There are over 4,500 episodes of Sesame Street, many of which are primarily lost to the fans. We’re reviewing some of the best, strangest, and rarest episodes out there in our series Sesame Rewind!
In its first two decades on the air, Sesame Street spent a lot of time focusing on its human cast members. We saw them at work and at home. We saw them get married and start families. But most importantly, we saw that they lived in a larger world. The characters took trips to other parts of the US and other parts of the world. And sometimes, their families would come visit them on Sesame Street.
Today we’re going to look at a relative who made many such visits. Played by Clarice Taylor, David’s grandmother Grace appeared in at least 35 episodes between 1976 and 1989. I haven’t seen any of her other episodes, but episode #1441 (from 1980) is all about making her seem like the coolest and most appealing person who ever visited Sesame Street.
The one-line summary on Muppet Wiki is “Mr. Hooper and David’s grandmother go to the senior citizens’ dance.” Disappointingly, we don’t get to see the actual event in this episode, but we do see them both before and after the dance. Before that happens, however, we spent some time watching Grace’s other areas of expertise.
When we first see Mr. Hooper, he’s busily making sandwiches for the day care center. He’s overwhelmed, worried that he won’t be able to make enough sandwiches in time. While he and David brainstorm ideas for who they can call to help out, Grace instantly makes an enormous pile of sandwiches. She’s the fastest, most efficient sandwich artist in history, and she’s just getting started.
For her next feat, Grace decides to mess with Oscar the Grouch. As the scene opens, she walks up to Oscar’s can with a bunch of kids. With a twinkle in her eye, she says “Come on, let’s go down and tell Oscar that we love him. See how he reacts.”
Well, Oscar doesn’t have time to engage in banter because he’s just about to feed his farm animals. So Grace and the kids help out, beginning with David gleefully dumping a bowl of corn into Oscar’s can to feed the chickens. They go on to feed several other animals, and Grace is delighted by all of it.
Turns out that just like sandwich-making, Grace has a knack for feeding farm animals. When only one pig shows up for dinner, Grace unleashes a forcefull “SOO-IE!” to call the rest of Oscar’s herd. As Oscar notes, she’s such a good pig caller that he now has six more pigs than he did before. Clearly, Grace’s talents transcend geography, including both city and country.
The next time we see Grace, it’s finally dance time. This scene is even more exciting than I expected. She’s sitting in the courtyard with Mr. Hooper, but they aren’t aren’t alone. They’re joined by Willy the Hot Dog Vendor and Mr. Macintosh the apple man. Both of those characters mostly hung out in the background, so it’s really fun to watch them get a spotlight in this one.
You see, all three gentlemen want to take Grace to the Senior Citizens Night at the Bijou Dance Ballroom, and they all woo her by demonstrating their favorite dances. It goes completely unmentioned that Grace is black and all three suitors are white, which is refreshing. This episode is from 1980 – only 13 years after Loving v. Virginia. All of these characters would have grown up during the Jim Crow Era, and I really love that these potential interracial relationships are presented to kids as being no big deal.
Grace wastes no time in demonstrating that she can do every dance like a pro. First, Mr. Hooper invites Grace to dance a waltz with him. As they dance, the two fellows make fun of the waltz, calling it old-fashioned and joshing Mr. Hooper for doing such an outdated dance. In general, all four actors seem like they’re having a blast in this scene, dancing and joking around with each other.
Despite this, Mr. Macintosh makes his own appeal to Grace’s nostalgia. He stands up and pleads “Grandma, don’t you remember the Peabody? That’s the dance, the Peabody!” The two of them then dance the Peabody, excitedly saying “One two three, one two three, turn turn turn!” together as they do so.
Finally, Willy stands up and declares with all the power of Abraham Lincoln himself, “GRANDMA! Remember . . . the taaaaango?!” She does, and she positively swoons over it, saying “Oh, so romantic!” and comparing it to a trip to “a South Sea Island.” They dance the heck out of that tango, ending with Willy dipping Grace.
Tired from all that dancing, Grace declares that “No one thought to ask me what I want to do.” Turns out she was just messing with them, because she says she’ll go to the dance with all three of them. And let me tell you what – those boys are *excited* about it. Naturally they are, because Grace is the greatest.
As the episode ends, we see this quarter returning to Sesame Street after dark, giddy but exhausted from their night of dancing. What a thrill for them, and what a thrill for the audience to see that Sesame Street can still be a blast when it’s focused on the romantic entanglements of senior citizens.
Click here to feed hay to Oscar’s horses on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand