In 40 seasons, Sesame Street has featured over 1,000 characters. Although we’ll always have mainstays like Big Bird, Elmo, Bert and Ernie, many Muppets have been forgotten or deemed unnecessary. Here are a few Sesame Street residents who were evicted.
Perhaps the most famous of the retired Sesame Street Muppets is Roosevelt Franklin. Originally voiced by Matt Robinson, who portrayed the first Gordon on Sesame Street, Roosevelt was an African-American Muppet who had his own school (named Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School). He often taught the class important lessons about things such as the geography of Africa and how to avoid drinking poison.
Parents wrote to the Children’s Television Workshop to complain that Roosevelt was a negative stereotype of African-American children, citing his rowdy nature and the fact that his classes closely resembled after-school detention. Roosevelt only lasted from 1970-1975, but he has appeared in many Sesame Street books, and it was recently revealed that he will make an appearance in the background of an episode of Sesame Street in the upcoming 40th season.
If a Muppet with a ’70s porn mustache and googly eyes offers to keep an eye on your hat, run the other way. Chances are he’s Harvey Kneeslapper, and he’s about to crush your fedora with an oversized letter I. Harvey pulled practical jokes on unsuspecting victims—jokes featuring bad puns about letters and numbers. Harvey was his own biggest fan, laughing loudly at his gags. One person who didn’t care for Harvey’s trademark laugh was his performer, Frank Oz, who complained that performing the character was too hard on his throat.
If there’s one thing kids like, it’s boring lectures. That’s why Sesame Street introduced Professor Hastings, a Muppet whose lectures were so boring, he’d put himself to sleep. And as entertaining as an educational narcoleptic might be, the dull Professor didn’t last long.
One of Richard Hunt’s most beloved characters was Don Music, a pianist and lyricist who penned such hits as “Mary Had a Bicycle,” “Drive, Drive, Drive Your Car,” and “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Yellowstone Park?” Although his lyrics were so very close to their familiar counterparts, Don demonstrated his artistic frustration by banging his head on the piano, shouting “I’ll never get it! Never, never!” Unfortunately, the kids at home found that so amusing, they began to imitate the act themselves, thus causing Don Music to join the growing pile of retired Muppets.
In the first season of Sesame Street, two bumbling humans named Buddy and Jim (played by Brandon Maggart and James Catusi) appeared as “a walking Polish joke” (at least that’s what Time called them). They repeatedly failed at simple tasks: they’d hammer a backwards nail into the wall, or play checkers with backwards chairs (I think you’re starting to see the pattern here). The long-standing rumor is that the actors who played Buddy and Jim took their act on the road to make a few extra bucks, but neglected to ask for permission to use the Sesame Street scripts. By season two, they were replaced by Larry and Phyllis (played by real-life couple Alan Arkin and Barbara Dana). But parents hated Larry and Phyllis, and a myriad of angry letters forced Sesame Street to replace them with Wally and Ralph (played by Joe Ponazecki and Paul Rice). A weak copy of the Buddy and Jim team, Wally and Ralph lasted just one season, and Sesame Street abandoned the human comedy duo format altogether.
In the 1970s, there were only two ways for Oscar to get around. He either had to let a cast member move his can across the set, or he had to walk around with the trash can obscuring the upper half of his body (Oscar’s legs were performed by none other than Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize). Oscar’s performer, Caroll Spinney, created Bruno the Trashman, who was inspired by a puppeteer on The Gong Show. Bruno was a full-bodied puppet with an opening in the stomach, so Spinney could perform Oscar while walking around (or even roller skating). The large, yet silent Bruno stuck around for several years, and appeared in the motion picture Follow That Bird. After years in storage, the Bruno puppet began to disintegrate, and the decision was made not to rebuild him. Oscar’s trashman eventually became trash himself.
Did you know an entire section of Sesame Street was shuttered? The cul-de-sac known as “Around the Corner” was introduced in 1993, and featured a ritzy hotel, jazz club, thrift store, dance studio, park, and subway station. The Around the Corner locations stuck around for five years, but research showed that kids were confused about having to look to the right to see more of the Street. The alleyway was abandoned, as were all the characters who worked at the aforementioned establishments. The alley now serves as a parking spot for Oscar’s Sloppy Jalopy.
Yes, that Kermit the Frog. Jim Henson knew Kermit was going to be his trademark character for a long time to come, so after the first season of Sesame Street, Henson “retired” Kermit from the show. At the time, Kermit was known for giving lectures on Sesame Street about letters, numbers and basic concepts. He was replaced by Herbert Birdsfoot, an accountant-looking Muppet whose nerdiness was usually offset by his lovable assistant, Grover. As we all know, it wasn’t so easy to keep Kermit away from the Street, and he returned to the show for the third season. Herb was phased out by season 5.
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