The Truth Behind 10 ‘Sesame Street’ Legends
'Sesame Street' has been using music, humor, and puppets to teach kids valuable life lessons for over 40 years. Like any titan of children's entertainment, it has been the subject of plenty of rumors.
From actor deaths to lost episodes to Muppet sexuality, everyone seems to know some strange and hard to believe story about what goes on behind the scenes on the Street. Today, we're giving you the real story behind 10 of the biggest 'Sesame Street' legends.
The Legend: Cookie Monster has been turned from a gluttonous, cookie-devouring creature into the health food-loving Veggie Monster in an effort to combat childhood obesity.
The Truth: Cookie Monster does eat fruits and vegetables, but he still eats cookies all the time. Cookie's varied diet isn't even a new thing -- he's been eating other foods and singing their praises for years. Check out his Healthy Foods rap from way back in 1987. But he's never stopped eating cookies and he continues to do so in new episodes of 'Sesame Street.'
The Legend: 'Sesame Street' plans to introduce a Muppet who is HIV-positive.
The Truth: There is an HIV-positive Muppet, but not in the U.S. Kami appears on the South American and Nigerian co-productions of 'Sesame Street.' In a part of the world where many children are infected with HIV or know someone who is, Kami provides information about the disease and is a positive role model for children living with it.
Kami was never intended for inclusion on the American 'Sesame Street,' but her debut still caused controversy in the U.S. Some politicians and other leaders, unaware that Kami was only going to appear in Africa, complained that the presence of an HIV-positive character on 'Sesame Street' would lead to uncomfortable discussions about sex and drug use.
The Legend: The actor who played David, one of the human stars of 'Sesame Street,' died young.
The Truth: There are all kinds of stories about children's entertainers meeting early or bizarre ends, but this one is sadly true. Actor Northern Calloway played David on 'Sesame Street' from 1971 to 1989. One of the younger "grown-ups," David ran the local store after Mr. Hooper died and had a close relationship with Maria.
Unfortunately, Calloway began experiencing serious mental health issues that culminated in a 1980 nervous breakdown. He was arrested after causing damage to several homes and severely beating a woman. He continued appearing on 'Sesame Street' but his offscreen behavior remained erratic and in 1989, the show's writers had David leave to care for his grandmother. Calloway passed away in a psychiatric hospital the following year, just two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday.
The Legend: There is an episode of 'Sesame Street' in which Mr. Snufflapagus' parents divorce. It was filmed, but never aired because children in the test audiences found it too upsetting.
The Truth: The episode was slated to air in 1992, but was never broadcast. Part of the problem was that Snuffy's dad was not a regular character on the show, so kids didn't understand how the family was changing. In addition to being upset, many kids came away with the wrong messages: that parents fighting will lead to divorce, that parents who divorce will stop loving their kids and that Snuffy's father was leaving forever.
Since then, 'Sesame Street' has addressed the subject of divorce with characters like Abby Cadabby, whose parents were already divorced when she debuted, sparing kids the trauma of watching Muppet parents end their marriage.
The Legend: An early 'Sesame Street' Muppet was removed from the show for being a racist stereotype of African-Amercans.
The Truth: The Muppet in question is Roosevelt Franklin, who was so intelligent that he frequently taught classes at a school named after him. He remained a regular fixture of the show until season seven, when he was removed due to complaints. Some people felt the rowdy scenes in his classroom set a bad example while others objected to his dialect.
Was Roosevelt Franklin a relic of a bygone time or a perfectly good character killed by too much scrutiny? Watch the clip above and decide for yourself.
The Legend: A photo of Bert and Osama bin Laden appeared at a pro bin Laden rally in Bangladesh.
The Truth: It really did happen, but Bert had nothing to do with it. The image came from the website Bert is Evil, which featured pictures of disastrous and tragic world events with the famous Muppet Photoshopped in. A local store in Bangladesh, apparently missing the joke, printed the image of Bert and Bin Laden as part of a poster and began selling it to Bin Laden supporters.
Sesame Workshop was not thrilled and promptly issued a statement denouncing the libelous representation of Bert.
The Legend: Big Bird's teddy bear is named after Radar O'Reilly on the TV show 'M*A*S*H.'
The Truth: Caroll Spinney, the original puppeteer of Big Bird, did name the bear after the 'M*A*S*H' character. The obvious connection is that Radar O'Reilly brought a teddy bear with him when he served in Korea. But Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O'Reilly, is also a well-known painter whose favorite subject is birds. He is also active in bird preservation efforts, making him someone Big Bird would admire.
The Legend: 'Sesame Street' did a parody of the perpetually troubled musical 'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.'
The Truth: Parodies are nothing new for 'Sesame Street,' but rarely are they as viciously satirical as 'Spider-Monster: The Musical.' The sketch mocks the musical's multiple openings, poor attendance, and failed stunts, all in the name of teaching kids about...pulleys? What "flying" means? Why musicals fail? We're still not sure.
The Legend: Ernie was slated to be killed off shortly after the death of Jim Henson to teach children about death.
The Truth: 'Sesame Street' famously addressed the issue of death in an episode where the local shopkeeper Mr. Hooper died after Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, passed away in 1982. So after Jim Henson's sudden death, some people imagined that the idea would be repeated with Henson's most popular 'Sesame Street' character.
Of course, Ernie did not die. He did go into semi-retirement for a few years, appearing in brief cameos in addition to rerun scenes. In 1993, the role of Ernie was given to puppeteer Steve Whitmire, who had also become the puppeteer for Kermit.
The Legend: Bert and Ernie, who have been roommates since the very first episode of 'Sesame Street,' are secretly gay and will soon be outed or married.
The Truth: Representatives of the Street have always said that Bert and Ernie are just good friends. They've even gone so far as to question whether characters who usually have nothing but a puppeteers' arm below the waist can have any sexuality at all (though try telling that to Miss Piggy). Still, the rumor persists, helped along by parodies, confused politicians, and the occasional New Yorker cover.