Sesame Street: Behind the Puppets — “Street Gang” by Michael Davis

[Hey Chicago-Folk:  How’s this for timing?  The Museum of Science & Industry is opening a brand-new Jim Henson exhibit called “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” today: 9/24!! As a big fan of the wonderful MSI, I encourage you to check it out – it’s there through January.]

“Sunny Days, sweepin’ the clouds away-

On my way to where the air is sweet.

Can you tell me how to get-

How to get to Sesame Street?”

If there was ever a first verse of a song that defines my childhood, that’s it.

For I, like many others, am part of that huge generation of kids who were raised on Sesame Street.  I grew up close friends with Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Oscar, Cookie Monster, and the Count.  In particular, toddler me adored Grover.  If you care.

Michael Davis’ “Street Gang” takes an inside look at the creation and success of Sesame Street, from it’s beginnings as a research study into whether this new medium called television could actually be used to teach, to the massive success of the show when it finally aired, all the way up to the semi-recent resurgence of Sesame Street with a little red dude named Elmo.

Admittedly, I like the idea of this book more than the actual book itself.  Though almost everything mentioned in then book is hyper-interesting, somehow it often comes off as dry.

However, there’s so much amazing information packed into these pages, I just kept reading.

To learn things like how these specific characters came to life is like hearing your best friends life story.  Learning about Jim Henson’s battles with former Disney CEO Michael Eisner (who wanted to own Sesame Street’s characters, despite Henson’s basically flat-out telling him it would never happen) is an amazing insight into the power that media companies like Disney can hold.  Hearing about Jim Henson’s funeral is heartbreaking.  Learning about the ground-breaking multi-racial casting of Sesame Street is eye-opening.

There are interludes where Rosie O’Donnell talks about her time with Elmo, and a sweet segment about a young puppeteer who’s heart breaks after hearing of Jim Henson’s death.  (This puppeteer, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, would go on to star on Broadway in — and get a tony nomination for – Avenue Q, the puppet musical that pays tribute to Sesame Street while basically skewering it at the same time.)

And, of course, they talk about Mr. Hooper. *Sniffle*

In my opinion, the book suffers from trying to give too much information.  Yes, it’s “The Complete History of Sesame Street,” but it’s nearly dense in all the names, dates, numbers, and details that are given.  There’s a ton of information about Captain Kangaroo and children’s television prior to Sesame Street that is far less interesting than other sequences of events we’re following.  While it’s absolutely valid to know where TV began, the section of the book could be trimmed quite a bit.

All that said, I’m glad I read it.

(Also, the book has a pretty fantastic website.)

Oh and – May I remind you of why I love Sesame Street?

It’s called Monsterpiece Theatre, and in the video below, they present… “Howard’s End.”


About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on September 24, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thank you for informing me on the MSI exhibit. I’m one of the little girls who wanted to grow up and marry Kermit the Frog.

  2. Right? I’m so excited — and can’t wait to see it!

  3. Completely agree with your review of this book. I read it … in 2008? maybe 2009? and had a similar reaction (especially with the whole section about Captain Kangaroo, which I never watched). Still, it was an incredibly informative book and I’m glad I read it.

    Wish I lived closer to that exhibit … would love to see that.

  4. Elizabeth Kennedy

    My cousin and I saw the MIS exhibit yesterday and it was wonderful. I am definitely going to have to read Street Gang once I get through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Definitely recommend the exhibit to my fellow Chicagoans.

  5. I read ‘Street Gang’ last year, and can attest to the feeling of TMI.

    There’s some great interviews with the cast and some backstory, though it definitely was like pulling back the curtain at some points and exposing the seamy underbelly in regards to some people’s attitudes and what became of many of the cast and crew.

    The sad story of what happened to cast member Northern Calloway still sticks in my mind. His character of David still sticks in my memory after all these years.

    Btw, if you go to youtube and look for clips on Henson’s funeral, you’ll find a number of clips that will surely make the waterworks just gush, such as:
    – Big Bird singing ‘It’s not easy being green’
    – Frank Oz remembering his time working with Jim
    – Numerous Muppeteers close the tribute to Jim with the song ‘Just One Person’

    P.S. I also liked Grover. He seemed to be the top monster on Sesame Street until Elmo suddenly took over in the mid-90’s. Grover also had one of the funniest Little Golden Books, titled ‘There is a Monster at the End of this Book.’

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