they put you in some ridiculous poses.  For those in sports, they may have posed with a football or basketball.  I had my trumpet with me in one pose.  They allowed you (for a fee) to pose with a friend.  I know that I have pictures with my friend Steve and Margaret.  You had to pose for one generic head shot (which would ultimately be your yearbook picture).  Most of the other poses were just awkward.  I have this one of me with the suit coat in my hand and over my shoulder – it looks so stupid!!

Our friend Amy came out and shot his pictures.  Prior to the shoot she was clear that the way we would get authentic pictures was to make sure he was dressed comfortably.  In other words, if he was not a suit and tie guy, then don’t force him to wear it.  She wanted to know his interests so we could get some shots of him being natural and relaxed.  We sort of mapped out a tentative plan and did as much as we could (knowing that he would probably get to a point where he’d be burned out).

Dante’ and his friends from school love old cars.  He has always amazed me as we drive around town.  He can point to a classic and give me the year, make and model of the car.  He loves them.  He’d been asking to go to a classic car show this summer and today, they had one in Flushing.  It was going on while I was on the air, so Sam met Amy and they took some shots near some of the cars of his choosing.  They also got some good pictures in the park where the car show was held.

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He also loves video games and arcades.  There was one in the mall near us, so that was the next stop.  Sadly, it was much different from the one that we had been at before.  Perhaps there were new owners, I don’t know, but it was more geared toward younger children.  I met the group at the mall after work and we looked at the rest of the agenda.  It was extremely hot and humid and we could see he was getting tired.

There is a park near us that has a creek, a bridge, and a trail.  We decided to go there and see what kind of pictures we could get there.  Dimitri had been out in the sun all day on Thursday and was still nursing a bad sunburn, so Sam took him home and I continued with Dante’.  We took quite a few shots there and I am excited to see them.

We walked down one of the trails and were looking for more opportunities for pictures.  Dante’ was walking ahead of me and I had a flashback.  One day the entire family was walking the trail by our old house.  He and Dimitri were walking in front of me holding hands (the picture is probably on my Facebook somewhere).  It was autumn, and the leaves were changing.  I told Dante’ that the trail reminded me of that.  Without hesitation, Amy told me and Dante’ to walk ahead of her and just talk.  For 5 minutes, I just walked and talked with my son.  Welling up with emotion, I put my arm around him and he did the same to me.  Amy snapped some pictures of us, and I am pretty excited to see them.  It was a very special moment.

There was talk of going to Crossroads Village and Downtown Flint, but it was obvious that he was getting close to being done.  Crossroads is a very special place for him because of his love for trains, and the fact that when he was 4, my mom spent the day with him at the Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine.  Downtown Flint would have been cool because there are so many cool photo opportunities.  Knowing that he was running on empty, we came back to the house.

At the house, Amy wanted to get some shots of him playing video games.  This was important to him.  He loves gaming and his senior pictures should show that.  Amy’s daughter, Skyler, made a very cool sign that was in the shots with his video games that read:  “High School – Game Over!” The sign sat next to a stack of his favorite games.

Dimitri wanted a picture of the two of them back to back playing games, so she made sure to get that one for him.  She then had the boys sit on the side porch in the rocking chairs and just talk to each other.  Nothing forced.  Just casual conversation between two brothers.  I am sure that these pictures will be awesome!

Finally, we had Dante’ standing on the front porch and we hoped to get some shots there.  I think we got one.  In a very bizarre weather change, in a matter of seconds, the wind picked up, there was a clap of thunder, and the clouds opened up and the rain came pouring down.  Dante’ went in the house and Sam and I stood on the porch chatting with Amy.  That was the end of the shoot and it went better than I expected.

Dante’ thanked Sam and gave her a hug thanking her for a fun day.  He had been so worked up about getting the pictures done.  I am guessing he probably thought it would mean him sitting and posing like they did for me.  His photo shoot, however, was a fun day looking at classic cars, going to the park, and gaming on camera.  He thanked me too, and every bit of the emotions hit me.  My voice cracked as I told him that I still couldn’t believe he was a senior.  He looked me in the eye and said, “Are you crying, dad?!”  Yes.  Yes, I was.

I went in the house and stood in the window looking at my senior with tears in my eyes.  There was the little boy who I sang to sleep each night with Dean Martin songs.  There was the boy who waved to me from the bus window on one of many first days of school.  There was the boy who was nonverbal and pointed at pictures to tell us what he wanted to eat.  There was the boy who stood close to the TV mesmerized by the “Blue Shadows” scene in The Three Amigos.  There was the boy who sang “Elmo’s World” with grandma as they watched Sesame Street.  There was the boy I coached with his baseball team.  There was the boy who played my trumpet in his first band concert.  There was the boy who I rushed to the hospital after his tonsillectomy because his stitches broke.  There was the boy who I cheered for when he learned to ride his bike without training wheels.  Each of those things brought dad to tears.  Now here is dad, crying again.  Where that boy stood – now stands a young man who towers over his dad.  That young man is about to experience the fastest school year of his life.

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I am sure that there are many more tears that will flow in the coming months.  I can’t help it. I will cry when I see the pictures that were taken today. I will cry at awards ceremonies.  I will cry at his commencement ceremony.  I will cry at his graduation party.  Those tears are mixed with sadness, joy, and pride.  This is a transition for him.  It signifies the end of school and childhood, and the beginning of adulthood.  After graduation, he plans to go to college and maybe do something with logistics, although he still occasionally talks about working with trains.  His future is bright and I will be cheering him on until I breathe my last breath.

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I will do the same for his brother.  He’s got 6 more years before he is a senior, but rest assured, I will shed tears of joy for him in the coming years, too!  I can only imagine the wonderful things he will be doing in the years ahead, and I look forward to praising him for all of his accomplishments!  He will continue to grow up quickly, just like his brother.  In 6 years, I am guessing I will be looking out a window through tears at him, too, recounting his milestones and memories.  It’s what dad’s do.

Pass the Kleenex – it’s gonna be a long year!

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