Sunday, January 25, 2015

Polly Want a Trashcan?

Paco the Mexican Grouch from PLAZA SÉSAMO.
The first Latin American version of SESAME STREET was called PLAZA SÉSAMO. It debuted in  November, 1972.

In this initial incarnation the Big Bird character was replaced by a large orange dragon named Abelardo; and the Oscar-type character was filled by a large and grouchy green parrot named Paco. Besides sharing Oscar's disposition, Paco was also green and had black bushy eyebrows. In 1981 PLAZA SÉSAMO was reworked and that was the end of Abelardo and Paco.

There were a number of very cool PLAZA SÉSAMO toys - the most interesting being produced by Mexican toy company Lili Ledy. I'll be talking more about them in coming posts - but two of the most desirable of their toys were the large hand puppets of Abelardo and Paco (which are both fairly hard-to-find.)

Indeed the Lili Ledy Paco the Parrot puppet is one of my "most desired" items. You can see two views of him below:

Two views of the Lili Ledy "Paco" puppet that I still need to find!

My "bootleg" Paco the Grouch puppet.

The closest I've come is a rather fun "bootleg" version produced by an unknown Mexican toy company. He can accommodate an adult hand and his mouth works. I am pretty sure the Lili Ledy puppet's mouth does not open and close.

This "bootleg" Paco has a rubber beak which extends back into his fur head making a sort of skull. The eyeballs are molded as part of the rubber head, too. This Paco puppet has large "googly" eyes glued onto the front of the white rubber eyeballs. I am not sure if he came this way or if he has been modified by a previous owner. Also, he has no arms. His body is just a green fake fur sleeve.

While I one day hope to find a Lily Ledy Paco puppet, I'm fairly happy with this one as he displays so nicely (see banner at top of the blog.) And as I mentioned, he is big enough for my hand. and I can play with him. He also looks a lot happier than his "legitimate" cousins pictured above!

Saturday, January 17, 2015


My little sister and me in 1971 when the show aired.
This isn't exactly about SESAME collectibles, but it's also far too good not to share.

On Thanksgiving night, November 25, 1971 the Muppets were the guests for all 90 minutes of THE DICK CAVETT SHOW. In Albuquerque, where I grew up, the show aired from 10:30 PM until Midnight. I begged, BEGGED, my parents to let me stay up and watch. Given that it was Thanksgiving (and that there was no school the next day) my parents agreed.  I think I may have taken a nap from bed time until 10:30 when the show began. But I vividly remember most of the show.

I especially remembered Thog, who became a favorite Muppet, even though I didn't see him again from this introduction until his appearance in the opening of THE MUPPET SHOW.

I also loved seeing Henson put on Kermit. I was fascinated at how he treated the puppets, like no more than a piece of fabric, until he had them fully on his hand and they came to life. I was also incredibly excited to see Carroll Spinney in his Big Bird legs.

The 90 minute show also includes interviews with Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson; and appearances by all the regular SESAME Muppets. There are a couple clips from THE FROG PRINCE, and Henson shows models from the animated "King of 8" film.  At the end of the show there is a plug for the just-released Topper SESAME puppets and they show the 20" Big Bird toy.

Big Bird, Jim Henson, Dick Cavett, & Thog look at the new Topper Toys!

Dick Cavett says he wants a complete set of them. I got mine for Christmas exactly a month later! Many thanks to the kind person who posted the entire show on YOUTUBE (including the vintage commercials!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mordicus et Moi

Salut, mon petit monstre bleu. Bienvenue chez-moi.

I was recently able to acquire one of my "most wanted" SESAME toys. The superb hand puppet of Mordicus, the French version of Oscar, from 1 RUE SÉSAME. The monsters were always my favorite SESAME muppets.  I remember a number of years ago, when I first started recollecting SESAME stuff, and I spotted a Mordicus puppet in photos of someone else's collection. I thought, "Who is that blue monster! I must have him!" Say hello, Mordicus!

Mordicus, the French Grouch from 1 RUE SÉSAME. Hand-puppet produced by Vicma, 1978.

He is a beautifully made puppet - very much in the style of the original Topper / Educational Toys Puppets; and he's fairly large, pretty much in scale with their Ernie and Bert. He is 12.5" inches tall and his head is big enough to accept an adult hand.

The puppet was produced by Spanish toy company Vicma in 1978 and was sold only in France and Spain. The construction is very similar to the first generation American puppets  with one big twist: Mordicus's head and neck is thick flexible sky-blue rubber, perhaps most similar to the Ernie hand puppet's head. Mordicus's nose and ears are part of the sky-blue rubber "skull" and they protrude thru slits in the darker blue fake fur puppet body. Thus Mordicus is in some ways similar to the Topper and Child Guidance Grover puppet that was made of blue fake fur over a plastic skull cap with protruding pink nose. But the Grover puppets didn't have a one-piece, fully formed skull and neck made of thick rubber.

The "real" Mordicus with Trepido the Snail & Toccata (the French Big Bird).

On 1 RUE SÉSAME, Mordicus lives in a trash can like Oscar. He also plays the saxaphone and is part of a singing group. Mordicus is performed by Georges Mosca, though his singing voice is sometimes dubbed by Denis Demoulin.

J'espère que Mordicus et moi serai de grands amis.
One of Mordicus's French record albums.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cookie Monster

As I've already mentioned, my first SESAME STREET toy was the wonderful Cookie Monster puppet produced by Topper/Educational Toys in the Fall of 1971. These puppets were the first SESAME toys produced, and they were spectacular! Beautifully designed and made, with wonderful packaging, and with extreme care taken to make them great toys that truly reflected their on screen counterparts.

The open-front packaging allowed kids to see the actual puppet they'd get. You could feel the fur, pet Cookie Monster. The box was even designed so you could pull on the arm-control string and make Cookie's arms move while he was still in his box!

The box was also designed to be turned into a puppet theatre that looked like a television set. One had simply to cut out the screen and turn the box on it's side. The cut-out area of the screen also featured some small props on several of the puppet boxes: cookies for Cookie Monster, a lid for Oscar's trash can, etc.

Behind the cut-out screen was a handsome four-page instruction sheet. Each booklet was printed in black and the appropriate color for each puppet: Blue for Cookie Monster, yellow for Bert, green for Oscar, etc.

These original puppets from 1971 were a runaway success that Christmas. The care taken to make the best possible, kid friendly puppets was evident in every detail.

Please note that I still need to find a Cookie Monster in his original open-front box for my collection. The puppet photos of the boxed version above are courtesy of another collector. The instruction sheet and publicity photo below are mine. if you have a Cookie in a box for sale I'd love to hear from you. 

"Educational Toys" publicity photo advertising the Cookie Monster puppet.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Muppets with Puppets!

One of my favorite parts of the original Topper/Educational Toys SESAME STREET puppets was the super packaging (see two previous posts). The sides of the box were decorated with artwork by my favorite SESAME STREET artist, Jack Davis, though I had no idea of who the artist was when I was a kid back in 1971 and became enchanted with the imagery.  Here it is for you to peruse:

There is so much character (and story!) in the illustration. Almost everyone is having fun with their puppets. Ernie is feeding his Cookie Monster a cookie, Oscar seems excited to add a Big Bird to his trash collection, Cookie Monster seems to really like his little Oscar puppet.  But Bert has a puppet of himself, and neither Bert nor Bert's puppet seems all that happy with the situation.  But it's very "right."  Bert really doesn't seem like the kind of person that is into puppets, does he?

To close out this year's last blog post I thought I'd share a photo of one of my Roosevelt Franklin puppets playing with his own Bert puppet. Bert is a German import produced by the Igel toy company in 1994.  Happy New Year from Grover's Corner!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How It All Began - Part 2

Yesterday I told you how I bought Cookie Monster all by myself back in the Fall of 1971. Today, I'll finish the story of how I got the rest of the gang. In short, the answer was Christmas - and that was one of my absolutely favorite Christmases ever!

I had put the rest of the new SESAME STREET puppets at the top of my Santa list. But one thing that made the Christmas of 1971 so great was that it was a sort of transitional Christmas -  I was young enough to still have some belief in Santa, but also old enough to pick up on the clues that my parents were doing a lot of it. The biggest clue was that one night we were out doing Christmas shopping and my mom told me I had to stay in the car while she ran into the big "American Furniture" store and made me wait in the car. This was very unusual!  She came back out after a while and put something in the trunk. and somehow, either while she was loading it or unloading it, I got a tiny peek and was fairly suspicious that it was Oscar the Grouch! I don't recall the specifics. I also knew my father was working on some secret project.

I had a very hard time falling asleep that Christmas Eve and woke early Christmas AM. I remember waking and padding in to my parents bedroom and urging them to get up. Mom said it was too early, indeed it was still dark, but I jumped into my parents bed thinking that would make Christmas arrive faster.  From my parents bedroom I could see a little bit into the living room, nothing at all specific, it was very murky and shadowed. But my mind turned shadows into objects and characters. There was some structure I could barely see and creeping over the top was what looked like a large hairy head. My imagination immediately decided I was getting a Herry Monster for Christmas - even though I'd seen no evidence a Herry puppet had been made. [Actually no Herry Monster puppet was produced until 1978].

This is my current Oscar in his original box.
Eventually I was restless enough (or bothersome enough) and my parents relented. It was time for Christmas! There in the middle of the living room floor were Oscar and Ernie and Big Bird! Oscar was great! His box looked like a trash can. The backs of all these boxes looked like TV sets, and one could cut out the screen and use the box as a small puppet theatre. The lid to Oscar's trash can was printed in the cut-out "screen" section of the "TV set."

Ernie seemed incredible, too! He looked so perfect! Just like Ernie. I don't recall if I asked where Bert was - I was very pleased with all I'd gotten . But at some point that morning my Mom mentioned that Santa hadn't been able to get Bert to me yet, but that he was having Bert sent to Sears and we could pick him up in a few days. Who knew that Santa used Sears!

These are my current Ernie and Bert puppets in their original boxes.

This is not my Big Bird. I still need this box!
Big Bird was pretty awesome! He was about 20" tall and had wonderful (if very uncuddly) legs. He wasn't much of an actual puppet though. He had a hole in the back of his head where you could insert a finger. And via a tab, you could make him open and shut his beak. His wings had two little slits in the back so you could insert fingers and make him gesture as you held him.

The downside to Big Bird was that he came in very unfriendly packaging. You can't see it in the photo, but to keep Big Bird standing tall, his feet were bolted to a piece of thin plywood hidden in the bottom of the cardboard base.  Even after you ripped him out of his box he still had bolts sticking out of the bottom of his feet and my dad needed to go find a wrench to remove them. My dad grumbled quite loudly about that packaging! My dad may have been tired of tools as my other big present that Christmas was a tri-fold puppet theatre my dad had built. It was made of early 1970s paneling over theatre-style flats. My mom had made the orange felt curtains which opened on a traverse rod by pulling the cords at the side.

The "thing" I had mistaken for Herry Monster in the dim morning light was a large wolf puppet that was perched on the upper corner of the puppet theatre. Both he and a goat puppet were not SESAME related.

My sister and me playing in the puppet theatre.

It was a great Christmas!  A week or so later we went to Sears to pick up Bert.  I was somewhat disappointed when Bert was handed to me in a plain brown box and not the incredible display packaging of the other puppets.

The puppets arrived like this if ordered thru the Sears catalog.

The Bert puppet also quickly suffered from shirt-loss. The shape of Bert's head and neck, combined with the weight of his hands, seemed to put too much stress on the few stitches that held Bert's shirt on.

Both Bert and my sister have somehow lost their shirts!

And that's how I got my first SESAME STREET toys! I mentioned in the last post that I lost all of my original toys in a fire when I was fourteen. In recent years I've been able to replace them. However,  I still very much need both Cookie Monster and Big Bird in their original open-front boxes. If you've got one for me I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How It All Began

Welcome to GROVER'S CORNER! I am close to being a first generation SESAME STREET kid. I loved the show, but what really hooked me was the muppets, especially the monsters. I had tried my hand at making a Cookie Monster puppet with a sock and some googly eyes but I was kind of disappointed with the results - mainly because the eyes were flat, not the ping-pong ball eyes the real Cookie Monster had.

But in the Fall of 1971 I found an advertisement for some forthcoming SESAME STREET puppets (these were the Topper/Educational Toys versions.) I no longer remember where the ad was published, but I immediately cut it out and glued it into a scrapbook I had just started. The scrapbook was about half SESAME STREET and half I LOVE LUCY. I still have my scrapbook and thus still have the ad.

I suspect the ad was published in a glossy newspaper "magazine" like PARADE. I cut out the characters as well as I could. I remember being frustrated by Ernie and Bert's hair. Cookie Monster and Oscar where printed at the side of the ad and I cut them out and placed them on the "wall" to make them look right. I have since learned how to spell "cookie."

Anyway, I told my mom I had to have them and we started looking. I think the ad came out a bit in advance of the toys hitting the stores in Albuquerque.

I do not have this guy in a box yet!

One afternoon after school I had walked over to the nearby Skaggs Drugstore and lo! they had a Cookie Monster (two actually) though they had none of the other puppets.

I raced home and pleaded for a massive advance on my allowance. The puppets were actually quite expensive when they came out, listing at $4.95 each. Online inflation calculators translate this to almost $29.00 in 2014 money! My family was hardly flush (my mom was in Grad school) but she was also very understanding about life's necessities and she eventually gave me a crisp $5 bill. I tore back to Skaggs and if memory serves they had already sold one of the their two Cookie Monsters. I grabbed the remaining one and went to the checkout. I wondered if I'd have any trouble, if the check-out woman would question a small boy with an actual five dollar bill. She rang up Cookie Monster and asked me for $5.19.  Huh?!  I had just discovered sales tax. I'm sure my eyes began to well up and my lower lip began to tremble, and I don't recall what was said, but she let me have Cookie Monster without my having to pay the cursed sales tax.

The Cookie Monster shown above is not mine. My original puppets were lost in a fire when I was fourteen. I have replaced my Cookie Monster but I have not as yet been able to replace him is his incredible box. It is high on my want list! This photo was snagged from an online auction.

Cookie Monster was super, though! He was so beautifully made. He could even swallow cookies! The back of the box had cardboard cookies you could cut out. But my dad made the best Chocolate Chip Cookies ever and Cookie Monster preferred those, as they'd crumble. I, of course, could then help eat the crumbles.

In part two I'll discuss my favorite Christmas ever when Cookie's friends arrived. I will also be posting a more in depth look at the actual puppet, packaging artwork, modifications on how the puppet design changed over the years. We'll be popping around, discussing the rare foreign puppets, other toys, artwork, and much else. Welcome to Grover's Corner!

Me, Cookie, and Oscar