Saturday, June 14, 2008
What happened to Mr Hooper?
Those of you who grew up with Sesame Street would remember Mr Hooper who owns the corner store. This is some nostalgia flooding back and I hope it brings back many happy memories
Harold Hooper (known almost universally as just Mr. Hooper) was a character on Sesame Street, played by Will Lee, who was the original proprietor of Mr. Hooper's Store, which still retains his name.
Mr. Hooper is Jewish, according to Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, when Bob tells him to have a Happy Hanukkah. In true Sesame Street fashion, his religion was irrelevant to most other plots, as characters' differences are generally irrelevant to plot. His heritage was suggested at in an episode in which Big Bird inquires about the languages that various members of the community can speak when Mr. Hooper reveals that he was taught to read, write and speak Yiddish at after-school religious instruction.
For unexplained reasons, Big Bird had trouble saying "Hooper", instead using various words that rhymed with it, such as "Looper" or "Crouper". This led to frequent retorts of "Hooper! Hooper!" from Mr. Hooper or the other adults whenever Big Bird mispronounced his surname.
When Lee suddenly died of a heart attack on December 7, 1982, it left the producers of Sesame Street, the Children's Television Workshop, with questions about how to acknowledge the death of one of the series' most visible actors. After considering a number of options, CTW decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper pass away as well, and use the episode to teach its young viewers about death as a natural part of life and that it is OK for everyone—children and adults alike—to grieve when someone they love dies. The cause of Mr. Hooper's death is not announced, and euphemisms to soften the blow of his absence (e.g., "passed away") are not used; the topic is dealt with directly.
The "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" episode (ep #1839) aired November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day), so that parents and children could discuss about the content while watching, and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television history.
In the famous "Farewell Mr Hooper" episode, the adults on Sesame Street explain to Big Bird about Mr. Hooper's death.Big Bird makes a silly entrance onto the set, walking backwards with his head between his legs. When Gordon asks why he is walking like that, Big Bird gives the childishly inscrutable reason, "Because. Just because."
Later in the episode, Big Bird presents each adult on the show with a gift—a drawing he has made of each of them. The last drawing he has is of Mr. Hooper, and Big Bird is eager to give it to him. When Big Bird asks his adult friends to help find Mr. Hooper, they gently remind Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died. Not understanding, Big Bird announces he will just wait for him to come back.
The adults pause, looking uncomfortable and sad. They then tearfully explain that when someone dies, they don't come back physically. Big Bird is dismayed, and the adults (all genuinely emotional) comfort him, explaining that they were lucky to have known and loved Mr. Hooper, and that they will always have their memories of him. It will never be the same without him, they say, but they will all help take care of Big Bird and life will continue on as normal.
Big Bird angrily demands to know why Mr. Hooper had to die, and no one has a ready answer. Finally Gordon figures out what to say: "Because. Just because." This is perhaps the only answer that could make sense to Big Bird, at least for now, and he sadly accepts it. He then—as he constantly has throughout the years—humorously, but glumly mispronounces Mr. Hooper's name once again, even in death ("Mr. Looper"), then Maria said, "That's Hooper, Big Bird. Hooper." And the adults and Big Bird embrace.
Big Bird's drawing of Mr. Hooper (in reality drawn by Big Bird's puppeteer, Caroll Spinney) hangs above his nest to this day, as was seen in the 2007 "Learn Along with Sesame Street" episode "You Can Ask." Interestingly, the segment in which the portrait is seen also deals with loss, as Big Bird had just "lost" a pet turtle
Initially, the producers had considered using flashbacks of Mr. Hooper in the episode. This was ultimately rejected because they thought that—given that most children are unable to comprehend the difference between flashbacks and new footage—it would give the impression that Mr. Hooper was actually still alive and thus confuse the intended audience.
The episode was later made into a book called "I'll Miss You, Mr. Hooper" by Norman Stiles, et al.
Also, a street skit made about a year later featured Big Bird, Maria, and David all reminiscing about him in good spirits. Big Bird showed off his drawing of him, and shots of him were shown as they continued to talk about him.
While Mr. Hooper's death is considered by most as a landmark in children's television, this wasn't the first death in a children's program. Upon the 1973 death of George Woodbridge, who played the titular character in the British series Inigo Pipkin, the opening episode of the third season of the show dealt with the character's passing. The series was renamed Pipkins, to reflect the change in cast.
Will Lee (August 6, 1908 – December 7, 1982) was an American actor who was known to many for playing the store proprietor Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street, from the show's debut in 1969 until his death.
Lee was born in Brooklyn, New York and began his career as a character actor on stage. He was a member of the Group Theater in the 1930s and appeared in Johnny Johnson, Night Music, Boy Meets Girl, The Time of Your Life (as Willie the pinball machine addict) and other Broadway plays. He succeeded John Garfield as the lead in Golden Boy.
Lee was co-founder of the Theater of Action and a member of the Federal Theater Project. During World War II, he served in Army Special Services in Australia and Manila and was cited twice for directing and staging shows for troops overseas, as well as teaching acting classes. After the war, he appeared Off Broadway in Norman Mailer's Deer Park (as movie mogul Teppis) and on Broadway in The Shrike, Once Upon a Mattress, Carnival, Incident at Vichy and The World of Sholom Aleichem.
Lee also began appearing in films, including bit parts in Casbah, A Song Is Born, Little Fugitive and according to "Sesame Street Unpaved", Saboteur. However, much like Zero Mostel, Will Lee was blacklisted as a communist in films and on television for a period of five years during the McCarthy Red Scare, according to members of his family. He had been active in the Actors Workshop and had been an unfriendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings in 1950 investigating show business. At the end of that period, in 1956, Lee landed the role of Grandpa Hughes in the soap opera As The World Turns, before finally being cast as Mr. Hooper.
He taught at the American Theater Wing for nine years (where his students included James Earl Jones) as well as at the New School for Social Research, Boston University and the Uta Hagen-Herbert Berghof Studio. In addition, he conducted his own acting classes. Outside of Sesame Street, later roles included television movies and a supporting role as the judge in Sidney Lumet's 1983 film Daniel (with Mandy Patinkin, Ed Asner, and Peter Friedman). He also worked in commercials, including a spot for Atari, as a grandfather learning to play Pac-Man from his granddaughter. He also did commercials for Ocean Spray juices.
At age 61, he began acting as Mr. Hooper in 1969 on the show called Sesame Street".
"He gave millions of children the message that the old and the young have a lot to say to each other," said Joan Ganz Cooney, president of the Children's Television Workshop. The New York Times reported that on Sesame Street, Will Lee's Mr. Hooper ranked ahead of all live cast members in recognition by young audiences, according to a then recent survey. His bowtie and hornrimmed reading glasses became his trademark. In a November 1970 TIME article, following the show's successful first season, Lee recalled his feelings about the show:
I was delighted to take the role of Mr. Hooper, the gruff grocer with the warm heart. It's a big part, and it allows a lot of latitude. But the show has something extra, that sense you sometimes get from great theater, the feeling that its influence never stops.
In addition to being a staple of Sesame Street for over ten years, Will Lee portrayed Mr. Hooper in television specials (Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, A Special Sesame Street Christmas), guest appearances (Evening at Pops: 1971), stage appearances, countless record albums, and parades, including the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Lee taped his final segments as Mr. Hooper in November of 1982, but his death would become the focal point of Episode 1839, in which Mr. Hooper's death is explained to Big Bird.
According to the NY Times obit, as he became known on Sesame Street, children would approach him on the street and ask, "How did you get out of the television set?"' or whisper, "I love you." "Apart from the joy of knowing that you are helping so many kids, the recognition is heartwarming," Lee was quoted as saying in 1981.
When Lee died of a heart attack in 1982, it left the producers of Sesame Street, the Children's Television Workshop, with questions about how to acknowledge the death of one of the series' most visible actors. After considering a number of options, CTW decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper die as well, and use the episode to teach its young viewers about death as a natural part of life and that it is OK for everyone—children and adults alike—to grieve when someone they love dies.
Episode 1839, now known to children and fans as "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" was aired on November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day), and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.