Muppet Book Club

“I’ll Miss You, Mr Hooper”

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Missing Mr Hooper

Alaina Breeden:

I always cry at the story of Mr Hooper’s death, and this time was no exception. I think the part that really got to me was page 15: “When I woke up in the night from a scary nightmare, and Mr Hooper held me tight until I felt better.” It reminds me of my grandmother holding me and making me feel better after I had gotten really sick.

That’s what Mr Hooper is — he’s your grandparent. He helps you when you fall, comforts you when you’re scared, and spoils you with birdseed or vanilla milkshakes (whatever the case may be). He’s the warm comforting feeling that only an older person can give you.

Jamie Denny:

Wow, I’d never seen that book before. I’m so moved. I started crying, which is bizarre as I only knew about Will Lee/Mr Hooper when they showed some reruns on Channel Four here in the UK.

I guess that’s the power of the writing, and empathy.

Kevin Williams:

Reading the book is like watching the show all over again. Like the first time I saw the show, this brought a tear to my eye. Nothing gets to me like a Big Bird crying.

It’s not an upbeat book, but it does remind you to hold fast to memories of friends and family, and to make the most of the time you have with someone — because it doesn’t last forever, except in our hearts.

Jogchem Jalink:

In the Dutch Sesamstraat, we had “grandpa” Lex Goudsmit who passed away in 1999, but no special script was made about him. Instead, they made a Lex compilation and talked about his death on the Youth News that airs after Sesame.

Lex had said he wanted to stay on Sesame Street even after his death, so the latest scenes he taped were still used on the next season. He disappeared slowly. In my room I have a photo of me and Lex together, when we met. He was a great man.

As for Mr Hooper, I never grew up with him on TV — but I had a set of translated Sesame Street encyclopedia books that featured Mr Hooper as the only human among the Muppets, so I knew who he was. When I discovered the online world and learned that he had died, I was shocked. I always thought of him as one of the main Sesame inhabitants, even before I saw him on TV.

Ryan Roe:

I’m not certain whether I remember Mr Hooper from watching the show or not. I would have been under two years old when he died — but he was present on records and in books that I had. I feel like I remember him, anyway.

It’s Not All Right

John Hamilton:

I always marveled at the way the adult characters comforted Big Bird, and each other. You really get the feeling that they’re like a family. The emotional interaction between them always made me very emotional, and still does. I think Will Lee would have been proud to know that his life inspired such love, as well as such a good book/episode.

PS. Did the Sesame guys always have such really huge hands? Curious.

Jogchem Jalink:

Big Bird walking upside down “just because” and later Gordon explaining “just because,” both because they couldn’t think of anything else, is brilliant. I’ve never seen any better way to explain death.

Danny Horn:

I hadn’t realized that Big Bird’s “just because” early in the book is supposed to echo Gordon’s “just because.” That’s terrific.

My favorite thing about this book (and the episode) is that the adults don’t try to jolly Big Bird out of his feelings. When someone’s in pain, it’s so common for other people to try to distract them, or tell them it’s not so bad. It’s hard to just sit with someone you care about, and feel bad with them. You get the urge to fix it, to somehow take the pain away from them. That never works, and I think it ends up minimizing the person’s pain and making them feel even worse.

It’s so much harder just to say, “It makes us feel sad and angry too.” Just to sit there with the feelings, and not have to make them go away — because the feelings are real and important, and that’s what there is. I think that’s the thing that makes Big Bird able to feel a little better. He knows that he’s not alone in his feelings.

Big Bird is still sad on the last page. There’s no fakey resolution where they go to the pet store and buy him a new old man to be friends with. The book just lets him be wistful; it gives him the space to grieve. I think this is the most grown-up Sesame Street book they ever made.

Michal Richardson:

The writers of the show and of the book deal very well with the subject matter. Big Bird’s feelings are validated, but he’s still given some very apt words of comfort.

The grownups are sad and angry too — just as helpless as Big Bird when it comes to solving this particular problem. Still, Big Bird knows that he can turn to them to take care of him and make him birdseed milkshakes. He knows that he hasn’t been abandoned, which is as important as being able to feel sad and angry.

“But we can be glad we had the chance to be with him and know him and love him when he was here.” Those grownups really know what they’re doing.

Dave Thomer:

In the Biography special, the Sesame Workshop consultant reinforced exactly this message in the hurricane episode. She said it was very important that when Big Bird said “It’s not all right,” that Gordon validate what he was feeling — “You’re right, Big Bird, it’s not all right,” — before going on to say, “but it will be all right.”

The writers thought that this made the dialogue a bit awkward, but they made it work.

Words and Pictures

Anthony Strand:

What struck me were the drawings of Big Bird. The emotion in those drawings is unreal. There’s not a single picture of the bird that doesn’t show exactly how he’s feeling at any given time. If the book didn’t have any words, you could still follow the story just by looking at Big Bird on every page. Outstanding.

Shawn Pero:

I think this is the only time I’ve seen Joe Mathieu draw the humans, and it’s just amazing. Not too caricature-y, but still very stylized. I’ve seen Sesame illustrators do humans before, and you’d have a hard time telling who they’re supposed to be. Not so here — each one is very recognizable, and the emotions are really clearly expressed.

Although I do have to say that not even Joe could make David look attractive.

Where’s Hooper?

Thijs van Domburg:

It’s a little bit odd that Big Bird finally knows Mr Hooper’s name, and remembers when he called him Mr Looper. That must mean he made the mistakes on purpose.

Marian Bayusik:

One thing I wonder about plotwise is, how long do the events of the book happen after Mr Hooper’s death? It must not be right after he died, because the adults would be much more upset than they are. It has to be about a week or two after his death.

I was just sort of curious that it seems to take a long time for Big Bird to notice Mr Hooper wasn’t there any more.

Anthony Strand:

You know how Big Bird is. He probably figured he just hadn’t run into Mr Hooper for a while. I’m sure he doesn’t see Bob or Maria every day either.

Scott Hanson:

I don’t think they were concerned so much with the when. The adults are all hanging out and having a good time; that relates to us that they’re going on with their lives. It would be too unsettling if everyone was indoors, wearing black and crying.

In real life, of course, the episode aired a full year after Will Lee died.

Bird on the Edge of Forever

Anthony Strand:

Sesame moments like this are the reason I wish I was older than my nineteen years. All I have to cling to are Maria and Luis’ wedding, and Gabi’s birth.

Tom Holste:

If you think about favorite episodes of Sesame Street, this is the one that’s got to be tops for nearly everybody. No one really remembers the first episode; I saw it on Noggin, and they still had a lot of kinks to work out. The vacation episodes were fun; the Star Wars droids were fun, if kinda cheesy. Maria’s wedding and Miles’ adoption were happy moments.

But tragedy seems to have a different effect on our psyches than moments of joy or fun, and this one was handled so beautifully. At every retrospective, they have to talk about this episode. If you mention Sesame Street to a random adult on the street, I bet they’d say, “Oh, I loved that show as a kid! I cried the day Mr Hooper died.”

It also had a deep impact on the fans, as much if not more than anyone else. It’s the only episode of Sesame where I can remember the time, the place, the reaction I had to it.

Thus, my conclusion: Mr Hooper’s Death is the best episode of Sesame Street. It’s what “City on the Edge of Forever” is to Star Trek fans, and what “What’s Opera, Doc?” is to Bugs Bunny fans. It’s the untouchable masterpiece. Sesame may have many great episodes ahead of it, but I can’t imagine another episode equalling the power this one had.

Being Dead Takes So Long

Ryan Roe:

Has the show ever discussed death since then? It’s a pretty heavy topic for a show that teaches the alphabet, but they did a great job with it.

Shawn Pero:

I think the hurricane episodes are just as good. It’s several episodes, and I really liked the end of the one where the hurricane was just beginning — things were starting to be blown around. It’s like the end of the book; not everything has a happy resolution, and I like that they teach this to children in a way that’s not too harsh.

I really like the dialogue where Maria says, “Don’t you remember, Big Bird? Mr Hooper died. He’s dead.” It reinforces that younger kids have some difficulty understanding that death is permanent.

Jogchem Jalink:

The Dutch Sesamstraat has had plenty of “death” songs and episodes. Tommie’s had a few wonderful songs about it.

Here’s an mp3 clip of one of Tommie’s songs, and a translation of the lyrics. I really like how they chose the term “being dead” instead of “dying.”

BEING DEAD TAKES SO LONG

Being dead is not nice

Sometimes that frightens me a little

Being dead doesn’t hurt

But being dead takes so long

If you’re dead, you sleep quietly

You know what I’d like to know?

If you’re dead, do you dream?

And what do you dream of?

Do you dream of your own street?

Do you dream of beating a drum?

Do you dream of standing on a swing

Going higher and higher?

Do you dream of seeing your mother there?

Do you hear, or don’t you hear

That she called you?

Do you dream of being alive?

Being dead is not nice

Sometimes that frightens me a little

Being dead doesn’t hurt

But being dead takes so long

I made myself feel too bad again

I’ll just leave a little light on

With me, it’ll take a hundred years

Before I have to die

Danny Horn:

Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. We’d never have a song like that in America, I’m not sure I understand why. People are so freaky here about what children “can” and “can’t” understand. I think that song really expresses the actual thoughts and feelings that kids might have about death.

It’s so obvious that kids think about death and loss. Some kids have experienced a death in the family, some haven’t — but every kid experiences the death of a pet or an animal, and every kid experiences the “little death” of a losing a friend, breaking something important, moving away, or leaving preschool. Talking about it with kids isn’t a morbid intrusion into the ideal “innocent” childhood, and it’s frustrating to me that a lot of Americans seem to think it is. And that makes them lie to kids, which I think is damaging.

Speaking of being morbid: When I decided to post this book as a celebration of the 35th anniversary, I was wondering if that was kind of a morbid thing to do. If I’m only going to choose one moment in Sesame history to post about, why choose Hooper’s death to represent that? I thought people might think that was odd.

But it’s nice to see how this conversation has developed… The sense that I get is that Hooper’s death is a good example of Sesame history, because it proves how broad Sesame Street’s education can be. It’s not just about letter songs, or counting. Sesame has taught us deep, important things — lessons that we’re still using in our lives today. That’s why Sesame’s still so strong in our hearts, even as adults.

What Comes Next

Tom Holste:

The pacing of the book is slightly different from the way it happened on the show. I remember there was much more comedy up front about Big Bird drawing all the pictures for the adults. It was like the writers were using humor to brace us for what was to come.

The next-to-last segment was when they finally got around to Mr Hooper. The book (almost) jumps right to the part where Big Bird wants to give Hooper the picture. That’s understandable, because of the book’s length. Also, that allows the author to work in the Hooper flashbacks.

My main disagreement with the alteration from the episode was to have Big Bird go back to his nest all alone, with a frown still on his face. In the episode, Big Bird says, “I’ll miss you, Mr Looper.” Through tears, Maria laughs, “It’s Hooper, Big Bird. Hooper.” And they all hug Big Bird as the camera pans back over Sesame Street.

(I’m actually choking up as I’m writing this.)

I think showing the cast all together was a much warmer note to end on. The ending with Big Bird at his nest just seems too cold to me.

Scott Hanson:

The episode isn’t much different in terms of the Death Content. They hit it pretty close to the mark.

The script is a bit more fleshed out though than just focusing on death. The scene where Gordon sees Big Bird with his head between his legs happens early on in the episode. Then we get some short films like any other ep. We come back to the courtyard where all the adults are talking, and Big Bird decides to eavesdrop on their boring conversation. As we watch, it appears that we’re being shown how one can learn things from listening to an adult conversation. The adults happen to be talking about Mr and Mrs Williams’ new baby.

We go away, watch some more Sesame filler, come back and deal with the death issue as seen in the book. There’s a big group hug and camera pan out. We cut next to a short live-action film focusing on the serenity of nature, the budding of a flower and its small place in this world against a final horizon-centered sun. This is followed by an animated short with a similar theme. Both of these are wordless.

We come back to Big Bird in his nest hanging the Hooper caricature as we see him doing in the book. Except here, there’s a knock at the door. It’s Maria and all the adults, who’ve brought the Williams baby to show off to Big Bird. They have a laugh and a chuckle about how cute and delicate the baby is. Big Bird: “Gee, you know what the nice thing is about new babies? One day they’re not here, and the next day, there they are!”

Simply delightful. And this is for children.

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