In the early days of “Sesame Street” — that is, B.E. (Before Elmo) — Sesame Street was a pretty grimy place.
The brownstone at 123 Sesame Street looked like it needed a serious power washing, the storefront of Mr. Hooper’s shop was intentionally dingy and the Fix-It Shop’s window was cluttered with toasters. It was gritty, but gritty in a magical way.
When the show started in 1969 (“Sesame Street” will celebrate its 40th anniversary on November 10), the concept of educational television programming was nothing short of revolutionary. “Sesame Street” was originally intended as a learning tool for inner-city children — not only as a supplement to their lessons in math and the ABCs but to teach them to be good people and show them that learning can be fun.
Those early years are now available on DVD; and the discs contain a disclaimer that essentially states that they are intended for nostalgia purposes only. The warning reads as follows:
“These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”
On the DVDs, Cookie Monster can be seen as his character of Alistair Cookie in his “Monsterpiece Theatre” segment (a spoof of Alistair Cooke’s “Masterpiece Theatre”) smoking a pipe.
Yep, Cookie Monster smoked.
He later eats the pipe because, as he was often prone to doing, he thinks the pipe is a cookie. Cookie Monster used to become so overwhelmed by his desire for cookies that he’d start seeing (hallucinating about?) cookies that weren’t actually there. He’d eat (rotary) telephones, typewriters (what are those?), pencils, almost anything. It was funny.
Today, Cookie Monster’s diet is much more balanced, as he has adopted the philosophy that cookies are a “sometimes food.” Cookie coincidentally changed his tune in 2006 amidst reports that childhood obesity had reached epidemic proportions.
Early “Sesame Street” had some other elements that would not pass muster today. Oscar the Grouch is just plain nasty, children are seen riding their bikes without helmets, and there’s even a sketch where the human character of Gordon can be seen approaching a little girl on the street. He takes her by the hand and brings her into his house for milk and cookies (again with the cookies!). Clearly, that could be misinterpreted by today’s standards.