Sesame Street has been an iconic part of American life for nearly 50 years. Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo were either a part of your childhood or a part of your parenting journey. Finally, parents could be comfortable leaving their kid alone to watch TV and feel confident they might actually learn something!
While the show has always been praised for being truthful and transparent, any television series that has almost 50 seasons must hold a few Sesame secrets. From actor deaths, to teaching children difficult social issues, and hosting the coolest celebrity guests, Sesame Street changed children's programming forever.
A Lifetime Of Playing Big Bird
Big Bird is a staple of Sesame Street, and the 8'2" bird has remained iconic because it's been played by the same actor since day one. Caroll Spinney had always had a love of puppeteering, so when he met Jim Henson, it was fate. Henson invited him to join the Muppeteers, and eventually Sesame Street, and Spinney hasn't looked back since.
Surprisingly, it's hard work being Big Bird! Spinney wears platformed shoes to add extra height, raises his right arm to control the head and mouth, and uses his left arm to control both wings. Since Big Bird isn't see-through, Spinney has a live-action video screen inside the costume to see what he looks like to the audience.
They Had Some Of The Coolest People Guest Star
Over the years, many celebrities have felt honored to be invited to be a guest on Sesame Street. From Tony Hawk to Michelle Obama, the list goes on and on. The first celebrity to ever guest star on the show was James Earl Jones, and he sang the alphabet. Recently, Lupita N'yongo made headlines by discussing her dark skin tone with the muppets.
Even fictional characters have guest starred on the show, like when the Star Wars characters R2-D2 and C-3PO made it onto the show! The two droids help Big Bird understand numbers, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant. It's no surprise those two fit right in on Sesame Street!
Kermit Never Came Back After Jim Henson Died
Creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson, died unexpectedly on May 16, 1990, of toxic shock syndrome due to bacterial pneumonia. His death shook the world and weeks of tributes followed. Sesame Street chose to honor his legacy by not having Kermit the Frog return to the show.
While Sesame Street would eventually lose the rights to Kermit the Frog anyways, the decision not to have the muppet return was made beforehand. Kermit had always been Henson's personal and dearest Muppet. Henson had made Kermit out of an old turquoise coat his mother had owned. It began as a lizard and slowly became more frog-like over time, eventually becoming the Kermit we know and love today. If a frog belongs in a swamp, how did it end up on an inner-city street?
It Was Supposed To Look Like An Inner-City Street
Sesame Street was inspired by the lack of good educational programming on TV at the time. The creators wanted a show that could actually prepare children for school. They discovered that no matter the socio-economic status, 97% of households in America had a television. The producers knew that children that came from a lower socio-economic household needed the most support, so they decided to make the set most recognizable to them.
Their choice has been praised by many for helping create educational equality, but it didn't work everywhere. Many children who grew up in rural areas recall being confused watching Sesame Street.
Oscar The Grouch Was Orange
Oscar the Grouch's iconic messy, green fur didn't come until season two. While it's not known why Henson decided it should change, we're glad he did! Of course, Sesame Street loves to keep a continuous narrative, so when Oscar showed up green for season two, they told viewers that he went on vacation to the Mushy Muddy swamp and turned green overnight.
Maybe the change of looks even helped him get the girl. In a now-banned episode, the Wicked Witch of the West came to visit and Oscar quickly fell in love. Of course, those two are perfect for each other!
They Didn't Avoid The Topic Of Death
Although slightly cranky, Mr. Hopper owned the street's variety store and was one of the most beloved of the four original human cast characters on Sesame Street. Sadly, the actor who played Mr. Hopper, Will Lee, passed away on December 7, 1982. The producers of Sesame Street grappled with what to do. Rather than just avoid the topic and claim Mr. Hopper had retired or moved away, they decided to tell the kids the truth.
Sesame Street brought in child psychologists and experts to advise on the best way to do so. They aired Mr. Hopper's funeral on a special Thanksgiving Day episode because they hoped the entire family would be watching and parents would be available if kids had any questions. This episode set the standard for how Sesame Street would approach difficult topics in the future. They didn't just discuss difficult topics on the show, this muppet tackled them in real life!
Elmo Is The Only Non-Human To Testify In Congress
Although Elmo wasn't introduced as a full character until 1985, he's been a prominent part of our lives ever since. He has even managed to be the only non-human to ever testify in front of Congress! In 2002, Mr. Elmo Monster went to Washington to urge more research and spending on musical instruments in school programs.
His full testimony can be found online in the United States' Congress Archives where you can read the moment when the CEO of the International Music Products Association compliments Elmo's Armani suit. Iconic.
Snuffleupagus Was Originally An Imaginary Character
The only muppet on Sesame Street larger than Big Bird in Snuffleupagus, so it's not surprising that many of Big Bird's human friends didn't believe he could be real. Snuffleupagus was introduced originally as Big Bird's imaginary friend. He would always leave the scene just before humans entered. But this changed in 1985.
Amid growing concern about pedophilia and child abuse, Sesame Street made Snuffy into a real character. They didn't want to discourage children from going to their parents in dangerous situations, and they wanted kids to know not to stop telling the truth even if adults don't believe them.
The Show Has Won TONS Of Awards
The show is not just loved by children, but also by critics. As of 2014, Sesame Street holds 167 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards. Since 2010, the show has won every award it has been nominated for. The staff and cast regularly bring the Muppets along with them to award shows too, which is fine until Cookie Monster tries to eat the Emmy!
The awards don't end there — Big Bird even has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame! Those 8 Grammy's went to the show as a whole, but one special muppet got his own nomination.
Ernie's Song "Rubber Duckie" Hit #16 On The Billboard Charts
Speaking of awards, Ernie's bathtime song 'Rubber Duckie" was nominated for a Grammy. In 1970, the song became a hit, even reaching #16 on the "Hot 100 Singles" Billboard chart.
The song was originally performed in 1970 for season one of Sesame Street and has remained popular to this day. The song has been dubbed into many different languages, and in 1974 Ernie himself sang a Latin arrangement of the song. For Sesame Street's 30th season, they paid tribute to Jim Henson's original vocals with a new release of the song.
They Have An HIV Positive Muppet
The world's first HIV positive muppet, Kami, has been praised and criticized since her conception in 2002. She was first introduced on Takalani Sesame, the South African production of Sesame Street. At the time of her introduction, HIV affected one in nine people and many of these were children. In South Africa, those struggling with HIV also had to deal with the stigma attached to it, especially if the infected person was female.
Kami has been a face for reducing stigma around HIV. She has appeared at UNICEF events and with the United Nations for World AIDS Day. She has also been in several PSA's in South Africa and outside, such as with former President Bill Clinton in 2006.
Jim Henson Invented An Interesting Way To Work
When Sesame Street began, they had a unique way of filming. Henson originally envisioned a set that was raised 8-10 feet so that the puppeteers could stand and walk freely with their muppets. He dubbed the trick, "platforming". If a puppeteer was shorter than their colleague, they wore platform shoes so all muppets could be at the same height.
While this is still used in many parts of the Sesame Street set, if a scene doesn't require a lot of movement by the muppet, it is shot with the puppeteers sitting down. When Henson envisioned this set, I'm sure he didn't expect to be defending his puppets against this rumor.
Bert And Ernie Are Not Gay
Since it's inception, fans have questioned the sexuality of the show's live-in best friends. Bert and Ernie have been questioned many times and both have denied that they are anything more than best friends. At one point, Bert even said about his roommate, "No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck."
The Jim Henson Company, in response to the question that the two muppets are gay, issued a statement saying, "They aren’t gay. They aren’t straight. They aren’t anything. They’re puppets. They don’t exist below the waist." That's one way to quickly end a rumor.
Cookie Monster Is The Only Monster With Five Fingers
Half the magic of Sesame Street is that the characters are delightfully not humans. While some have humanlike features, personalities, and characteristics, the "monster" muppet is the furthest from humans. The only monster with five fingers like a human is Cookie Monster, the rest all have four.
While no reason has ever been given to why this is, one can assume it's so that Cookie Monster can eat cookies quickly and effectively. It probably isn't easy holding cookies when you don't have any opposable thumbs. How else can you dip them in milk?
The Newest Muppet Has Autism
Sesame Street's newest muppet is breaking barriers by being autistic. Julia had been present in many Sesame Street books and publications but was finally brought to the television show in 2017. The show's producers brought in experts to best educate children, and parents alike, on autism.
In her debut episode, Julia encounters Big Bird, but Big Bird is worried she doesn't like him. Elmo steps in to let Big Bird know that Julia does like Big Bird, but she has autism so she doesn't communicate words as quickly or as easily. Once again, Sesame Street won't shy away from important issues. Julia is one of the many muppets who reflect us humans, but Sesame Street didn't even involve muppets at first.
It Originally Wasn't All About The Muppets
When the producers originally envisioned Sesame Street, they weren't dead set on using muppets. They first tried out puppets as being secondary to humans. Thankfully, this changed after their first screen tests. Producers noticed that the children were very engaged when muppets were on-screen, but quickly became disengaged when it switches back to humans.
They took the data to heart and changed the entire focus of the show. Sesame Street began to instead center on the muppets, and the only humans there were secondary characters who did not hold their own scenes, but only scenes with muppets.
Count Von Count Has The Best Twitter
Count von Count, usually known as the Count, is one of the most iconic characters on Sesame Street. The muppet was based on the fictional character Dracula and helps children learn basic arithmetic. But the Count is not only helping children count, he is helping the entire internet. @CountVonCount joined Twitter in April 2012 and has been counting once a day, every day, and is well over 1000. He even boasts an impressive 63k followers.
Some people believe the Count's name isn't just ironic. In some vampire folklore, a way to ward off the attacker is to throw rice, sand, or seeds because vampires will need to count the grains before moving on. Much easier than driving a wooden stake through their heart.
Sesame Street Has Been Reproduced By 34 Countries
Sesame Street may have started in America but it quickly grew into a worldwide phenomenon. There are 28 dubbed versions of the American show, and over 34 countries have created their own version of Sesame Street.
Oscar The Grouch Is Based On Real Life
Oscar the Grouch teaches us to be kind to our friends, but it's no surprise the character was based on real life. The character was inspired by a nasty waiter from a restaurant in New York called Oscar’s Tavern. Carol Spinney (who also plays Big Bird) knew this when he auditioned for the part and also based the voice on real life. Spinney found inspiration from the voice of the cab driver from the Bronx who took him to the audition.
Apparently, Elmo was originally screen tested with a low, scratchy voice as well. Thankfully, Oscar the Grouch got to keep that unique voice.
Pop Culture Loves Sesame Street
You can't be the most popular and acclaimed children's television show without finding your way into all corners of pop culture. Numerous TV shows have parodied or paid tribute to Sesame Street, including American Dad, The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Family Guy, and more.
One of the most popular Broadway musicals, Avenue Q, was a coming-of-age satire of Sesame Street. Four of the original puppeteers for the musical were actually former Sesame Street performers and three of the main puppets in the show are parodies of Sesame Street muppets.