1 The Muppet Mindset: Street Gang Book Review

Sep 6, 2009

Street Gang Book Review

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street
By Michael Davis
Viking Books, 2009, $27.95 U.S., $31.00 Canada

Erin Roll (MuppetNewsgirl on Muppet Central Forum) - Is it really possible to do a “complete” history of Sesame Street in just one book? It would seem that there’s enough cast and crew bios, character information, trivia and taping dates to fill a set of encyclopedias.

That being said Davis gives it his best shot with Street Gang, a thorough, funny, poignant and candid look at the lives of the people who brought Sesame Street to life.

Sometimes, the book gets bogged down a little bit in background on politics and culture’s effects on the show, but Davis manages to keep it all connected to the show, more or less.

The reader gets a look at the early days of children’s television, a genre that was denounced by FCC heads in the early 1960s as “massive doses of cartoons, violence and more violence.”

The book begins with the story of four-year-old Sarah Morrissett, whose parents observed that she was obsessed with the test pattern on the family’s television. It was a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by a family friend, Joan Ganz Cooney.

Later, Jim Henson comes into the story, and the first seeds for the show are planted.

Around Chapter 14, the book finally gets to Sesame Street itself. From this point on, we are introduced to more cast members, like Emilio Delgado, Sonia Manzano and Northern Calloway, and puppeteers like Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Marty Robinson and Kevin Clash.

Davis makes sure to devote some ink to Elmo’s rise to stardom, depicting Richard Hunt as walking into the green room carrying Elmo “upside down by his rod, as if he were carrying a dead buzzard by his claw (286)” and pitching the puppet in Clash’s direction.

There are some nice sections on the creation and evolution of key characters like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch (he was originally orange), Ernie and Bert and Snuffy.

Chapter 18 is one of the more difficult chapters to read, as it deals with upheavals in the show’s dynamics and format, as well as the deaths of several key players. Plus, around this time, Sesame Street starts to see a rival, in the form of a certain overly sappy purple dinosaur called Barney.

In this chapter we see quite a bit of Calloway’s decline, slow burn and death, written in almost graphic detail. A good bit of space is dedicated to Jim and Jane Henson’s separation in the late 1980s, often in not a flattering light, and there is one poignant scene of Richard Hunt telling his sister about his illness for the first time while driving through a nighttime rainstorm.

The book ends mostly on an optimistic note, looking toward the show’s future. In some spots, Davis delivers too many details or not enough details in other spots, but all in all, “Street Gang” is a must-read for die-hard Sesame fans and casual viewers alike.

Buy Street Gang and read it for yourself today!

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