‘Sesame Street’ co-creator Lloyd Morrisett dies at 93

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Lloyd N. Morrisett, a psychologist and foundation executive who partnered with television producer Joan Ganz Cooney to create “Sesame Street,” the children’s television show that taught generations of young people their numbers and letters, and helped generations of adults lead their little ones through life’s challenges, died Jan. 15 at his home in San Diego. He was 93 years old.

His daughter Julie Morrisett confirmed his death but did not name a cause.

Millions of children have grown up watching “Sesame Street” since its public television debut on Nov. 10, 1969, making international celebrities in the years since the Muppets that puppeteer Jim Henson created for the show. “Sesame Street” also featured a racially diverse cast of live actors who interacted with the puppets, talking about issues ranging from shoe-lacing technique to the meaning of death.

Compared to the colossal yellow Big Bird, the voraciously hungry Cookie Monster or the garbage can dweller Oscar the Grouch, Dr. Morrisett has kept a low profile. A Yale-trained psychologist and vice president of the philanthropic society Carnegie Corp., Dr. Morrisett was — at least to the kids watching “Sesame Street” — an unseen but central force on the show.

In a statement posted on Facebook by the Sesame Workshop, the organization Dr Morrisett founded in 1968 with Cooney as Children’s Television Workshop, Cooney said that “Without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no Sesame Street. “. It was he, she says, who “came up with the idea of ​​using television to teach preschoolers basic skills, like letters and numbers.”

Dr Morrisett said the idea came to him early one Sunday in 1965, when he awoke to find his 3-year-old daughter Sarah staring at the television, eagerly awaiting the start of the morning cartoons. She was mesmerized, even mesmerized, by the test signal filling the air before her broadcast began.

“It struck me that there was something fascinating about Sarah about television,” said author Michael Davis quoting Dr. Morrisett in the book “Street Gang: The Complete Sesame Street Story.” . “What does a child do who watches the station identification signal? What does it mean?”

Shortly after, Dr. Morrisett attended a dinner at Cooney’s, an educational television producer. “Do you think television could be used to teach young children? he asked her, according to Davis’ account.

“I don’t know,” Cooney said, “but I’d like to talk about it.”

They made a terrific duo. As Cooney prepared a report for Carnegie Corp. – “Potential Uses of Television in Early Education” – which would form the philosophical foundation of their show, Dr. Morrisett strove to secure grants from his own organization, as well as from the federal government. , the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation.

Cooney’s report noted that “more households have televisions than bathtubs, telephones, vacuum cleaners, toasters, or a regular daily newspaper.” Harnessing the medium of television, she and Dr. Morrisett argued that an educational program could help millions of children across the United States who entered school with little or no preparation.

Disadvantaged children in urban areas and other marginalized communities were of particular concern and, as Dr. Morrisett had found in his work at the Carnegie Corp., were particularly hard to reach.

“We found that these kids would start school three months late and by the end of first grade a year late,” Dr. Morrisett told NPR years later. “I was wondering if television could be used to help children in school.”

The show was rigorously research-based, with psychologists and other experts on staff to help shape the show’s material and the way it was presented. The show was filled with jingles and rhymes, stories and entertainment, all to teach children in such a way that they barely noticed they were learning.

“Sesame Street” has become a mainstay of public television and, for the past 53 years, the longest-running children’s program on American television. Dr Morrisett chaired the workshop from 1968 to 2000.

“The goal,” he said, “was to have children entering school ready to succeed.”

Lloyd N. Morrisett – the middle initial meant nothing – was born in Oklahoma City on November 2, 1929. He grew up in Yonkers, NY, where his father was Assistant Superintendent of Schools, and later in Los Angeles, where he became a professor at UCLA. Dr. Morrisett’s mother was a housewife.

Dr. Morrisett earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1951 and a doctorate in psychology from Yale University in 1956. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley before moving to New York to work at the Social Science Research Council and then the Carnegie Corp.

From 1969 to 1998, Dr. Morrisett served as president of the nonprofit Markle Foundation, where he used his endowment to support educational uses of television and other media. He was a former chairman of the board of Rand Corp.

Dr. Morrisett’s survivors include his wife of 70 years, the former Mary Pierre, of San Diego; two daughters, Sarah Morrisett Otley of Farmington, Maine, and Julie Morrisett of Oakland, California; and two grandchildren.

In 2019, “Sesame Street” became the first television program to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. Along with Cooney, Dr. Morrisett accepted recognition, along with a Muppet sequel of Elmo, Abby Cadabby and, of course, Big Bird.

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