‘Sesame Street’: Forty years ago today …

(Paul Kaufman commemorates the Nov. 10, 1969, launch of a kid’s show that defined a generation.)

Sesame Street Characters Sesame RoadI’m just the right age for this tribute, because I recall the day this new show first appeared in the afternoon lineup when I was five.

“Sesame Street”‘s short scenes, fast action and large cast of adorable puppets were very different from other kids’ shows at the time (Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers had been my faves). The respectful multiculturalism of this show was groundbreaking, but I won’t try to catalog all the positive social influences of this show here, as I’m sure that’s being discussed at great length elsewhere. (What other anniversary has had a whole week of specialized Google logos?)

For this blog, I do want to emphasize how “Sesame Street” literally rocked in ways that kids’ TV hadn’t before, both with outstanding outside guests:


and as a result of their own magical animation and musicians:


I’ve often wondered whether other kids had been driven to a love of pogo rhythms by early exposure to those cool snippets. I know I was: That was truly my favorite song ages 5-6. Of course, I didn’t realize until much later that none other than Grace Slick provided those distinctive vocals. (Much better than her later work with Sesame Starship.)

So many other great memories! Don’t forget the psychedelic funk:


or moments that really can pull at the heartstrings (or handstrings, as the case may be):


I’ve occasionally checked back in and watched episodes over the years (“doin’ some Street” as they say in my ‘hood), and its still great television because there’s a lot here for adults, too.

Of course there have been a lot of changes since I was a kid. Cookie Monster has 12-stepped his way into being a healthy-food advocate

and Elmo now runs the show. (Rumors of high-pitched backstage screams of “KERMIT, YOU GET NOTHING!” have been all over the tabloids.)

As a new parent, I’m sure I’ll get even more involved in the coming years, and I look forward to it.

What are your favorite memories and snippets? How were you influenced?

P.S. All you conspiracy theorists out there examining the photo at the top: Oscar is very much alive.

— Paul Kaufman

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51 Responses to “‘Sesame Street’: Forty years ago today …”

  1. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Grover Is Bitter

  2. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    Great write-up Paul. As always. and this one is near and dear to my heart.

  3. Mmrothenberg Says:

    >>NOT a huge fan of Elmo.

    Kristen: I’ve likened old-school “Sesame Street” fans’ attitude toward Elmo to some Beatlemaniacs’ opinion of Yoko. Except I think the former is better justified.

    I remember when “Sesame Street” came out, everything from the shots in Central Park to the look of the street itself was indistinguishable from the rest of New York (where I lived). I always had half an eye open for Sesame Street when we went out!

    I’ve found a significant microcultural divide between 1964-65 babies who got the first dose of “Sesame Street” and those from 1963 or earlier who were just a little too old to be the target market. Nancy’s a few years older than me, and while she appreciates “Sesame Street,” it’s not her thing.

    BTW, I still consider Morgan Freeman “that guy from ‘The Electric Company.’ “

  4. Paul Kaufman Says:

    >>Kristen: I’ve likened old-school “Sesame Street” fans’ attitude toward Elmo to some Beatlemaniacs’ opinion of Yoko.

    Well, this comparison was inevitable after the release of the Elmo/Plastic Elmo Band album.

  5. Paul Kaufman Says:

    Bay Area fans of the old skool Sesame Street music should check out The Dead Hensons, who are reuniting in December for a Bottom of the Hill show:


    Folks who prefer a more adolescent/altered view of the muppet universe should know that the Wig Torture LP is now available for free download at:


  6. Mmrothenberg Says:

    >>Well, this comparison was inevitable after the release of the Elmo/Plastic Elmo Band album.

    “GROVER … You had me … But I never had you … ”

    “I Found Out” (brought to you by the letter “I”)

    “Working Class Muppet”

    “Jim Henson’s dead … I can’t get it through my head … “

  7. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    >>Paul says: Well, this comparison was inevitable after the release of the Elmo/Plastic Elmo Band album.

    Which came with the promotional item “Tickle me YOKO”.

  8. Eric Bacher Says:

    Bert and Ernie we’re my surrogate parents, and my first concept of roomates…I miss them terribly.

  9. Ray Brandes Says:

    Stephen Colbert declared Roosevel Franklin “America’s greatest Roosevelt.” (For the record, he also calls him “Sesame Street’s borderline-racist Muppet from the 1970’s.”)

  10. Lou Skum Says:

    My Dad was on The Good Morning Show in Boston with Jim Henson and Janet Langhart in the mid 70’s

  11. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    One of the first pretend games my son ever played was mimicking Sesame Street’s game show “Beat the Time”.
    “and Heeeeeeere’s Guy Smiley!”

  12. Ray Brandes Says:

    Much of the genius of Sesame Street can be attributed to the voices of Frank Oz.

  13. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Oh! BTW, since Paul alluded to it in this post, I feel I can publicly congratulate him on joining the fathers’ club. :-)

    Welcome little Polystyrene Cervenka Kaufman-Sharp to our extended circle!

  14. Bruce Injection Says:

    Congrats!!….and we love Elmo here!

  15. Mmrothenberg Says:

    >>we love Elmo here!

    Bruce: Ahhhh, y’know — Elmo’s the Doug Yule of “Sesame Street,” I think. Not untalented … Charming … An interesting counterpoint to the brooding grittiness of Oscar … But no Grover — certainly not capable of an extended solo career or of producing the first Stooges album.

  16. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    Paul, I bet you’re a natural pappy.

    ” a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of buttah.”
    that’s all you gotta remember.

  17. Mmrothenberg Says:

    (I caught Grover in a small club in Ann Arbor, Mich., in ’92, ’93 … He was pretty wasted, but when he got up, threw his head back and started flailing his little arms around — he still had the old fire!)

  18. dave ellison Says:

    I still consider the bald guy to not be the real Gordon, even though he’s probably been on the show for something like 30 years. I can accept that Oscar is green, though.


  19. Mmrothenberg Says:

    >>I still consider the bald guy to not be the real Gordon, even though he’s probably been on the show for something like 30 years.


    Original Gordon, Matt Robinson dies

    Courtesy of Yahoo News
    August 6, 2002

    Matt Robinson, a writer for the 1980s sitcom “The Cosby Show” and the first actor to play kindly neighbor Gordon on the children’s show “Sesame Street,” has died. He was 65.

    He died in his sleep Monday at his Los Angeles home after a 20-year struggle with Parkinson’s disease, spokeswoman Patti Webster said Tuesday.

    Robinson, father of actress Holly Robinson Peete, began his show-business career in 1963 as a writer, producer and on-air talent at local TV station WCAU in Philadelphia.

    In 1969, he took the role of Gordon on the PBS children’s program “Sesame Street” and also performed the voice of purple-faced puppet Roosevelt Franklin. Robinson remained with the show until 1971, and the role was briefly handed to actor Hal Miller. Roscoe Orman has played the part since 1972.

  20. Mmrothenberg Says:

  21. Paul Kaufman Says:

    >Eric : Bert and Ernie we’re my surrogate parents, and my first concept of roomates…I miss them terribly.

    My wife and I indeed have detailed discussions about which of us is more like Bert (organized, but lacking spontaneity) or Ernie (warm, fun, chaotic). Fortunately, we’re each a mix of both, but we do kid each other on occasion with admonitions of “You’re being Bert!”

  22. Patrick Works Says:

    I still have my original picture sleeve 45 of Oscar doing “I Love Trash”. My kids spin it almost weekly.

    I thought the world was going weird when they started counting over 10…and yeah …that pinball machine animation was amazing…

    The box set is very popular around our yurt…as is the Electric Company box set…we’re getting Schoolhouse Rock for christmas this year.

    I know Jeff (Mr. Luck Lucas) was a huge Mr. Rogers fan…but I never was. The whole ‘neighborhood of makebelieve’ just pissed me off…whining myow myow nonsense…hated it at 5… still hate it today. Picture Picture was cool though.

    Patrick Works
    Still aspires to be Grover

  23. Mmrothenberg Says:

    I consider the Count the Jerry Cornelius of Sesame Street.

  24. Bruce Injection Says:

    “Elmo’s the Doug Yule of “Sesame Street,” I think.”

    How DO you come up with these obscure references??

    Wouldn’t Dave Alexander had been sufficient??

  25. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    dedicated to all you daddies.

  26. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    it’s the mad painter! dedicated to all you artists.
    (notice who plays the part of the doctor!)

  27. Bruce Injection Says:

    Thanks for Daddy Dear!!

    I’m re-posting this,(great version), here because it’s the only thread up. As quickly as these are posted Richard takes them down!!

    Can this be saved someplace other than Youtube???????

  28. Paul Allen Says:

    I loved the mad painter. He was also the English neighbor on The Jeffersons.

  29. Mmrothenberg Says:

    I found these by reading The Guardian UK’s salute to rock music on “Sesame Street” …

  30. Ray Brandes Says:

    I prefer Born to Add to the original!

  31. louis damian Says:

    my favorite is when ray charles sings the alphabet

  32. Mmrothenberg Says:

    I liked REM better after this:

  33. Robin Says:

    I like the space alien muppets that responded to ringing phones by ringing back at them.

  34. dave ellison Says:

    >>>…Cookie Monster eating vegetables?

    C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me.

  35. Ray Brandes Says:


  36. Bruce Injection Says:

    Hilarious Ray! Who’s that riding with 50cent?? Haha

  37. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Wow! That little kid with Paul Simon kicked BUTT! I want her in a band … ‘Course, she’s in her 40s now …

  38. Mmrothenberg Says:

  39. Mmrothenberg Says:

    BTW, I will never accept the proposition that it’s “Elmo’s world.” I would like a UN peacekeeping force and Jimmy Carter to review the election results that reached that conclusion.

  40. Paul Allen Says:

    Speaking of Muppets and San Diego music:

  41. Robin Says:

  42. Mmrothenberg Says:

  43. Mmrothenberg Says:

  44. Mmrothenberg Says:

  45. matt johnson Says:

    Awe-inspiring! Oh, we’re big fans of “C is for Cookie” ’round here. There is also a better (IMO) version of his “Healthy Food” with Wyclef Jean on the “Happy Healthy Monsters” video. I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out which video in my collection features a young MC Lyte performing “Body Dance.” It must be on the 40th Anniversary collection. Now if I could just track down the pysch-inspired “Wet Paint,” which I last saw at Leighton and Michelle’s apartment (1st and Ivy?) during regularly-scheduled programming circa ’88. Thanks for reviving this thread, Matt. Now if you’ll excuse me, I got some scrollin’ to do….

  46. matt johnson Says:

  47. matt johnson Says:

    “Wet Paint!” Sorry, it was “moo wave,” not “psych” inspired. Feel free to delete my attempt to imbed it, sandwiched between this and MC Lyte’s “Body Dance,” above.

  48. matt johnson Says:

    Cookie Monster’s dreads have grown a little longer, and his gear is fresher in this version. Lamentably, he forgoes the dookie rope chain here. The times they are a changin’….

  49. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Another reason Wyclef Jean should be president of Haiti.

  50. matt johnson Says:

    Thank you so much for embedding these, tocayo!

  51. Mmrothenberg Says:

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