Almost every Sesame Street product released in the 1970s contains a hidden gem of amazingly fantastic artwork. Before strict style guides became the norm, artists had free reign to create their own interpretations of the characters, and it almost always turns out to be something truly special.
In 1972, Sesame hired Jack Davis (who recently passed away) to illustrate their first official calendar. Davis was already well-known for his work on MAD Magazine, and his raw talent really shines in this series. As you’ll see in a moment, he filled each spread with educational content, and he developed some subtle MAD-like gags in the calendar portion below.
I can only imagine being a kid in 1972 and spending an entire month poring over every one of these. The details and the exaggerated likenesses and the tiny jokes are all the sort of things missing from calendars today. Thankfully, 44 years later, we have the opportunity to enjoy them all over again.
Be sure to scope out the wonderful cover image above, which gives you a great taste of the interesting characters you’re about to see throughout the year. And now let’s get started with January!
Stray Observations About January:
- Wow, Grover certainly does not want to be kissed by that girl. The look on his face makes it seem like she’s actually whispering “Hail Hydra” in his ear.
- I want to be invited to a New Year’s party that also includes an alligator, elephant, and levitating fish.
- Ernie as “Baby 1972” and Bert as “Old Man 1971” is priceless. I’m surprised I’d never seen them do this gag before.
Stray Observations About February:
- I love how this month’s main illustration tells a whole story. I mean, the story doesn’t make much sense, but all sorts of things are happening in there.
- How great does Herry Monster look?? He’s so dirty and creepy looking! I love it! Gordon looks okay too.
- There’s got to be a good story about Grover angrily toting Roosevelt Franklin around town. Why is he doing it? Why is Roosevelt so smug? Where are they going? I have questions that I seriously doubt will be answered by March!
Stray Observations About March:
- This is a rare example of Sesame Street straight-up calling someone “fat”.
- Not as rare (for 1972): Dirty hippies!
- Yeah, I Googled “Blizzard of 1929” just to see if there was something notable about how little it was. It looks like the makers of the 1972 Sesame Street calendar were the only ones who cared.
Stray Observations about April:
- This right here is one of my favorite Jack Davis illustrations. I love the focus on Mr. Hooper, with the Muppets just casually hanging out in the peripherals. It’s actually a lot closer to capturing a regular episode of Sesame Street than any of the other calendar pages.
- Let’s see some of the weird stuff Mr. Hooper is selling: Rubber ducks, candy canes, eggs outside the carton, open bottles of soda?
- How great is that gag with the umbrellas?? Poor, wet Grover.
- Never forget: April 22nd was the day Herry got hit in the eye with a baseball.
- Wow, Ernie is actually a pretty good artist! Though considering his sculpting talents, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
- Is it weird to anyone else that Susan has the word “Black” printed on her head? I feel like that would be politically incorrect if they did it today.
- Is it even weirder to anyone else that Cookie Monster is wearing a bow on the second page? Is he supposed to be disguised as Farley’s mother? Had me fooled.
Stray Observations About June:
- At first glance, before you notice the smiling faces, it almost looks like a crazed panic scene, with everyone running in the streets to get away from the scary green monster. But no, it’s just Oscar holding up traffic. Nothing to see here, move along.
- Thank Frog we took the time to teach kids about the Hot Dog Man. That’s what I call educational priorities.
- How do I get a job as a pizza eater? I think I’d be really good at that.
Stray Observations About July:
- How great is this picture of Bert? He looks so bored, which is pretty spot-on for him. Especially as he’s doing something that most other people might actually find fun.
- I guess this scene takes place in New York City’s Central Park? As a New Yorker, I can confirm that Central Park contains ponds, fish, frogs, bees, middle-aged runners, and a far-off glimpse of buildings.
- The second page contains a rare example of Grover lighting a match and almost murdering Roosevelt Franklin. Happy Independence Day, everyone!
Stray Observations About August:
- Shirtless Bob! And a handy guide to locate his belly button! This is the most important illustration I have ever seen in my life.
- What are all those people in the background staring at? The scary blue monster? The other scary blue monster? Bob’s perfect physique?
- August 8th: I don’t think Herry’s third leg looks very… uh, appropriate for young eyes. Or old eyes. Or my eyes.
- Could Grover’s spill down the stairs be a reference to the Baker in “The Song of One“???
Stray Observations About September:
- Okay, we have to talk about Cookie Monster’s completely inaccurate x-ray. Everyone knows he demolishes cookies as he devours them! They wouldn’t be hovering around the general vicinity of his spleen.
- Then again, if they’re showing up on an x-ray, they must be made of some tough stuff. Tough enough to avoid being chewed, maybe?
- Back in June, we saw Bert fishing off the side of the calendar. In July, fishin’ Bert got the spotlight. And now in September, it looks like he finally hooked a Z. It’s a slow reveal, the fishing exploits of Bert.
Stray Observations About October:
- I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a colorized version of Wanda the Witch (first seen in the premiere episode of Sesame Street). I guess I always assumed she was green, and not Caucasian. I also assumed she’d be taller. Wanda is mad tiny, yo.
- Did… did Grover just fling pumpkin seeds all the way to the moon? How strong is Grover??? And why is he scooping out the pumpkin after cutting holes for the face? This calendar is completely unbelievable and I want my money back.
- The mini-comic of Grover raking leaves might be my favorite part of this entire calendar. It’s like a MAD Magazine gag, but perfectly in-character for poor, naive Grover.
Stray Observations About November:
- It’s interesting that in this First Thanksgiving scene, Herry is the only one with feathers in his hair. Okay, and Big Bird too.
- Oscar wearing his Pilgrim hat over the trash can lid? That’s gold right there.
- I appreciate the fact that there are a lot of bizarre and specific holidays throughout the year, but it makes my heart (and stomach) glad that there are seven full days dedicated to National Cookie Week.
Stray Observations About December:
- Man, this whole picture is just perfect. Jack Davis’s caricatures, the holiday spirit, the fact that everyone gets a little something fun to do. It’s quite possibly the perfect Sesame Street Christmas illustration.
- That little blonde girl looks like she’s seen some shit.
- Ernie has created life! But he looks disappointed, as if his newfound magical powers aren’t worth sacrificing his art.
And thus, 1972 comes to a close. I know, it’s super sad, but don’t worry. We have a lot more vintage Sesame calendars to show you, so stay tuned!
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com