Sesame Street Blog

Sesame Family Robinson – From making Muppets to Raising Moppets

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Learn more about the Man behind the Hand

Dear Marty,

I’ve been showing your HandyMan films to all my friends because they crack me up. I sometimes make my fingers walk like that to amuse my kids, but I never thought about making it into a character. It’s amazing how expressive HandyMan is! Where did you get the idea for HandyMan? What’s the trick to making it look so real?

 All the very best,
Tom
Mountain View, CA


Dear Tom,

Thanks for enjoying the HandyMan films. Often while I am editing them, I will sit there and crack myself up. It’s nice to know there are other folks out there that like them too. I would be surprised if there were any culture on planet earth that did not make their fingers walk to represent a human. I wrote a little explanation of HandyMan a while back for the blog; it may explain more. There is no real trick to making him look real, except that I am a puppeteer—it’s what I do. After wiggling dollies for 35 years you either get good at it, or you go mad. I, of course, have gone raving mad.

Come back next Monday for a new HandyMan movie!

How I Became a Writer for Sesame Street.

Annie Evans

Dear Annie,

I love your blog so much!!! I’ve often wondered what it would be like to work for Sesame Street and be a part of what goes on behind the scenes. How did you become a writer for Sesame Street? Where do you get your ideas?

All the best,
Molly
Marfa, TX
 
Molly,
 
I actually became a writer of Sesame Street with help from my friend Martin P. Robinson (That was many years before we changed our relationship and got married!). We had just met at a puppetry conference and I was in desperate need of a writing job that actually paid money. He gave some sample bits to the Head Writer at the time named Norman Stiles. He invited me to be part of an audition process. It took 1 year of writing and rewriting, learning the character voices and the comedy style while incorporating the curriculum. I lost 10 pounds from worry but I was the only one left standing at the end and got the job. That was 15 years ago! I get my ideas from everywhere—my childhood, my kids, suggestions from researchers, books and fairytales. Sometimes a show idea comes in a flash, other times I feel like I have to bang my head against the computer for a few days to knock some idea loose.   

The Elmo Phenomenon

We got a letter recently from Phouka who comments on the Elmo phenomenon since my daughters learned Elmo’s name long before any other character:
 
Dear Annie, 

For what it's worth, Elmo has an unfair advantage: He's red. The first color we see as our vision develops is red, so of course your girls are drawn to Elmo. As their vision develops, they should discover and adore Telly, too.

Your Friend, 

Phouka
 
Kermit Love, one of the original Muppet designers also used to say, “Elmo is popular because Elmo is red.” It also helps that Kevin Clash is a brilliant performer.
 
I can say that we are making an effort to get our classic characters back into the show where we can. Super Grover 2.0 is a big hit, and we’re already writing more of his segments. Big Bird, Oscar, Cookie, and Grover are also often in Street stories. The producers try to put old Bert and Ernie library bits into the show when it’s possible.
 
Thanks for writing!

Letter from a fan!

Lyra and Ripley on a computer.

Dear Annie and Marty,

I just wanted to say thanks for the blog. My daughter Kylie (who just turned two yesterday) loves to ask if we are going to see “the babies.” Thank you so much to you and Marty for bringing the joy of Sesame Street into our lives every day.

Kendal and Kylie

Montreal, CANADA
 
Dear Kendal and Kylie,
 
We really are surprised at how many parents are watching the videos with their young children. When we started the blog, we imagined the videos to be more of a goof for other parents with perhaps a little educational content thrown in. We’ve heard from many people that they actually watch the videos with their kids who want to see certain ones over and over again. One mother said her son loved seeing the “Visit to Grandma” movie to watch Ripley fall down in the waves. It scared him, but also mesmerized him. Perhaps now he’ll be less nervous around the surf since Ripley seemed okay plopping down in it. It’s an added plus to our parent blog—kid viewers!

--Annie

How Snuffy survived the “Sombrero Incident.”

Martin Robinson wearing a Snuffy sweater

Dear Marty,

I read in "40 Years of Life on the Street" about an incident involving Snuffy's puppet where a sombrero caused the wood frame to collapse on you and Bryant Young. Did they rebuild the puppet after that or did they just make a new one?

Edward
 
Yes, the "Sombrero Incident". A very heavy hat was built for Señor Snuffalupago, a relative of Snuffy's I was playing. Midway through a scene, the aluminum frame backpack I wear to support the beast gave way, dropping the entire character and puppeteers in a great heap. Luckily, no one was hurt. Within about twenty minutes, the shop had drilled and riveted the broken section allowing us to finish the show. When they had a proper amount of time, the Henson shop replaced the stressed backpack. Snuffy himself, twenty-five years later, is the same. Of course he gets maintained inside and out before each season, with special attention paid to all those lovely feathers worked in to his fur. After the sombrero incident, all hats and costume pieces were made much lighter. 

--Marty
 
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Mail Box

Like your family we have twins, boy/girl, that turned three last month. I saw your blog entry for January and it looks like we have something in common, potty training twins. Like one of your girls, my son WILL NOT pee in the potty but his sister was doing well until she caught on to "Bubbie" not trying. I was just letting things run their course but our local pre-schools/mommy day out programs require the children to be potty trained and this mommy needs a day out. Bribery isn't working. Have you had any success?

Sommer

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How often is the telly puppet renewed or replaced?

Katherine Sydney, Australia

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I read in 40 Years of Life on the Street about an incident involving Snuffy's puppet where a sombrero caused the wood frame to collapse on you and Bryant Young. Did they rebuild the puppet after that or did they just make a new one?

Edward

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I just wanted to say thanks for the blog. My daughter Kylie (who just turned two yesterday) loves to ask if we are going to see "the babies." Thank you so much to you and Marty for bringing the joy of Sesame Street into our lives every day.

Kendal and Kylie Montreal, Canada

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I've noticed that there are fewer Muppets and people in an episode now than there were twenty years ago. Does everyone show up on the set for filming days or only certain ones? Who decides who gets to play the Anything Muppets? There are some voices I hear more than others.

Glenda

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