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Politics, Culture & Puppet Shows

Wednesday, November 4

Joan Ganz Cooney could not have children. She wanted them, very badly she did, but her biological makeup did not, unfortunately, jibe with her aspirations.

This early diagnosis led numerous early relationships to fall apart, as this was post-War, 1950's America, children were an expectation, almost an after-thought to marriage. With her innumerable hours of free time, she decided to put all her eggs into one basket, her career.

Starting out as a lowly press-release writer for the Radio Corporation of America, she quickly became a master of communicating strong messages from previously dull material. Her specialty, way back then in the male-dominated corporate culture of the 50's, was forecasting. Forecasting trends for what the relatively new medium of television would become.

Her sterling work would bring her few promotions, but did gain admiration of some powerful allies. Eleanor Roosevelt asked her to do press for her Democratic Reform Movement, a task she gladly accepted. This relationship would put her in the sight lines of other influential people.

Joan then applied for a new, higher-paying opportunity with a new station in Boston and though the press position was filled, the head of the station gave her an opportunity to be a producer for one of the shows. 'Court of Reason' paid less, required longer hours and was a complete departure from anything else on television at the time. The success of the show came from Ms. Cooney's uncanny ability to pluck future news makers from obscurity and provide them a spotlight. One of the first shows to interview Malcolm X was 'Court of Reason.'

Her successes at the station continued with other shows and other formats, none of which she felt fully called on her inexhaustible mental energy, or passion. That all kind of changed when having dinner with her husband and a few friends that worked for Carnegie Corporation. The topic turned to the problems with educating children at early stages. Mrs. Cooney found herself uncharacteristically interested and impassioned.

The passion of that evening would carry forth in her authoring a paper on the subject titled: The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education, which offered a few random ideas about using television to assist children in the school preparation. The paper would soon catch the eye of the U.S. Commissioner of Education and several other foundations across the country.

Two years later, after raising eight million dollars from several of those foundations, Ms. Cooney wrote a press-release in March 1968, using her own hand, announcing the formation of the Children's Television Workshop. They would spend the next 17 months developing their first project, targeted at those very children she had wrote about in her paper a few years back.

The show they created, now available in some 110+ countries around the world, was Sesame Street, easily the most important use of the television airwaves since it's inception.

Here's to Mrs. Cooney's and her colleagues imagination, fortitude and intellect in delivering, if nothing else, one hour of safe, useful television to families around the world. And in doing so, became a Mother to us all.

Happy 40th Birthday Sesame Street!

Let's Innovate America.



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