Roosevelt Franklin – the forgotten Muppet of Sesame Street

Growing up with Sesame Street has been a rite of passage for millions of kids.  We learned our letters and numbers, we learned concepts of sharing and cooperation, and we enjoyed the antics of Jim Henson’s Muppets.

I mean, let’s face it – if you asked someone today who their favorite Sesame Street character was, you would get a response of Big Bird, or Oscar the Grouch, or Kermit the Frog, or the Cookie Monster, or Grover, or Bert and Ernie, you follow me.

In fact, in recent times I’ve seen Facebook posts that ask that very question.

Unfortunately, those polls often leave one Sesame Street Muppet out of the survey.

In fact, you haven’t really seen this Muppet on Sesame Street in nearly 50 years.

Ladies and gentlemen … let me introduce you to Roosevelt Franklin.

Wow.

Here’s the backstory.

Roosevelt Franklin and his mother (who was also in the clip above) were voiced by two of the human actors on Sesame Street, Matt Robinson and Loretta Long – they were the first Gordon and the long-time Susan, who both lived at 123 Sesame Street.  Matt Robinson wanted a behind-the-scenes role with the new children’s television program, but was encouraged to play Gordon when the previous actor hired for the role didn’t really fit the character.  Robinson played Gordon through 1972, and worked behind the scenes with the series until 1975.

As for Roosevelt Franklin … well … let’s watch another clip, shall we?

Who’s performing the background music, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section?  Wowie.

Let me tell you, Roosevelt Franklin was just as popular at the time as Big Bird and the Cookie Monster.  In fact, there was a series of clips featuring Franklin at a self-named elementary school.  Damn, this kid has his own school?  He’s so cool, to quote from Don L. Lee, he must stop for green lights.

Now here’s the thing.  Look at this clip.  There’s a lot of Pan-African and positive culture in this clip.  Look at the artwork.  Look at the clothing that Morty Moot Mope wears.  This is Matt Robinson behind the scenes, producing a clip with positive reinforcements of African history … long before it was considered worthwhile to do so on television.

You want some more proof?  Check this “Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School” clip out, in which our hero explains that Africa is not a jungle where white men swing from vine-draped trees.

During the early 1970’s, Robinson recorded an LP featuring the character Roosevelt Franklin, of which some of the songs were integrated into Sesame Street vignettes.  The LP was called The Year of Roosevelt Franklin, and was later re-released as My Name is Roosevelt Franklin.

So here’s the thing.  When Robinson left Sesame Street, the character of Roosevelt Franklin was eventually phased out of the show.  Even today, you’re more likely to see Sesame Street clips talking about twenty other rarely seen Muppets – Guy Smiley, Sherlock Hemlock, Herry Monster, Don Music – before you see anything regarding Roosevelt Franklin.

As for Robinson, he would later work behind the scenes on The Cosby Show, Eight is Enough and Sanford and Son.  You might know his daughter, actress Holly Robinson-Peete, if you ever watched 21 Jump Street or Hanging with Mr. Cooper.

But we still have these YouTube clips and audio fragments of what Robinson did with the Roosevelt Franklin character, and it was amazing in and of itself.

Hey … one more, okay?  One more visit with Roosevelt Franklin?