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Remembering Our Favorite Laugh-In Stars

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Henry Gibson passed away last Monday at age 73. Current television viewers probably remember him from his role as Judge Clarence Brown on Boston Legal, but Baby Boomers will always picture him holding a large flower and reciting poetry on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Laugh-In was a rapid-fire sketch comedy show that was "must see TV" long before the phrase had been coined. The idle chit-chat around the water cooler in the late 1960s was always peppered with catchphrases made popular by the show, such as "look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls" and "you bet your sweet bippy." To appear on Laugh-In increased a person's coolness quotient exponentially, which provided the show with an impressive albeit eclectic pool of special guest stars. Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Cher, Harry Belafonte, Wilt Chamberlain and Richard Nixon are just a few of the famous folks who uttered "sock it to me" or got smacked with a rubber chicken. Even if you were born long after Laugh-In was defunct, you probably recognize some of its regulars, perhaps from frequent appearances on The Love Boat or possibly from Academy Award-winning films:

1. Goldie Hawn
Goldie had a small role on the short-lived sitcom Good Morning, World, but it was her perpetually giggling, clueless blonde persona on Laugh-In that propelled her to stardom. Dancing in a bikini with wacky slogans painted all over body probably helped her to get noticed as well.

2. Lily Tomlin
Tomlin's Ernestine the Telephone Operator was so popular that the Bell System offered her a $500,000 contract to film a series of commercials for them. She gave them a gracious "thanks, but no thanks." Tomlin's Edith Ann (who was five years old and spouted her monologues from a giant rocking chair) soon had the nation finishing their declarative sentences with "And that's the truth!" followed by a Bronx cheer.

3. Henry Gibson
Gibson was sort of the Jack Handey of Laugh-In, except his deep thoughts usually rhymed:

"The Thumbnail." A poem by Henry Gibson.
Did you ever stop to figure
Why the thumbnail is so hard?
Well it hasn't any choice
With all that skin to guard.
It may look fat and pudgy
But it's heart is good and true.
It's prettier than a toenail
And easier to chew.

4. Sammy Davis, Jr.
Davis was a frequent guest on the show, and one of his trademark schticks, lifted from comedian Pigmeat Markham's stage routine, launched yet another catchphrase, "here come da judge."

5. Judy Carne
British actress Judy Carne (Burt Reynolds' ex-wife) brought that oh-so-necessary-for-60s-credibility mod Carnaby Street touch to Laugh-In. She endured being assaulted week after week with water, flour, sandbags, you name it, just for announcing "It's Sock It To Me Time!"

(The most famous Sock It To Me, so as not to disappoint those who came expecting the Nixon clip:)

6. Arte Johnson
Johnson's most memorable character was Wolfgang, a German soldier who wasn't aware that WW2 had ended. Clutching a cigarette, he'd peer from between some bushes and comment "Veeery interesting," two words which eventually became as repeated as Fonzie's "Aaaay." Arte also portrayed lecherous old Tyrone F. Horneigh, who was forever trying to pick up Ruth Buzzi's Gladys Ormphby on a park bench and getting whacked over the head for his trouble.

7. Ruth Buzzi
Ruth Buzzi was the only cast member to appear on every single episode of the show, and despite her versatility (she played everything from flight attendants to Southern belles to socialites), she was mainly known as spinster Gladys Ormphby. Gladys wore a visible hairnet, spent most of her time on a park bench, and wielded her purse like a weapon when approached by cads who were only interested in her body.

8. JoAnne Worley
JoAnne Worley was loud and larger-than-life—Carol Channing, Ethel Merman and Phyllis Diller all rolled into one. She would frequently trill her lines operatically rather than just speak them, and she had a special affinity for chicken jokes.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate is pointing at you! Share your Laugh-In memories, be they good or bad, with the rest of us.

Read all past installments of Kara's TV-Holic series.


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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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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.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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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.


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