“I always wanted to be called ‘Ace.’ It’s such a cool nickname. Like, you’d be walking around town and people would be shouting to you like ‘hey, what do you say, Ace’ and ‘sweet ride, Ace’ and ‘love the new shades, Ace.’ But no, people just call me ‘Mr. President.’ So lame.”
- George W. Bush
Can’t or Won’t? The Sordid History Behind Why Sesame Street Hasn’t Solved Its Single Case of Homelessness
Grossing hundreds of millions of dollars over the last five decades, Sesame Street has staked its claim as one of the wealthiest streets in America. Despite this fact, “The Street,” as insiders know it, has been unable to solve the single case of homelessness that sits on its neatly manicured sidewalk. The question viewers want to know is: can’t or won’t?
The answer may shock you.
A Little Party Never Killed Nobody
Sesame Street came into the public consciousness in 1969, but our story starts two years earlier at a party in the Catskills. The Street was in its early development. After receiving a grant from the Carnegie Foundation for its production, the founding members planned a retreat at the famed Winter Clove Inn. The hope was to have each member’s role in the upcoming production sorted by the time the retreat was over. On the second to last day of the retreat, they received an invitation to a nearby party thrown by a wealthy industrialist at his summer mansion.
All the major players were in attendance: Big Bird (accompanied by Jayne Mansfield1), Kermit the Frog (accompanied by Sharon Tate2), Cookie Monster (accompanied by Judy Garland3), Bert and Ernie (both unaccompanied), and a young up-and-comer known as Oscar the Gregarious along with his wife, Gloria. Along with the founding members at the party were an assortment of heirs and heiresses, social climbers, ball players, writers, and a Tibetan Shaman named Lhapa.
As they mingled amongst the revelers, it became clear that one stood out from the rest: Oscar. He and his wife Gloria held court, captivating all within earshot. The hierarchy of Sesame Street had yet to be established. However, with each passing yarn spun by Oscar, it became clear that comparatively all others would play second fiddle.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we’ve got the star of our show,” said Mansfield as she and Big Bird looked on from the opposite side of the room.
“We’ll see about that.”
“What are you going to do?”
The Bird took a long drag on his Pall Mall, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”4
Put the Trash in Its Place
The next day, Big Bird called for a sit-down meeting with Oscar. They exchanged pleasantries and recounted the previous night’s merrymaking (doing cookie lines with Monster, Kermit’s 4-minute keg stand, and catching Bert and Ernie exiting the bathroom together). Still, Oscar could tell there was something else on Big Bird’s mind.
“Why don’t we skip to the part where you tell me why you called me here.”
“I called you here as a courtesy.”
The Bird nodded.
“A fair warning to stay out of my way. The Street is mine. You got that?”
“What are you playing at, Bird?”
“Just stay out of my way.”
“How bout you go f*ck yourself, you fat winged freak.”
“Well, well, looks like Oscar the Gregarious has a grouchy side. Maybe that’s what we’ll call you, eh? Oscar the Grouch.”
“Careful, Bird, I’ve come too far to have it all taken away from me now.”
Big Bird got up and made his way for the door. He paused before turning the knob.
“That’s a pretty wife of yours, Oscar. It would be a shame if anything bad happened to her.”
When they returned to Sesame Street a week later, Oscar went to throw out the garbage. What he saw mangled inside the can would be the catalyst for his descent into madness.
Can’t or Won’t?
Five decades and millions of dollars later, we find Oscar exiled. A victim of his own talent. Forever to dwell in the can where he found his wife. This a reminder from Big Bird to stay in his place, for there can only be one at the top of Sesame Street.
So, to answer the question that sparked this investigation in the first place: No, it is not that they cannot pull Oscar out from homelessness — the economics is clear cut on that — it is that Big Bird won’t let them.
In the writing of this piece, we reached out to Sesame Street. They declined to comment.
1. On June 29, 1967, just three weeks after the retreat in the Catskills, Jayne Mansfield died in an automobile collision in Eastern New Orleans. Not to editorialize, but this outlet has always had its suspicions that it wasn’t an accident at all but a tying up of loose ends on the part of The Bird. In an interview following the incident, Big Bird called Mansfield’s passing “a real shame.”
2. On August 9, 1969, three months before Sesame Street’s launch, Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by members of the Manson Family.
3. On June 22, 1969, five months before Sesame Street’s launch, Judy Garland was found dead in the bathroom of her rented house in London of a drug overdose. Garland has long been rumored to be the one who introduced and subsequently hooked Monster on Cookies.
4. At the party and within earshot when it was said, the line was burned into the brain of Mario Puzo. Coincidentally, his classic work, The Godfather, was published two years later in 1969 — the same year Sesame Street launched. Although Puzo would go to his grave denying the encounter as the line’s source of origin, scholars have accepted it as an unofficial truth.
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