Saturday, June 14, 2008

What happened to David?

David appeared on Sesame Street from 1971 until 1989, as the second adult African-American male resident, after Gordon. A hip, upbeat individual, David was fond of eccentric hats and singing. He initially worked part-time at Hooper's Store while studying law. For several years, it was implied that David and Maria had a romantic relationship. However, later seasons would find Maria falling in love with and marrying Luis.

Following Mr. Hooper's death in 1983, David inherited the store and operated it with help from Petey and later Gina. David's family includes his sassy grandmother Harriet, who visited periodically. When Northern Calloway left the show in 1989, it was explained that David had moved away from Sesame Street to be with his grandmother, and ownership of the store was turned over to Mr. Handford.

Northern J. Calloway

Northern J. Calloway (January 22, 1948 – January 9, 1990) was an American actor who played David on Sesame Street from 1971 through 1989, and also voiced Muppet characters including Same Sound Brown.

His death was possibly the most tragic one of the Sesame Street cast. Jive talking hipster David was portrayed as Sesame Street's number one cool cat from 1971 until just before his death in 1989. Throughout his life the immensely talented Calloway would be subject to whispers involving the subject of legal issues, illness, drug addiction and madness.

Northern Calloway had a life long love for the theatre. A New Yorker, Calloway graduated from the School of Performing Arts and immediately found work with the Lincoln Center Repertory Company. Soon afterward Calloway had stints at Stratford Ontario's Shakespeare Festival and quickly found himself on the Broadway and off-Broadway stages. Even once he got his regular gig on Sesame Street, the theatre proved to be an essential part of Calloway's life. He appeared on the New York stage throughout the rest of his life in various productions.

Northern Calloway was hired in 1971 as the first "new" human character since Sesame Street's debut. His character, David, was created to be a positive older brother type character that might appeal to African American kids.

David was hip, talked in jive, and was more in tune to street life than the older black characters, Gordon and Susan.

However, what made David unique and a positive role model to urban children was that unlike the older boys that got involved in drugs and gangs in their neighbourhoods, David was not only studying in university to become a lawyer but he also held a part time job at Mr. Hooper's store...and STILL managed to be the coolest cat on Sesame Street.

Northern Calloway also voiced the jive talkin' rhyming Muppet "Same Sound Brown" which was sort of a Roosevelt Franklin knock off after the character was retired when Matt Robinson left the series. Eventually David was even dating the prettiest girl on the street, Spanish character Maria which was the first inter-racial relationship on children's television.

However, when Maria eventually married Luis in 1988, just prior to Calloway quietly leaving Sesame Street, viewers kind of wondered what was up.

What was up was that Northern Calloway was diagnosed earlier that year with stomach cancer. While he battled the disease for a little while on television, he was soon unable to continue work on Sesame Street and opted to be quietly written out of the series. However, Northern Calloway's battle with cancer ended in January of 1990, only months after he left Sesame Street.

Unfortunately, Calloway's family rushed him to the closest hospital that happened to be a psychiatric hospital, which created rumors that Calloway had died in an asylum. Tragically these rumors were believable due to an unexplained episode in Calloway's life ten years earlier.

In 1980 Nashville Tennessee police arrested a half naked Northern Calloway, who was wearing nothing but a Superman T-shirt, during a wild rampage in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Calloway had been in Nashville performing a Sesame Street themed stage production while staying at the home of the theatre's marketing director. Apparently, sometime during the evening of September 20th, Calloway had beat his host with a metal iron, causing her to suffer a head injury and broken ribs, before tearing off half naked to the streets. In his rampage Calloway managed to break a series of windows, as well as take the iron to a car. Police found him by following a trail of the actors blood, caused by cuts suffered by shattered glass, and Calloway was reported to the police as muttering strange phrases and trying to eat grass. As police and ambulance drivers attempted to strap the enraged Calloway to a stretcher he was reported to have screamed "I'm David of Sesame Street and they're trying to kill me." When finally being interviewed days later about his rampage, Calloway was quoted by the Nashville Tennessean as saying, "It will be a sad, sad thing for the children to hear about this. I can't remember a thing. I've never had a spell like this before." Calloway was transferred to Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute for further study. However, the strange story of Northern Calloway's insanity ends there. The woman whom he attacked lived and soon Calloway was not only out of the hospital but back on Sesame Street without the CTW batting an eyelash, and would play the role for another nine years without incident.

Obviously Northern Calloway's rampage was an isolated incident of temporary insanity and the story was quickly swept under the rug, allowing Northern Calloway to keep both his reputation and his career. However, those who remembered Calloway's night of madness were quick to jump over the actors legacy when they found out that during his death he was treated at a psychiatric hospital.

In reality Northern Calloway lost consciousness shortly after arriving at the psychiatric hospital and was immediately transported to the nearby Phelps Memorial Hospital where he died at age 41. Thankfully the stories of Northern Calloway's madness were only told in whispers and rumors, thus not tainting his memory. Instead he will always be remembered as the funky and friendly singing hipster.

However, it has been asked many times why Sesame Street never dealt with Northern Calloway's death in the same fashion as they did with Will Lee. The CTW felt that two major character deaths in a short span of years may be pushing the envelope a bit too much, thus it was explained that David had gone to live on his grandmother's farm to help her, but still owned Hooper's Store (which Mr. Hooper had willed to him) and managed it from afar while Gina ran the store.

The CTW would honour the memory of Northern Calloway in their own way. When Elmo began his solo adventures he was often accompanied by a little orange Muppet-like stuffed toy which he had named David. Elmo's favourite toy would be a tribute to Northern Calloway so that the name David would always be connected to Sesame Street.

The lives and the stories about these three Sesame Street actors only prove, once again, that there are stories to be told from all the actors that forge the path of our pop culture journey. Often, such as in the case of shows like Sesame Street, they are taken for granted for just "being there" instead of the stories of their lives and their careers being told. Hopefully these three talented and unique men will never be forgotten by the children that loved them, and the public that will never forget them. May their legacies live on, just as the Muppets that they played with still do.

Northern Calloway, Actor, 41, on Stage And 'Sesame Street'
NY Times January 13, 1990

LEAD: Northern J. Calloway, who played David, the proprietor of Mr. Hooper's store, on public television's ''Sesame Street,'' died Tuesday. He was 41 years old and lived in Ossining, N.Y.

Northern J. Calloway, who played David, the proprietor of Mr. Hooper's store, on public television's ''Sesame Street,'' died Tuesday. He was 41 years old and lived in Ossining, N.Y.

The Westchester County Medical Examiner's office said Mr. Calloway had been taken to a psychiatric facility, Stony Lodge Hospital, in Ossining, where he had lost consciousness shortly after his arrival. He was then taken to Phelps Memorial Hospital in North Tarrytown, N.Y., where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death has not been determined.

Mr. Calloway joined the cast of ''Sesame Street'' during its fourth season in 1972 and left it last year. He began his career in 1966 with the Lincoln Center Repertory Company just two days after graduating from the High School of Performing Arts in New York.

During the next season he appeared at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, in ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' and ''The Three Musketeers.'' On Broadway he was in ''The Me Nobody Knows'' and the Off-Broadway rock musical ''Salvation.''

Mr. Calloway appeared as the Leading Player in the Broadway hit ''Pippin,'' a role he also played in London and at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J.

He was also seen on Broadway in 1980 as the orderly in ''Whose Life Is It Anyway?'' with Mary Tyler Moore, and appeared as Louis Armstrong in the New Federal Theater's production of ''Louis'' in 1981.

Surviving are his mother, Bunnetta Calloway, and a brother, Gregory, both of Manhattan, and his sister, Connie Jackson, of Baltimore.


JGP said...

Michael Davis's new book, "Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street" has the accurate information on Mr. Calloway's death. He did indeed suffer from mental illness, not stomach cancer, and was prone to violent attacks and erratic behavior. In the 1980s, he was under medical supervision and taking antipsychotic drugs, which allowed him to keep his job. Unfortunately, however, the meds made him unable to remember lines and perform up to standard. An executive producer fought (and succeeded, for years) to keep him on the show, but eventually they just had to let him go. Apparently, Calloway took it well. His death at the psychiatric hospital was due to cardiac arrest, following a seizure.

It appears that everyone involved with Sesame Street at the time had great respect for this actor, and the tact and discretion used at the time of his death and even now are commendable. I think the real story of his struggle with mental illness is not shameful, but simply tragic. I'll certainly still remember him as a talented and fun part of a show that had a great influence on my life, long after childhood.

OnlyMe said...

I am devastated to know he passed away. Little I did I know all this while, even recently, enjoying "David's Circus", a song our children love, and so do I. My heart sinks when I think of all the struggles this wonderful man went through. Listening to that happy song, who would have guessed? I wish things were not so as 41 is MUCH TOO young to die at.

Just like JGP, I, too, highly commend the Sesame Street producers for keeping him on as long as possible. He did not even remember his actions days later! That clearly indicates that it was just not him (owing to the nature of bipolar disorder). I wish he got more help when he badly needed it.

I will always remember him as David, his appearances on SS, and the joy he will continue to bring to many through his recordings.

Rest in peace, Mr. Calloway. Thank you for the memories.

generation_x70 said...

I believe that the account in Michael Davis' 2008 book about Northern Calloway's last ten years is accurate.

He apparently suffered from some kind of bipolar disorder which subjected him to violent fits.

Nevertheless, David was a good character on Sesame Street. I can't help but wonder if he was having other health issues towards the end of time on Sesame Street. If you watch the episode in which Maria & Luis' baby (Gabby) was born in 1989, he had a very raspy voice.

RIP Northern Calloway. Thanks for the memories.

MIKE said...

As much as I did take a liking to Calloway, I can't graps why they allowed him to remain.

He might have not been able to have helped what he did in 1980, but with the trying to propse marridge to Alison O'Riley (aka) Gina, was way overboard.

These days I tend to question the mental illness and bipolar claims of such cases. Not that they aren't real, but the fact that it's often considered and excuse for one's bad behavior.

I wonder why they cose to keep him?

Some say with the way media is now, they wouldn't stand a chance but I couldn't imagine one in the early days of TV lasting on a kids show if they ended up in such a situation.

lennydells said...

Anyone can write a book and not tell the truth, and not pay the consequences. The cancer story has some credibility. As far as the psychiatric hospital, if you look it up you will notice that it does not treat adults, only people under age 18, so it is possible that they did indeed take him to the nearest hospital. If that were the case, and the guy who wrote that book failed to check that fact I would not put much faith in the accuracy of his other claims. The obituary from the New York Times states that he collapsed "shortly after arriving", so maybe this is the case. The breakdown in Nashville, obviously happened. Who knows, maybe it was isolated or drug related (it was 1980 after all, and cocaine was everywhere).

MIKE said...

Onw thing I forgot to add is How come they didn'r keep him off the show till he got help for his drug problem?

Also there's a Youtube site called "TV Legends" which has intereviews with Sonia Manzanno, Bob McGrath, and Joan Ganz Cooney.

Funny thing is they mention some past SS people, including "Will Lee" and his passing, but nothing on Mr. Calloway.

Guess it's too painfull to talk about him.

MIKE said...

Also I highly doubt that the time with both Wiil Lee and Mr. Calloway is too short.

Most kids watching SS at the time of Lee's death wpuld most likely not be watching SS several years later and most of the audience wathcing in 1989-90 wouldn't of been around or old enough in 1982 to have evem known Mr. Hooper.

Unknown said...

I know it's been 4-1/2 years since this post was written, but now with the Elmo puppeteer resigning, someone brought up Northern's name. I'd never heard of him, but I read his story, and it is as tragic as it is fascinating. I can only imagine how badly the media would've scrutinized Mr. Calloway had that incident happened today. I don't mind reporting the news, it's when they run it into a ground that I start getting annoyed. Let the parties involved have a little privacy, y'know.

Andrew Clayterman said...

From what I remember of David's "Nashville rampage".. he had flipped out on the woman he was staying with after she turned him down for sex (that's why he was nude), he beat her with a fireplace poker, smashed her china cabinet and fled onto the street. He ran, semi-nude with only a shirt, down the road where he encountered some girls at a school bus stop. He grabbed the girls books and threw them into the street.. he then ran into a nearby house, and smashed yet another china cabinet before eating some dog food and some olives from the fridge. When he saw the police he rubbed flour all over his face and tried telling the police he was white.. as they were rolling him out to the ambulance.. strapped to a gurney.. he said "Don't you know who I am? I'm David.. from Sesame Street.. you know.. Sunny Days Sweepin' the clouds away.." then he said "it'll be a sad day for the kids when they hear about this".. I have a newspaper clipping with a photo of him all wild eyed with the flour all over his face.. and also remember the news reports as it was quite amusing at the time.

Shandelar said...

I was a classmate of Northern's at Performing Arts, and even went out to the movies with him on a "date" once. He was a wonderful person, very sweet, and our class was devastated when we learned of his death. We heard that he had killed himself, which made it even harder to deal with. I wish the truth were known.

Lynn Manheim
Performing Arts Drama Department
Class of 1966

unknown said...

I was notified of Northerns death whilst in CATS Europe. I was married to him for several years and over those years signs showed of a personality I did not understand. He was diagnosed with manic depressive order then, or bi polar.

MIKE said...

To Lynn. He did not kill himself. He died naturally.

Are you sure about Ms. Stagman turning him down for sex? I've read the actual news reports online and says nothing about that.

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Dee Nice said...

Not true. I used to be employed as an MHA there in the late 90s. There were adults, adolescents,as well as children there. Probably after I left, they stopped treating adults. So during the time of his death they were treating adults.

Unknown said...

I met Northern in 1968 when I was a student at Berkeley and he was at Fort Ord. He used to come up every weekend and we'd go to the local music spots where he would get on stage and steal the show. As a lasting memory I until this day drink cream in my coffee which I never did until he splashed some in my cup.

Anonymous said...

They didn’t keep Norrhern Calloway after he proposed to Alison Bartlett (now O'Reilly) at her high school graduation in 1989. He was let go after that and never appeared on Sesame Street again. He was an incredibly talented performer who unfortunately had mental health issues that got more severe over time, RIP Northern Calloway.

Anonymous said...

They didn’t allow Northern Calloway to remain on Sesame Street after he proposed to Alison Bartlett (now O'Reilly) at her high school graduation in 1989. He was let go after that and never appeared on the show again. He was an incredibly talented performer who unfortunately had mental health issues that got more severe over time, RIP Northern Calloway.

MIKE said...

Uh she was underaged and that was not the only reason he was let go.

Alan Johnson said...

I knew Northern during his brief stint in the Army in 1968-1969. He was drafted as a conscientious objector and went to the CO basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He went on to medics school, which is where I met him. He and I were part of a small circle of friends who hung together at that time. I finished the school and went off to Vietnam but Northern was still in a hassle with the Army about not getting full conscientious objector status which did not require military service. I never saw him again after Fort Sam. I am glad to hear he had success in his art and sad his life was cut so short.