First, a lovely, very funny internal memo from the late-Jim Henson in 1986 containing three commercial ideas for a Swedish Chef breakfast cereal. In fact what began as a parody eventually became a reality, with the product launching briefly as 'Cröonchy Stars' in 1988. After that can be found the draft of a letter written by Henson, in character as the Swedish Chef, to the Swedish Trade Office in 1983 after they requested an appearance from him at the 'International Fancy Food and Confection Show' in Washington that year.
Transcripts follow; the second of which, despite my best efforts, is almost definitely incorrect. Images courtesy of Jim Henson's Red Book.
Image: Jim Henson's Red Book
7 October, 1986
To: Isabel, Michael, Diana, Ritamarie
SWEDISH CHEF CEREAL IDEAS
The Chef makes the dough – plays with it, beats it, rolls it, puts it in the oven – turns the oven all the way up to "explode" – plays the accordian until the oven explodes – raining Oven Poofs all over the place
The Chef loads a blunderbuss with cereal – puts an apple on a catapult type thing – the apple goes up – he fires and blasts a hole in the wall – repeat – he blasts a hole in the ceiling – repeat – hits the apple – gets apple cereal – the Chef is happy
The Chef has a cereal launcher machine – he pushes a button – one piece of cereal flies out and he shoots it with a pistol – shows the successful Stoopid Hoop – launches again– the cereal comes out faster – he fires faster – the cereal comes flying out – the Chef gets a machine gun – destroys the kitchen – the Chef is happy
Images: Jim Henson's Red Book
Ho Komissionooster Sjolund!
Sveern hund der meenskroo skort herg dah smorgasbord bord bord.
Gloo das click click ein mein filmikin den Washington fom des Fancy Food, goôde des griting zoo des Kükenmenenstoof.
Yay boo thanken svenson eet des goo goo Per Nilsson und des Eilest Nassell fer yoom yoom.
Next, a lovely missive written by Caroll Spinney, the man responsible for voicing, and indeed muppeteering, both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch almost exclusively since Sesame Street's debut in 1969. It was written in September of 2010 in response to a letter of appreciation from writer Justin Shady, in which he thanked Spinney for being such a positive influence during not just his childhood, but also those of countless others.
Transcript follows. Images very kindly supplied by Justin Shady; larger versions of which can be seen at his blog, The Blarg.
Images: Justin Shady
August 31, 2010
Just working down from my huge pile of letters I get every week relating to the show. Came to yours, dated 11-10-09. Some are dated 08! Anyway, I enjoyed reading your letter and I say thanks!
I love my Muppet life. Don't see Frank anymore. We will always miss Jim dreadfully. Jerry still does the voice of the Count, but not the puppetry. Marty and Fran and Matt (my stand-in) and others are still around, all directed by Kevin Clash, puppeteer extraordinaire.
I hope to do the Bird & Grouch for 50 years, but I have nine years to go. It's nice to have goals — but maybe that one might be hard to reach.
I was once a skinny, slightly goofy kid myself. Helps me to play my Bird.
So hello, six year old Justin Inside! Thanks for the great letter!
And finally, an exchange between a concerned member of the public and the Children's Television Workshop in 1979. The complainant, a Mr. Joseph Regoli, was clearly extremely worried due to Sesame Street's depiction of The Count, both on screen and in the book The Count's Number Parade; so much so that CTW's inadequate initial response resulted in a letter to Joan Cooney, the last part of which somehow managed to mention "widespread rape that would be of such a monstrous sort (and source) that it has never before been observed."
Again, transcripts follow. Images courtesy of Muppet Wiki.
The initial complaint:
Mr. Regoli's second letter, to Joan Cooney:
Images: Muppet Wiki
The initial complaint:
April 17, 1989CTW's response:
Children's Television Workshop
Western Publishing Company, Inc
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am writing because I do consider the small book, " The Count's Number Parade", as misleading and poisonous for children. Specifically, the book seems to portray Dracula ("The Count") as being a nice, entertaining person - instead of a monster. It seems poisonous to make a monster (Dracula) to appear as a competent teacher (even a teacher of numbers) because such an appearance would seem to mislead children into trusting Dracula, and possibly monsters in general. Such a misplaced trust would preclude the child from developing a healthy fear, and distrust of monsters. Such fear and distrust would, hopefully, help the child to perceive evil and avoid it, instead of trustingly walking into a trap. Some of your other books about monsters may also be similarly misleading.
A counterargument could be raised with the question, "Do Dracula and other monsters really exist?", a question which may be intended to undermine my argument at the very foundation of my argument. But yes, probably monsters (including Dracula) do exist but not in "personal" form. Instead, monsters exist as non-personified evil, on our culture.
Please tell me what you think.
Joseph B. Regoli
May 23, 1979Mr. Regoli's second letter, to Joan Cooney:
Dear Mr. Regoli:
Thank you for your comments on THE COUNT'S NUMBER PARADE. We have tried to make it clear that the Count is not a representative of evil. He is presented as a rather eccentric character -- obsessed with counting everything in sight. Other characters on Sesame Street react to the Count's behavior with amusement (or sometimes exasperation) but never fear.
Our other "monsters" also do not in any way represent evil. They are meant to be a mirror of the silly but endearing aspects of all of us.
Again, Mr. Regoli, thank you for your concern.
June 1, 1979
Children's Television Workshop
Dear Mrs. Cooney:
I ask you to consider the possibility that a part of "Sesame Street" may be poisonous for children. Please refer to my letter of April 18, 1979 and Deborah November's letter of May 23, 1979 in reply. Also, please notice that I addressed my April 18 letter to both CTW and Western Publishing Co., the publisher of the small book "The Count's Number Parade" and other books featuring rather monstrous-looking characters.
Deborah November seems to have missed the main point of my letter: it is precisely because the Count (Dracula) is not portrayed as a character to be feared that the portrayal is so poisonous. To teach children to not fear Dracula is to teach them to not avoid Dracula, which is disastrous.
As I said in my April 18 letter, Dracula does not exist in a "personal" form. But Dracula does exist as non-personified evil, in our culture. Therefore, clearly, children need to avoid Dracula. But parts of Sesame Street (the parts featuring The Count [Dracula]) seem to undermine the child's normal healthy fear, and distrust, of monsters. But such undermining can bring disaster.
When a rock strikes a window and the window breaks, those who see will certainly say, "The window broke because the rock was thrown". Do we today fail to see the cause of the violence today around us? Do we dare not to see the cause of that violence: what we did yesterday. Do we say that what we do today will have no effect tomorrow?
Specifically, what effect will come out of the Sesame Street portrayal of the Count? Will the learning of numbers turn out to be trivial compared with what could be the significant effect: widespread rape that would be of such a monstrous sort (and source) that it has never before been observed.
The seed of good needs to be sown.
Please tell me what your considerations are in these regards.
(Joseph B.) Regoli