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July 15, 2013

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A History of Mr. Hooper’s Store

By Susan Tofte


Susie Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s former archivist.

Every good neighborhood has a gathering place.  For 44 years, that gathering place on Sesame Street has been Hooper’s Store.

The show’s creators wanted the set of Sesame Street to differ from other kids’ shows on television at the time.  Rather than stage the show in a clubhouse or other fantasy setting, the show’s action would take place on a realistic urban street.  Inspiration for the set came from the neighborhoods around New York City – complete with brownstones, a subway stop and a corner store.  The first season welcomed viewers into the apartments of Bert and Ernie and Susan and Gordon.  Neighbors met up on the stoop of 123 Sesame and the central gathering place for the neighborhood was Hooper’s Store.  Read More

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‘Just tell them if it’s true’: Maurice Sendak and Sesame Street

By Susan Tofte


Sesame Workshop Founder Joan Ganz Cooney with Maurice Sendak

Susan Tofte is Sesame Worskhop’s Archivist.

“I don’t believe in children.  I don’t believe in childhood.  I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.  ‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that.  You mustn’t tell them that.’  You tell them anything you want.  Just tell them if it’s true.  If it’s true you tell them.”   – Maurice Sendak.

In June 1968, the staff of Children’s Television Workshop (CTW, now known as Sesame Workshop) gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a group of educators, scholars, child psychiatrists, television producers, authors, illustrators, composers, and puppeteers to determine what Sesame Street should attempt to teach in the show’s first year.  The seminars were designed to bring a diverse group of thinkers together to tackle a problem that no participant had tried to solve.  The challenge: find a way for the creative intuition needed to create a television show to work along side a deliberate objective curriculum.  The first seminar covered social, moral and affective development of children.  Among the 20 participants was writer and artist Maurice Sendak.  Instead of taking notes, Sendak doodled as the discussion of what four-year-olds understand conceptually drifted through his unconscious.  He doodled about sibling rivalry, children challenging their parents’ authority and violence on TV.  The sketches are classic Sendak – irreverent, subversive and witty.

After the seminars, Sendak’s involvement with Street continued.  He was an early member of the National Board of Advisors for CTW and consulted with Workshop founder Joan Ganz Cooney and producers on early storyboards and outlines for the show.  Some of the doodles from the seminars were used in the first promotional brochure for the Workshop.  The cover image of the booklet features a drawing of a child with a television for a head holding a Children’s Television Workshop banner.  Sendak also drew the first logo that appeared on early CTW stationary and press releases.

In addition to his work behind the scenes, Sendak contributed two animations that aired during Sesame Street’s second season.  He collaborated with Jim Henson on two animated films – writing and designing stories full of mayhem and ruckus.  “Seven Monsters,” a subversive story about a group of seven monsters wrecking havoc on a village, was turned into a storybook in 1977.  “Bumble Ardy #9”, Sendak’s best known short, is a tale of nine pigs showing up to celebrate a boy’s 9th birthday, eating birthday cake and drinking wine. The animated short was the basis for a book that was published in 2011.  It was the first book in 30 years that Sendak both wrote and illustrated and was the last book he published before his death.

It is unknown what circumstances led to Maurice Sendak’s invitation to participate in the early seminars for Sesame Street but there is no doubt that Sendak’s influence was felt during the early development of Sesame Street.  Both Sendak and the creators of Sesame Street believed that children understand a great deal more than most adults believe; that when creating content for children, one must take children seriously as children.

 

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Jackie Robinson on Sesame Street

By Susan Tofte


Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s Archivist.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

Of the hundreds of celebrities who have appeared on Sesame Street, Jackie Robinson is one of the most notable. Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney met with Robinson in 1969 when she was working to build awareness and outreach prior to the show’s November premiere. Reaching out to Robinson and his connections made sense. Read More

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February 25, 2013

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The History of Academy Award Winners on Sesame Street

By Joe Hennes


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. Read More

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February 13, 2013

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‘The Story of J’: Sesame Street’s First Animation

By Susan Tofte


Susan Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s Archivist.

It is hard to imagine Sesame Street without the delightful animations that teach things like letters, numbers, emotions and problem solving. Animations have been a part of the show since the pilot episodes. But back in 1969, the idea of using a series of short animations to act like “commercials” for letters and numbers was a true innovation.

When Joan Ganz Cooney created her proposal for an educational television show, she envisioned borrowing the techniques used in making TV commercials to help teach counting and literacy. Joan and the producers knew that kids were attracted to commercials on TV. What they didn’t know was whether they could successfully create short commercial-like segments for the show that would actually teach to the curriculum. Read More

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June 27, 2012

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‘A Woman in the Boardroom’: A 1978 Interview with Joan Ganz Cooney

By Joan Ganz Cooney



Ed. Note: This interview with Sesame Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney originally appeared in the 1978 January-February edition of the Harvard Business Review. It has been re-published with the permission of the Harvard Business Review and edited for length. Special thanks goes to Ms. Cooney for taking the time to reflect upon her interview and write an updated introduction, which you can find below.

I find it hard to believe, upon re-reading this interview from Harvard Business Review, that it was published only 34 years ago… As the kids would say, “It’s so last century!” I was among the first women to be asked to join a Fortune 300 corporate board. Today, it is not unusual for major corporations to have two or three women as board members. I was embarrassed to read how afraid I was to offend the sensibilities of the businessmen of that era. I’m happy to say that today men and women interact as equals; Women CEO’s, while still rare in the Fortune 500, exist in much greater numbers than they did in the 70′s and women are almost always in high executive positions. Xerox’s two most recent CEO’s have been women; the current one is African American. So yes, things have changed for the better. We still have a long way to go but there is no question that astonishing progress has been made by women in business.

Harvard Business Review: We’d like to look at several conventional views concerning the question of women at top management and board levels.  The first concerns qualifications. Many people believe that women can’t make the same tough decisions that men can, that they aren’t qualified in the same way that men are. What is your response to that view?

Cooney: Well, I don’t think there’s anything to it in one way, but in other ways there’s a great deal to it. Little girls and young women are trained on both conscious and unconscious bases, by the family and by society, to “get along”—to be diligent and dutiful, to take instructions from older people, first from their parents and then from men. Some men are comfortable in that role, merely following instructions, but virtually all women are comfortable in it.

To make decisions women have to debrief themselves, which causes an enormous amount of anxiety and stress, to understand that they can take action—can, for instance, perform the necessary surgery if it must be performed. Such surgery includes eliminating a department, eliminating, here at Children’s Television Workshop, a show, eliminating personnel; sometimes for budgetary reasons, sometimes for competency reasons.

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