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39 Years on a 40 Year Street: An Essay by Jerry Nelson

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Other than the news, historically the longest running show on television. Well, with the possible exception of a soap opera or two. Still in all, it is humbling to have been a part of something so significant in the history of the media that was born in my lifetime.

Forty years, seems like a lifetime. Over half of my seventy five years on this planet has been spent being what has been referred to as a Muppeteer. It’s funny when I think about it because at least twenty of those years I denied being a puppeteer. I was an actor who was working with puppets until a film or stage job came along and all I really wanted to do was sing.

My grandparents used to give me a quarter to learn and sing songs when I was a sprout about five years old. “South of the Border” was maybe the first of a long list of tunes and I’m still learning them and singing them and will until the day I die. I don’t know if they knew the extent of what they were doing and how they were prepping me to have a way to get along in the world, but I like to think so.

I guess everything you observe and do and experience in life adds to that oneness that makes each of us so unique and at the same time makes us an everyman that shares the human condition in the most fundamental ways.

Working with The Henson Organization was like working with your family and when I started working on Sesame Street that was another extended family so now the family was immense. The idea behind this Sesame Street project was to use the tool of television to teach underprivileged preschool children, but what happened was that the show charmed, taught, and brought love and laughter into the hearts and minds of children and adults all over the world.

Chance, dumb luck or destiny? Who knows the controlling force that chooses where and how we find our lives manifest?

I can only say I have traveled through the breathtaking up and down melody of a lifetime that, I studied and trained for, wandered the paths of least resistance (following my water nature) to, and that I am either blessed and one of the luckiest bozos walking this planet or both. In any case:

Yeehaw, Hot Dawg, you old mustang you and Boy Howdy, today I’m celebrating by getting all my chores done for once! (Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’m also the laziest man on earth)

Norman Stiles, who was the first writer to write for Count, sent me this yesterday:

It's a beautiful thing.  Happy Birthday!  Let's put 40 candles in the cake!  Then let's light 40 candles!  Then let's blow out 40 candles!  Then we must take 40 candles out of the cake!  Then it will be time to lick the icing off of 4O candles!  Then we'll eat the cake, taking one thousand tiny little bites!   And then we will count the burps!  Ha, ha, ha!

Norman, obviously hasn't lost it but....     I wish I'd said that!

Jerry Nelson

Copyright@ Dogstar 2009


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