Growing Up With Bert And Ernie

TelevisionSesame Street (tv program)Jim HensonEntertainmentDocumentary (genre)Walt DisneyPBS (tv network)

Mr. Hooper was OK. The little documentaries with kids narrating stories about barges, bumble bees and bottling plants were sometimes interesting.

And the crudely drawn animated spots with singing, talking and counting numbers and letters, one of which usually "sponsored" each show, often were mesmerizing ("Let's sing the song of five. How many is five?").

But as any kid who ever watched "Sesame Street" will tell you, the Muppets were the thing.

I was 7 when "Sesame Street" premiered in 1969, introducing Jim Henson's series of expressive felt-covered characters who, at the time, were the "Jurassic Park" of puppetry. I remember sitting Indian-style in front of the TV set and staring so intensely at the squabbling Bert and Ernie, at their bulging white eyes and perfectly synchronized mouths, that they became real.

Other kids wanted to be jet pilots or football players when they grew up. I wanted to operate a Muppet. Jim Henson was my Walt Disney.

I identified with Kermit the Frog in a Charlie Brown sort of way, and no Saturday-morning cartoon creation was cooler than Oscar the Grouch. Of course, I could have lived without the cloying Big Bird, who would be reborn in the 1990s as an equally cloying purple dinosaur.

"Sesame Street" served as a springboard for the Muppets, who helped Henson build an entertainment empire with their own TV shows and feature films. But even after Henson's untimely death in 1990, the Muppets never lost their way to "Sesame Street."

I switched to PBS the other morning and saw Ernie keeping Bert awake in bed by counting noisy fire engines roaring over his head instead of sheep. The bit was just as funny as when I first saw it two decades ago.

It's nice to know there's a place to go where the air is still sweet.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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