Sesame Street. Just it’s name evokes countless memories of anyone’s childhood without even delving into any particular segment produced for this show. I dare anyone to stand up and truly admit they know nothing about this groundbreaking show, first broadcast in 1969 and still on the media airwaves to this very day. And within this show were amazing animated segments, more about that later.
One reason, I am bringing this subject to light this week is in light of the most recent cast change. Three of the last remaining “human” cast members were not renewed for employment. Now this is not about that, but still I want to recognize them for all their hard work over the years. BRAVO! BRAVO to Bob (Bob Macgrath), Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and Luis (Emilio Delgado). Thanks for all your work you put into this show.
Now, back to the subject at hand. Sesame Street.
Within Sesame Street, between the human actors and The Muppets who inhabited this little corner of the city. Through various subject matters, from counting with numbers to letters and all that can be achieved with the written word. And a dash of color and comedy and for those several minutes, I again was transfixed to the screen. Yes. I still truly enjoy all that The Muppets entail, but animation, especially before computers were such a thrill to watch. From literal drawings of characters that told a story to almost abstract paintings that broadcasted the concept in a way even a child could relate to it. Especially this this was an educational show geared towards kids of pre-K and elementary school ages.
Again, I could spew forth endless names and dates and techniques, however, clinically produced as I can get but I am speaking from my heart. And from my memories. So, I shall preface it, once again, some of you might say, “Hey, why did you include this one or that?” Well, only so much pace on the page and only so much time to read. But I just might have you ponder and say I didn’t know about this one or thanks for reminding me about that. Ready now? Here I go. Ok, for the sake of organization, I will list them in alphabetical order (sort of). If one particular style or creator has multiple ones, I will expand upon that thought, then listing others that were created along with the first one in the alpha list:
Beginning, Middle, End. Island of Emotion. Beginning, Middle, End depicts how these three picture books have structure in their stories and these three concepts of it. A parody of the Talking Heads song, “And She Was”. This was animated by Sally Cruikshank, who was an accomplished animator and creator. Who had other work, Quasi at the Quackadero cited in the 1994 book, The 50 Greatest Cartoons and a nightmare TV sequence for Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Billy Jo Jive. This produced by Shearer Visuals and a former Terrytoons animator, Ray Favata. Animated by his partner, Ed Seeman. The characters came from a book series which had these young detectives solving crimes in their neighborhood.
Christopher Clumsy, Jasper and Julius series and I’ve Got a Mind. Poverty Pictures Segments. A cartoon character who started out actually in the Sesame Street comic strip, but graduated to animated sequences. It was in these sequences, albeit he was clumsy he was friendly figuring out what to do. From Shapes to Feet and Jumping over Holes. Voiced provided by Jim Thurman, who was also an writer of TV comedy for Bob Newhart, Carol Burnet and Dean Martin, just to name a few. And even contributed to other educational shows of the time. Animated by cartoonist Cliff Roberts, who created minimalist designs for other likes UPA and Terrytoons. Cliff Roberts designs returned to create two persons, Jasper and Julius, two persons as they showed various concepts with humorous results. And in yet another cartoon, I’ve Got a Mind, an abstract set of eyes, mouth and hands show different concepts of things, like a Ball, a Wind-Up Toy, A Square and animals like Birds and a Fish. The fun part of these segments is they are performing in a rhyming fashion. Poverty Pictures Segments, yet another designed by Mr Roberts, depicted Letters and the words can be associated with them.
The Countdown Series. That used a loud mouth guy counting down a rocket. Different mishaps would befall this situation, but after many tries there was success. And some even used Carol Burnett, who would appear saying, “Well, back to the ol’ drawing board.” It was the age of NASA and Apollo going to the Moon and proud display of USA on the rocket, showing this fact.
Detective Series. Animated by Dan Ibanek and voiced by John Barilla. These would depict this cartoon detective solving and experiencing Street Patterns, Hippo on a Trampoline, Exercise, a Lever and a Snake. All seemed to have consequences, whether he has noticed them or not.
Eleven Cheer. The King of Eight. The Queen of Six. Raisin Army. Produced by Jim Henson. The first involved stop motion animation that had dancing squares who eventually form the number, Eleven. The King of Eight and Queen of Six centered around the numbers Eight (8) and Six (6). With a jaunty tune that progress the short tale. Produced by Jim Henson. Written by Keith Vernon Textor, who did composing and arrangements for it along with Alan Robert Scott and Marilyn Lang Scott.
Fruta Manzana. A animated spoof depicting a Carmen Miranda, singer and dancer as she worked her way through a park. Singing about healthy eating and reminding people to throw their trash into a garbage can. Produced by Polestar Studios and animated by Don Duga and Irra Verbitsky. On a personal note, some years ago, I attended a Storyboard for Animation class at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. And it was there, I met Irra, who was teaching the class.
He. She and It. An animated series that covered subjects like a Faucet, Vacuum Cleaner, Tricycle, Harmonic and Scales on how they functioned. It involved a girl, a boy and an animal. Animated by Whitney Lee Savage. And the boy was voiced by a young, Adam Savage, who if the name sound familiar, grew up to show us more about things in the world, on his show, “Mythbusters.
I Can Remember. An animated short created by Jim Simon. This depicts a girl as she is requested by her mother to pick up items from the local grocery story. On the way she keeps saying the items so as not to forget. Almost forgetting one item, she persists and completes this task, getting them back to her home. This helped children learn about memory and items in a list.
Pinball Number Count. The Ringmaster. Twenty Pickle Pie. The Typewriter. Segments were animated and produced by Jeff Hale and his company, Imagination Inc. It featured number 2 through 12 in the guise of a pinball machine. But quickly travels through different scenarios, landscapes and situations. Music performed by The Pointer Sisters. The Ringmaster also covered numbers segments, but this time in a circus atmosphere. Twenty Pickle Pie, with a cook creating a pie of pickles that ends up not to be tasty at all. The Typewriter covered all twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Jeff Hale’s work could also be seen in Muppet Babies, Here Comes Garfield, The Flintstones Comedy Hour and Heavy Metal, to name a few. Another place he can be seen is in the Star Wars spoof film, Hardware Wars, where he played Augie “Ben:” Doggie and his music partner from these animated shorts, Walt Kraemer, provided voices for the same Star Wars spoof.
Sand Alphabet. Eliot Noyes, Jr. was the creator of these shorts. The films used sand on a backlit animation. With Bluegrass music setting the tone, the sand was manipulated into the Letters that were represented.
Today’s Secret Drawing. An animated segment which would reveal anything from a letter, object to even a person. The setting was like that of a chalkboard. Gary Owens, the narrator would start it out and the children would help it progress into something recognizable. It would go through corrections where the kids would laugh and criticize. Gary Owens, a famous actor/voice actor, with his immediately known voice appeared on other projects like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (as The Announcer). Some of his voice acting included, Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost.
Wanda the Witch. Animated and designed by Tee Collins. It featured a witch and a series of alliterations using the letter “W” and even sometimes had Carol Burnett explain reaction to the sequence. This animated premiered in the very first episode of Sesame Street.
Willie Wimple. Abe Levitow, animator known for being part of Chuck Jones’s Unit at Looney Tunes. At MGM, he helped co-direct The Phantom Tollbooth. At UPA, he directed some Mr Magoo and Dick Tracy animated shorts. Willie Wimple was a series where the said character did everything from tree chopping and various forms of pollutions. These actually had a moral at the end, which informed the viewer, a single person can harm the ecosystem of the planet.
Ok, A is ending up at the end, but, as the phrase says, “Save the Best For Last”. I admit I am biased in my admiration for this man’s work. So, I shall save him for last. And when you read you just might indeed understand why I have done so. Even though, everyone who has worked on the Sesame Street animated segments were amazing pros in their own rights in the industry.
The Alligator King, Candy Man, Donnie Budd (series), It’s A Lovely Eleven Morning, Ladybugs’ Picnic, Martian Beauty, The Old Woman Who Lived in A Nine, Ten Turtles and That’s About The Size. Jazz Alphabet. William “Bud” Luckey. You might know his voice, but without knowing his name I have known his work for years. After connecting the dots of hindsight. This animator created some of the segments that most impacted me as a viewer and appreciator of animation. These segments are probably the most iconic, from my eyes. The Alligator King teaches about this number 7 (seven). Candy Man teaches about the number 8 (eight). Donnie Budd was a series that included a hillbilly fiddler who sang and plucked about numbers 2 (two) through 6 (six). It’s A Lovely Eleven Morning dealt with the number 11 (eleven) and that said amount of various animals. Martian Beauty, A martian with various body parts of increments of the number 9 (nine). Ten Turtles illustrated conversant turtles on telephones with a grocer dealing with the number 10 (ten). That’s About the Size used size comparisons to progress through the segment, from ants to the planet Earth and beyond all in that span of a day. Jazz Alphabet, was one where he helped provide some music for and not design.
This man, Bud Luckey, had worked for the Disney Animator, Art Babbitt’s commercial studio as an in-betweener. He managed an animation studio as he directed and animated. Joined briefly Colossal Pictures but soon after that he was brought on into Pixar. And to this date, he has done some work on every film that has come out of there. But I must point out besides the distinct, recognizable voice of his in which he has lent it to various Pixar films, there is one other project. Boundin’ is one of my favorite of the short films that have come out of Pixar. That one was directed, written and his vocals added. Ok, I slipped out of hand animation in tot he world of 3D, but I just had to spotlight the man and his talent. Why? Just as I mentioned as soon as I learned who he was from Pixar I learned his roots to Sesame Street and I admired his talent even further.
In conclusion, with animation and what it brings, even at an early age during the shapes, numbers and concepts education with Sesame Street, I absorbed this art form and a deep appreciation later of what went into creating it. And had fun connecting the dots of who created these memorable segments that still firmly imprinted in my brain.
You may now go on YouTube to find and view these segments to see what they instructed the young viewers to see and learn. These are truly classic animations unto themselves.