February 25, 2013

By Joe Hennes

The History of Academy Award Winners on Sesame Street

Over 43 seasons, Sesame Street has featured hundreds and hundreds of famous actors.  Due to the law of averages, a certain percent of those actors will have gone on to receive a coveted Academy Award statuette.  And it seems that those averages are correct, because a lot of Sesame’s famous friends have an Oscar on their mantle.

Just last night, at the 85th annual Academy Awards, Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance of Fantine in Les Miserables. Hathaway stopped by Sesame Street a few years ago to sing “I Want a Snuffy for Christmas” with her pal Big Bird. Now you can add her to the long list of Oscar winners who count Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Streetgang among their friends.

The earliest Oscar winner to have appeared on Sesame Street may not be a familiar one. Anne Revere, who won the Best Supporting Actress award for National Velvet in 1946, spent a brief time behind the counter at Hooper’s Store in 1977. She wasn’t the only Hooper’s Store employee to win an Academy Award: Natalie Portman, who won Best Actress for Black Swan, took over for Alan for a day in 2004.

Did you know that when Maria and Luis got married on the roof of 123 Sesame Street, they had an Oscar winner in attendance?  Luis’s uncle was played by veteran actor José Ferrer, who won an Academy Award for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950. Talent runs in the family!

In 1961, Shirley Jones (best known as Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family) won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Elmer Gantry. 44 years later, she made her Sesame Street debut as Mrs. Goose, the head of Storybook Community School where Baby Bear and Abby attend school. So, she has one more Academy Award than Miss Sparklenose.

Two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro obviously knows a thing or two about acting, so he gave Elmo a free lesson back in 2001.  In fact, he’s so good, he makes a better Elmo than Elmo.

Meryl Streep holds the record for the most nominations in Academy Award history, but surprisingly, she’s never appeared on Sesame Street. However, that hasn’t stopped us from paying homage to the actress with “Meryl Sheep,” who appeared with Oscar winner Susan Sarandon.

Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie lived on Sesame Street as a regular cast member from 1975-1981, and just a few years later, she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman. It just goes to show, being on Sesame Street can lead to greater things!

Just one year after Marlee Matlin won her Academy Award for Best Actress in Children of a Lesser God, she appeared on Sesame Street to sign the words to “Just the Way You Are”, while Billy Joel sang a modified tongue-in-cheek  version of the song to a particularly cranky Oscar the Grouch.

Not all of Sesame Street’s Academy Award winners are actors.  Composer Alan Menken, who won Oscars for his work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas also contributed a few songs for Sesame Street, including “What Is Friend?,” “Martian Family,” and “It’s Gonna Get Dirty Again”.

Marisa Tomei surprised everyone when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting  Actress for My Cousin Vinny, but it wasn’t nearly as big a surprise as when she dressed like a diner waitress in the story of the Monkey King.  Yep, that’s a thing that happened.

If you’ve got to learn about how to act afraid or surprised, it might help to have award-winning actors to teach you how.  Both Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins have appeared on Sesame Street with Elmo, and ended up giggling at Elmo’s antics rather than show their intended emotions.  Maybe they’re not as talented as presumed . . .

After a big Oscar win, Academy Award winners like Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman have put aside their statuettes to present the Word on the Street.  Halle Berry appeared with Elmo and a slightly less adorable tiger to talk about “Nibble”, while Nicole Kidman got “Stubborn” with Oscar the Grouch.

After proving his musical talents in Ray, Best Actor winner Jamie Foxx brought his pipes along to Elmo’s Christmas Countdown, where he performed in a Nutcracker medley.  Meanwhile, we already knew that Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson could sing, which she proved with “Carol of the Bells” in the same Christmas special.

More than just Oscar winners have appeared on Sesame Street. Many of the hosts of the Academy Awards ceremony have found their way to the most famous street in the world.  Carol Burnett and Richard Pryor appeared in the early days of Sesame Street. Jon Stewart and Chris Rock were both featured in the classic Elmopalooza. The triple-threat of Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg all had memorable moments on Sesame Street. Ellen Degeneres and Alec Baldwin both presented Words on the Street, and Chevy Chase made a brief cameo in the Sesame Street film Follow That Bird.

To see videos of all the Oscar winners who have appeared on Sesame Street, click here.

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