Ten Interesting Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Sesame Street

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Photo by Inside Retail Asia

Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet …can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street

Since its premiere in 1969, Sesame Street has entertained and educated millions of children in the U.S. and around the world. It’s a cultural touchstone for any American born after the early sixties and continues to delight the children and grandchildren of its original viewers.

I vividly remember watching the first episode because my mother forced me to. I get why she did that. I’m glad she did that.

From that first glimpse of Mr. Hooper’s store, a four-year-old me was hooked. And I had plenty of company.

1.) Over the years, several of the Muppet “cast members” have been phased out of the program. One character that was pink-slipped was the frustrated, high-strung genius Don Music, who was known for banging his head on his keyboard when his muse eluded him.

I loved Don Music. He was such a diva.

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The man, the myth, the muppet. Photo by Muppet Wiki

Unfortunately, so many kids were emulating his head banging shtick at home that Don Music had to be axed in the interest in preserving the craniums of young America. His character morphed into the slightly less manic game show host Guy Smiley.

Roosevelt Franklin, the first — and at the time only — African American Muppet on Sesame Street met his end because his character, who spent most of his time in detention, perpetrated unflattering racial stereotypes.

2.) Many people have heard the story of how Bert and Ernie are modeled after Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver from the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jon Stone, who wrote the series, maintains the names are only a coincidence. He says that when he and Jim Henson were inspecting the prototypes for the Bert and Ernie Muppets, they agreed that one looked like a Bert, while the other looked like an Ernie. (This explanation is so boring though that I’m going to pretend I never heard it, and dwell in a happier place where “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Sesame Street has a Bert and Ernie link.)

Let’s face it. Ernie’s more into his rubber duckie than Bert. Photo by Variety

3.) A vampire may seem like an unlikely character for a program geared to little children, but vampires possess certain vulnerabilities that made Count von Count a perfect addition to teach kids basic math. Everyone knows that vampires are stopped in their tracks by exposure to sunlight and garlic.

What fewer know is that folklore tells us the undead also suffer from a form of OCD that compels them to qualify and count objects. Legend has it that if you throw a handful of rice in the path of a pursuing vampire, it will have to stop and count every grain, providing you ample opportunity to make your get-away so you can ponder why you had a pocketful of rice in the first place.

This approach made it possible to present a vampire in a context that wouldn’t scare the crap out of Sesame Street’s young viewers.

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OCD! Ha ha ha ha! Photo by Muppet Wiki

4.) Some parents have expressed concern over Cookie Monster’s diet, feeling that the importance of good nutrition should be stressed to kids watching Sesame Street. Well, breathe easier health nuts — the “cookies” that Cookie Monster so enthusiastically consumes contain no sugar, flour or chocolate. C.M. is actually eating rice cakes doctored to look like cookies, as the real thing would make a crummy, greasy mess of the Muppet costume.

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Rice cakes? Are you #$%$# serious? Photo by CNN

So now you know that when Cookie Monster is maniacally stuffing his gob, his frenzy is not due to a sugar high, but rather some darker reason, because nobody gets that stoked over rice cakes.

5.) When Sesame Street was being created, deliberate steps were taken by executive producer Joan Ganz Cooney to make sure the humans on the show were a true ensemble cast. Cooney wanted to avoid any single actor being seen as the star or host of Sesame Street, so no one person could damage the program by making unreasonable demands during contract negotiations.

Know your place humans. Photo by Muppet Wiki

6.) During a radio interview in 1990, Christopher Cerf, who was a songwriter for Sesame Street, revealed that the show was sued for $5.5 million for parodying the Beatles classic “Let It Be” with a tune called “Letter B.” The lawsuit was not instigated by the Fab Four, who no longer owned the rights to the song, but they wrote an affidavit voicing their support for Sesame Street’s parody as its authors. The case was filed by Michael Jackson’s attorneys, as Michael had purchased the Beatles catalog a few years previously. The case was finally settled for a whopping (sarcasm alert) $500.

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Because the King of Pop just wasn't having it. Photo by YouTube

7.) Frank Oz, who most people remember as Yoda from Star Wars, was also responsible for bringing at least nine Muppets to life. A 17-year-old Frank met Jim Henson at a puppetry convention, and he joined Henson’s company Muppets Inc. two years later. Oz came up with the characters of Bert, Cookie Monster and Grover, and played those roles exclusively for over 30 years. He was also offered the part of Big Bird, but he turned it down, as the idea of wearing that costume gave him pause.

Frank Oz and Jim Henson. We’re not worthy! Photo by Tumblr

8.) Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? Well, not exactly. The focal point of Sesame Street is a three-story brownstone, but precisely where this building is located has been up for debate almost since the show’s inception. Sesame Street is filmed in Astoria, Queens, but the show supposedly takes place in a Manhattan neighborhood.

Not even the staffers who work on the program agree which one — some claiming the Upper East Side, others insisting it’s located somewhere in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side. Some of the more determined Sesame sleuths have tried to piece the puzzle together from examining the minute details of the show, such as zip codes on letters and background shots, but to no avail.

So yeah, Sesame Street is the precursor to the ambiguous Springfield on the Simpsons.

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All gentrified now. They started by booting Oscar. Photo by Amazon

9.) Well, it’s official. According to the Sesame Workshop, Bert and Ernie — the two confirmed bachelors who have been roomies for over 40 years — are not gay.

The Powers That Be at Sesame Street finally had to address this hotly debated issue, as many people were putting pressure on the show for Bert and Ernie to get married in order to increase tolerance towards the gay community. In response to a petition calling for Bert and Ernie to “come out” and work on their wedding registry, the Sesame Workshop released the following statement:

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C’mon guys. You’re fooling no-one. Photo by Metro Weekly

“Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

10.) Gordon’s last name was never revealed until he started teaching in 1991. Since it wouldn’t be appropriate for his students to refer to him by his first name, Roscoe Orman, who portrayed Gordon at the time, suggested they give his character the surname “Robinson,” in homage to Matt Robinson, the first actor to play Gordon.

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Gordon no. 1 with Susan and Oscar. Photo by Muppet Wiki

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is a political junkie and history buff randomly alternating between bouts of crankiness and amusement while bearing witness to the Apocalypse. Come along!

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