In 1970, David Attie was sent to photograph the birth of the kids’ landmark TV show as part of a cold war propaganda drive by the US government. But these newly found images are just one part of the programme’s radical history
“I’m still pinching myself that my dad, my own flesh and blood, had Ernie on one hand and Bert on the other,” Eli Attie says. “It is like he got to sit at Abbey Road studios and watch the Beatles record I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Attie’s father was the photographer David Attie who, in 1970, visited the set of Sesame Street in New York City during its first season. His images lay forgotten in a wardrobe for the next 50 years, until Eli recently discovered them. They are a glimpse behind the curtain of a cultural phenomenon waiting to happen. Here are not only Bert and Ernie but Kermit, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch with his original orange fur (he was green by season two). And here are the people who brought these characters to life, chiefly Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the Lennon and McCartney of Muppetdom. What also stands out in Attie’s images are the children visiting the set. As in the show itself, they are clearly so beguiled by the puppets, they completely ignore the humans controlling them.
Eli himself was one of those visitors, although he has no memory of it. “I was in diapers, and as the story goes, I was loud and not to be quieted down, and was yanked off the set,” he says. His parents and older brother Oliver at least made it into the photos. Oliver was even in an episode of the show, in the background in Hooper’s Store, Eli explains, with just a hint of jealousy.
Above: Bert and Ernie with puppeteers Daniel Seagren, Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Left: Cast member Bob McGrath, an actor and musician, in a segment called The People in Your Neighborhood.
Right: Henson (left) and Oz – the Lennon and McCartney of Muppetdom – operate puppets for a sketch titled Hunt for Happiness