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The Late Movies: Saying Goodbye to Mr. Hooper

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Despite being a puppet show for kids, Sesame Street has always done its best to push boundaries in the pursuit of children's education. One of the earliest examples of this was when they attempted to teach kids about death after the passing of Will Lee, the actor who portrayed Mr. Hooper.

A veteran actor throughout the 1930s and '40s, Will Lee was among the blacklisted actors during the McCarthy Era. His acting career made a small resurgence in the 1960s, but he mostly made his living by teaching. (Among his most famous students was James Earl Jones, who later repaid the favor by appearing on the debut episode of Sesame Street.) Lee appeared as Mr. Hooper in the first episode of Sesame Street in 1969, and he remained a core member of the cast until his death in 1982.

Since most children's programs don't last as long as Sesame Street, it's rare that a show would have to deal with the death of a cast member. The producers considered explaining his absence with a retirement to Florida, but opted to take the challenge of honoring Lee's death by turning it into an educational experience.

The 1,839th episode of Sesame Street aired on Thanksgiving Day, 1983. The reasoning behind the date was because families were more likely to be together to help the kids in the audience in case they had questions or needed emotional support.

Balancing out the "Street Scenes" were the usual Sesame Street songs and cartoons to keep the air from becoming too serious or too alien to the kids. Among the other content seen in this episode was a Sesame Street pageant about feelings, Bert and Ernie at the movies, a cartoon about a "jive" #5, a song by Grover and Madeline Kahn, a "Muppet/kid moment" with Bert and everyone's favorite Sesame kid John-John, and more.

Below, you'll see the rest of the episode, in which Sesame Street's writers, producers, actors, and puppeteers brilliantly construct their lesson in a tender and patient way, as well as offer a proper farewell to Will Lee and Mr. Hooper.

Forgetful Jones and Bertram — er, Gordon — begin our episode with a cute discussion about the simple things that can make you happy. It will be an important thing to keep in mind by the end of the hour.

Big Bird is walking around with his head between his legs. Why is he doing it. "Just because." Which is a good enough reason for a lot of things.

Big Bird overhears all the grownups having a conversation, which starts out confusing, but ends up being shown in a way he can understand. That is, until the conversation turns to politics.

In the most famous scene from the episode, the adults reveal to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died, and he's not coming back. According to the actors, all of their tears were real. This scene was released on the Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days retrospective DVD.

Big Bird honors Mr. Hooper by hanging his picture (actually drawn by Big Bird's performer Caroll Spinney) over his nest, where it still hangs today. He's also introduced to a new baby, thus completing the circle of life and death according to Sesame Street.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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