If you think it’s not easy being green, imagine how hard it is to be yellow! Carol Spinney has been playing the part of Big Bird since Sesame Street debuted on television forty years ago today. You may not realize that Spinney started playing the character while in his mid-30s, so the guy lifting that five-pound head with his arm is still doing it in his 70s (and no doubt he could whip you at arm-wrestling as well). Just one of the thousands of tidbits that will no doubt flood the Internet today as we celebrate and appreciate the program.
Sesame Street probably did as much to promote Public Television as those channels did to promote the show, a landmark exercise in combining educational television with entertainment. I was just old enough to be above their target demographic, although later on I’d come to appreciate the many adult moments the show offered (see below). I don’t know anyone today who grew up in the era who doesn’t have fond memories of watching the program.
A couple of generations ago most kids had two parents, and one of them was usually home. Mom or Dad could read to them and teach them the alphabet and how numbers worked so when they went off to school it wasn’t as intimidating. But over time the divorce rate started skyrocketing and many households suddenly needed two earners, and time with children became a precious commodity. When Sesame Street came along, for once sitting a kid in front of a television as a babysitting exercise wasn’t a bad thing.
But watching the show with your kids had greater benefits. Eventually, along with basic math and reading skills came life lessons, presented in a way that children could understand and discuss with their parents.
What imagination went into these characters and the program. Although never the most popular, my favorite was always The Count. That probably explains why I love Greg The Bunny as much as I do. (“Don’t turn this into Abbott and Costello, kid!“)
I also grew to like the human characters who interacted with the Muppets, like Gordon and Susan and Bob, and the list of celebrities who guested is staggering. As a result, just like with Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Road Runner cartoons, Sesame Street has a lot to offer adults, too. Like…
- Little Richard singing “Rubber Duckie“
- The late, great Madeline Kahn
- Richard Pryor reading the alphabet.
- Johnny freakin’ Cash.
- Stevie Wonder rocking the Street
- Ricky Gervais interviews Elmo
- How cool is Neil Patrick Harris?
- The Pee Wee Herman alphabet
Today’s column was brought to you by the letters D, R and B.