|Sesame Street character|
Mr. Hooper in his store
|First appearance||November 10, 1969|
|Last appearance||November 1982|
|Portrayed by||Will Lee|
|Aliases||Mr. Hooper (often mispronounced by Big Bird as "Cooper," "Looper," etc.)|
Mr. Hooper was Jewish, according to Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, when Bob told him to have a Happy Hanukkah when he was dropping off presents to his friends. In true Sesame Street fashion, his religion was irrelevant to most other plots, as characters' differences are generally irrelevant to plot. His heritage was suggested in an episode in which Big Bird inquired about the languages that various members of the community could speak when Mr. Hooper revealed that he was taught to read, write, and speak Yiddish at after-school religious instruction.
For unexplained reasons, Big Bird had trouble saying "Hooper," instead using various words that rhymed with it, such as "Looper," "Cooper," "Grouper," "Blooper," or "Crouper," etc. This led to frequent retorts of "Hooper! Hooper!" from Mr. Hooper or the other adults whenever Big Bird mispronounced his last name. Caroll Spinney recalls on the Sesame Street Unpaved TV special: "He (Will Lee) once said to me 'I will always correct Big Bird because I am proud of being Mr. Hooper.'"
In one episode, circa 1974, Mr. Hooper shows his family album, describing each picture in song, "When I was as little as you are, I worked in my father's store..." He delivered groceries on a "thing called a trolley". He describes the circa-1920 clothes he wore and the games he played, adding that "...there was no such thing as T.V."
His first name was revealed on the March 15, 1976 episode (#871) when it was shown on the GED he had just earned. However, during the ceremony, the woman announcing the names goofed just as Big Bird would have, identifying him as "Harold Cooper."
Death of Mr. Hooper
When Will Lee died of a heart attack on December 7, 1982, it left the producers of Sesame Street, the Children's Television Workshop, with questions about how to acknowledge the death of one of the series' most visible actors. After considering a number of options, CTW decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper die as well, and use the episode to teach its young viewers about death as a natural part of life and that it is OK for everyone—children and adults alike—to grieve when someone they love dies. The cause of Mr. Hooper's death was not announced, euphemisms such as "passed away" were not used, and the issue was dealt with directly.
The "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" episode (ep #1839) aired November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day), so that parents and children could discuss the content while watching, and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television history.
Later in the episode, Big Bird presents each adult on the show with a gift—a drawing he has made of each of them. The last drawing he has is of Mr. Hooper, and Big Bird is eager to give it to him. When Big Bird asks his adult friends to help find Mr. Hooper, they gently remind Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died. Not understanding, Big Bird announces he will just wait for him to come back.
The adults pause, looking uncomfortable and sad. They then tearfully explain that when someone dies, they can never come back. Big Bird is dismayed, and the adults (all genuinely emotional) comfort him, explaining that they were lucky to have known and loved Mr. Hooper, and that they will always have their memories of him. It will never be the same without him, they say, but they will all help take care of Big Bird and life will continue on as normal. Bob fights back tears when it's his turn to explain death to Big Bird.
Big Bird angrily demands to know why things have to be the way they are, and no one has a ready answer. Finally, Gordon figures out what to say: "Because. Just because." This is perhaps the only answer that could make sense to Big Bird, at least for now, and he sadly accepts it. He then—as he constantly has throughout the years—humorously, but glumly mispronounces Mr. Hooper's name once again, even in death ("I'm gonna miss you, Mr. Looper"). Maria, laughing but with tears in her eyes, says, "That's Hooper, Big Bird. Hooper." The adults and Big Bird embrace. Big Bird recalls facts about Mr. Hooper, such as how no matter how many times he mispronounced his name, finally correcting himself when he misprounces it (Mr. Pooper - I mean, Mr. Hooper), that Mr. Hooper was patient. Big Bird also wonders who will now do the jobs Mr. Hooper was known for, such as making the birdseed milkshakes that Big Bird was a fan of. David explains that life goes on for the rest of us, and Big Bird need not worry, for he had bought the store shortly before Mr. Hooper's death and will now work as its manager; doing all the responsibilities Mr. Hooper had done.
The scene where the adults explain to Big Bird about Mr. Hooper's death was done in one take because the actors were too emotionally exhausted to perform another take. Bob McGrath (Bob) recalls from the Sesame Street Unpaved TV special: "I couldn't go near the store for about a year after he was gone."
The episode was later made into a book called "I'll Miss You, Mr. Hooper" by Norman Stiles.
Initially, the producers had considered using flashbacks of Mr. Hooper in the episode. This was ultimately rejected because they thought that—given that most children are unable to comprehend the difference between flashbacks and new footage—it would give the impression that Mr. Hooper was actually still alive and thus confuse the intended audience. A street skit made about a year later featured Big Bird, Maria, and David all reminiscing about him in good spirits. Big Bird showed off his drawing of him, and shots of him were shown as they continued to talk about him. Mr. Hooper is referred to again in the 35th anniversary episode "The Street We Live On" when Grover takes Elmo back through time in a taxicab. Elmo then realizes why the store was referred to as "Hooper's Store."
Big Bird's drawing of Mr. Hooper (in reality drawn by Big Bird's puppeteer Caroll Spinney) hangs above his nest to this day, as was seen in the 2007 "Learn Along with Sesame Street" episode "You Can Ask." The segment in which the portrait is seen also deals with loss, as Big Bird had just "lost" a pet turtle (which had probably wandered back to the park from which it came). The drawing can also be seen hanging on the wall of Big Bird's home in the special "Sesame Street Gets Through a Storm". Big Bird lost his nest in the hurricane, and the episode deals with the loss, destruction, and rebuilding process in the wake of a natural disaster.
- "Death of a Character is a Sesame Street Topic," The Associated Press. August 31, 1983
- "Valeria Lovelace" ECU Magazine, Winter 86/87, Vol 1, No. 1.