Original image

Honoring the Service of Agent 86, The Professor & Other TV Vets

Original image

As someone who has worn out more than one snooze alarm button, "better late than never" has become my motto, and in that spirit I'd like to add a TV twist to Stacy's wonderful Veteran's Day post. So even though Veteran's Day has come and gone, I say it's never too late to recognize those who have served our country.

1. Eddie Albert

Saving-Marines-while-ducking-enemy-fire was the place for him
albert.jpgEddie Albert had appeared on Broadway and in some 100 films before he landed the lead role as the New York attorney longing to live the simple farming life on the sitcom Green Acres. During World War II, Albert served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant and eventually worked as a salvage officer on the troop ship Sheridan. However, military planning blunders exposed the Marines being dropped to heavy gunfire during what would be later be called the Battle of Tarawa. Albert personally plucked injured Marines out of the water while ducking enemy fire. His commanding officer injured, he took charge and led four other crafts out to both provide fire support and rescue a total of 46 injured Marines. Albert received a Bronze Star for his heroic efforts.

2. Don Adams

Missed premature death by "that much"

get-smart.jpgActor/comedian Don Adams was best known for his role as bumbling Agent 86 on TV's Get Smart. He also provided the voice for two famous cartoon characters: Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget. But he almost missed an acting career by "that much."

Adams was born Donald Yarmy, but changed his last name when he got tired of being last in line in an alphabetical-order world. He wasn't much interested in academics, so when World War II broke out, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines when he was only 17. He was fighting in Guadalcanal when he became terribly ill. The diagnosis: Blackwater Fever, a usually fatal complication of malaria. Because men with Blackwater Fever always died, a sentry was posted beside Adams' hospital bed "“ not for security purposes, but because hospital space on Guadalcanal was so scarce, they wanted to know the minute he died so that his cot could be used for another patient. Four days later, for reasons no doctor could explain, Adams walked out of the hospital. Adams went home and spent the rest of his Marine tenure as a drill instructor, which is what helped him to develop his peculiar staccato way of speaking.

3. Johnny Carson

Welcome to the Navy, Johnny!!
johnny-carson.jpgLate night king Johnny Carson enlisted in the Navy as an apprentice seaman enrolled in the V-5 program, which trained Navy and Marine pilots. He was commissioned as an ensign and was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania. World War II was already drawing to a close when Carson enlisted, and when he reported for combat duty on August 14, 1945, it turned out to be the last day of the War. However, his ship was sent to Guam to assist a damaged warship, and as a junior officer, his assignment was to help with the removal of the bodies of 20 dead sailors—an image that would haunt him the rest of his life.

4. Russell Johnson

The Professor's real-life island crash landing
professor.jpgRussell Johnson may have given off a nerdy sort of vibe as the Professor on Gilligan's Island, but in real life he was no pencil-neck. He served as a gunner on bombers during World War II, and in 1945 his B-24 Liberator was shot down in the Philippines, forcing a crash landing on the island of Mindanao. He broke both his ankles and received a Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf cluster, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War ribbon with four battle stars, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

5. Montel Williams

More action than talk
montel-w.jpgHandling unruly guests is kid stuff for talk show host Montel Williams. Williams enlisted in the Marines in 1974, and was later accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy where he studied Mandarin Chinese and got a degree in general engineering with a minor in International Security Affairs. He spent three years aboard submarines as a cryptologic officer. When he left the Navy, it was with the rank of lieutenant, as well as the Navy Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Commendation Medal.

Step into Kara's TVHolic vault for many more TV tales.

Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios