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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Some of my childhood friends…

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I’m sure if I asked you about your childhood friends, you could easily spout off many of them by name.  Me too!  As a matter of fact, I am lucky enough to still see and talk regularly with my best friend from elementary school.  Yesterday’s blog about Mr. Rogers got me to thinking on my way home from work about some of the other friends I had growing up.  These aren’t friends that I met personally, mind you, these are the TV friends who helped me learn my letters, numbers, parts of speech, and right from wrong.  Some of them were there to take me on adventures against bad guys.  From various kid shows, there were plenty of friends to keep me company on days when we were snowed in, days it was raining, or on days when you were home sick from school.

Sesame Street

“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street”?  I spent many mornings with the gang from Sesame Street!  There were so many characters on that show.  Many are still there, while some are long gone.  The first “muppet” to appear on the show is still there – Big Bird.  Early on, he would talk about his invisible friend “Snuffy” Snuffalupogus.  We could see him, Big Bird could see him, but none of the humans on the show could.  Now, everyone can see him.

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Kermit the Frog, long before he starred on and hosted The Muppet Show”, was a regular on Sesame Street.  He often showed up in a trenchcoat and reported the “news”.  He also popped in on music composer Don Music, who was often having trouble writing a song.  Word is Don was cut from the show cause he always banged his head on the piano.

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Remember Grover?  He was voiced by Frank Oz … who literally used the same voice for Yoda in the Star Wars films!  Grover would crack me up as the waiter who always seemed to annoy that one guy who was always trying to order something at the restaurant.

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Ernie and Bert were pals.  They were much like my friends and me.  They could annoy each other, and at they same time, they liked each other.  They fished together, they built snowmen together, they each had their own interests and yet, they still got along.  Ernie was the trickster and Bert was usually the target.

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Count Von Count was probably my favorite.  He was obsessed with numbers and counting.  He lived in a castle and his thoughts were often accented by thunder cracks and lightning! He loved counting so much, he often laughed afterward.  “Two knocks on the door…..ha ha ha (thunderclap)!”

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Speaking of counting, anyone who watched Sesame Street remembers the pinball count.  It was your typical jazzy, funky music where an animated pinball rolled around in the machine counting to 12.  You can sing it right now, right?  So many great other songs were on this show: I Don’t Want To Live On the Moon, The Alligator King, The Ladybug Picnic, Rubber Duckie, It Ain’t Easy Being Green, C is For Cookie, and of course, Mahna Mahna!

I also remember Sherlock Hemlock (who solved mysteries like Sherlock Holmes), Roosevelt Franklin (an African American Muppet who was cut from the show because they felt it was too stereotypical), The Twiddlebugs (who lived outside in Ernie’s window box), and Guy Smiley!  There’s a name!  Guy Smiley!

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The Electric Company

“Hey, you guys!” was often heard shouted by the great Rita Moreno in the opening theme.   This was just a “cool” way to learn!  While there are many different segments aimed at teaching kids things some of them stand out far more than others. For example, the Soft Shoe Sillhouette, as they were called, featured two people in silhouette pronouncing a word.  The first would say “Sh” and the other would say “ip”.  They would say it over and over until eventually, they would say “Ship”.  I remember how much that helped me learn to read by sounding out words.

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As far as my friends from the show, well I have to start off with Easy Reader.  He was played by none other than Morgan Freeman!  He was so cool and he thought reading was cool.  If reading was cool enough for Easy Reader – it was cool enough for me!

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Another character who helped me learn to read was Otto the Director, played by Rita Moreno.  She would try so hard to get the actors to remember their lines.  They would always forget the one word they had on the cue card.

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Then there was Spiderman!  Yes, Spiderman was on the Electric Company!   Spidey’s Super Stories featured Spidey on an adventure and he never spoke, well, audibly anyway.  He “spoke” in balloons, like in the comic books.  The audience had to read what he was saying.  Eventually a comic book called Spidey’s Super Stories was produced by Marvel comics.

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Captain Kangaroo

“Good Morning, Captain”.  The show would begin with a montage of celebrities and non-celebrities saying “Good Morning, Captain” and eventually, there he was – Captain Kangaroo – saying “Good morning” to you.  In an interview once, Bob Keeshan said the show was kind of like a “nice visit to your grandparents house”.

Some of the friends on this show included the farmer. “Mr. Green Jeans”, “Mr. Bunny Rabbit”, and “Mr. Moose”.  Mr. Moose was my favorite.  He always seemed to tell some kind of knock knock joke which led to a bunch of ping pong balls falling on the Captain.

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One thing I remember about this show was the cartoon Simon.  It was a British cartoon about a kid who had a magic piece of chalk.  With that chalk he could create all kinds of things for some sort of adventure.  What I remember about it was the theme:  “Well you know my name is Simon, and the things I draw come true…”  Mike Meyers did a sketch on SNL based on this with Danny DeVito…a must see if you remember Simon.

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So this show was one that I had kind of forgot about.  I was reminded of it after discussing some of the other shows with a friend.  I don’t recall what network it was on, but I seem to remember it being on before or after Land of the Lost.

Do you remember Dr. Shrinker?  Cheesy 70’s programming at it’s best!  Dr. Shrinker is some sort of mad scientist who shrinks a bunch of teenagers and they spend the entire episode running away from him and trying not to get caught by him or his henchman, Hugo.  Hugo was played wonderfully by the great Billy Barty!  What I remember most about this was how they had these huge oversized props behind the actors to show how “tiny” they were.

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You thought Batman 66 was cheesy??  This show introduced us to Electra Woman and Dyna Girl!  Electra Woman was played by Deidre Hall and Dyna Girl was Judy Strangis.  There were two crime fighters who posed as news reporters when not fighting crime.  They wore these huge things called ElectraComs on their wrists that allowed them to speak to each other and it also served as a gadget that got them out of pretty much any situation (just like Batman’s utility belt). Dyna Girl was basically a female Robin and instead of yelling “Holy (fill in the blank)”, she would yell “Electra Wow!” LOL!

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A highlight of this cheesy show was their scientist friend, Frank Heflin.  He helped them by staying at the Electra Base (like the Bat Cave) and operated the CrimeScope (like the Bat Computer).  He was played by the great character actor Norman Alden.  He was in many movies, and provided the voice for Aquaman and Green Arrow on the Super Friends cartoon.  He also was the café owner in the café where Marty McFly meets his father at in the 1950’s in the classic film Back to the Future.

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Next time … The Parts of Speech, History, and Musical Math …