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Mr. Hooper facts for kids

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Harold Hooper
Sesame Street character
TV hoopers candy store.jpg
Mr. Hooper in his store
First appearance November 10, 1969
Last appearance 1983
Portrayed by Will Lee
Information
Aliases Mr. Hooper (often mispronounced by Big Bird as "Cooper," "Looper," etc.)
Species Human
Gender Male

Mr. Harold Hooper (played by Will Lee) was one of the first four human characters to appear on the television series Sesame Street. Created by producer and writer Jon Stone, Mr. Hooper is the original proprietor of Hooper's Store, the neighborhood variety store and combination diner/corner store that serves as a place for Muppets and humans to meet and interact. Lee, a character actor and instructor who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, was "perfectly cast" as Mr. Hooper. Mr. Hooper ranked first of all human characters of the show in recognition by young viewers. Mr. Hooper, who has been described as "slightly cranky but good-hearted" and "curmudgeonly", bridges the gap between the older generation and its young audience. Hooper's Store, "an idealized social institution", is an extension of his personality. He had a special relationship with the Muppet Big Bird.

At the time of Lee's death, instead of recasting the role, or explaining his departure by saying he had moved, quit or retired, the writers and producers of Sesame Street decided to create an episode that taught their young audience about the difficult topic of death. Research was conducted to ascertain the messages they wanted to convey about the topic, as well as the effect the episode would have on the young children who watched it. They were advised by experts in the fields of child psychology, child development, and religion. Studies conducted after the episode was produced showed that most children understood its messages about death, and that they experienced no long-term ill effects. The episode, written by head writer Norman Stiles, aired on Thanksgiving Day 1983; the cast and crew reported that filming it was an emotional and touching experience. The episode, which set the standard for dealing with difficult topics on children's television, was called heartbreaking yet affirming, and one of the proudest moments in the show's history.

Death of Mr. Hooper

When Will Lee died on December 7, 1982, instead of recasting the role for the character (replacing Will Lee with a new voice actor so Mr. Hooper could still be in the show) or explaining Mr. Hooper's departure (by saying that he had retired and/or moved away), the producers of Sesame Street decided to create an episode that taught their young audience about the difficult topic of death. According to CTW researcher Rosemarie Truglio and her colleagues, the episode was one of the many social issues relevant to preschoolers the show has dealt with throughout its history. Executive producer Dulcy Singer reported that they followed their instincts to be "honest and straightforward" and to "deal with it head-on".

Synopsis

The Sesame Street episode (#1839) in which the death of Mr. Hooper was discussed was structured as all episodes were structured at the time, with individual segments that took place on the main brownstone set and interrupted by inserts, or puppet skits, short films, and animations. The episode begins with a scene between Gordon (Roscoe Orman) and the Muppet Forgetful Jones (Richard Hunt). Gordon helps Forgetful remember something that had made him happy; as Davis states, "Later, Big Bird forgets something that makes him sad". After several inserts, Big Bird walks backward with his head between his legs; when Gordon asks him why, he answers, "Just because". Later, Big Bird listens to the adults conversing about a new baby who is due to visit Sesame Street with his mother.

Two segments later, Big Bird interrupts the adults—Maria (Sonia Manzano), David (Northern Calloway), Bob (Bob McGrath), Susan (Loretta Long), Gordon, Luis (Emilio Delgado), and Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall)—discussing politics by giving them pictures he had drawn of each of them. He gets to Mr. Hooper's picture, saying that he would give it to him when he returns. However, Maria explains to Big Bird about the irreversibility of death. Big Bird reacts by getting upset, expressing his confusion and sadness. The adults reassure him that they love him and will take care of him and David reveals that he would take over the store, Mr. Hooper having left it to him in his will. Big Bird asks, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" and Gordon answers, "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." Looking at Mr. Hooper's picture, Big Bird says, mispronouncing his name as he had done many times in the past, "I'm going to miss you, Mr. Looper." Maria tearfully corrects Big Bird and everyone gathers around him in support.

The episode ends with Big Bird hanging Mr. Hooper's picture near his nest. Luis knocks on his door to introduce the new baby, followed by the entire grown-up cast. Big Bird says, "You know what the nice thing is about new babies? One day they're not here, and the next day, here they are!" The cast collectively show affection to the baby as the show closes.

Research

Similar to what they had done with other social issues and in developing their curriculum, the CTW researched the topic of death and how preschoolers understand it. The first step in their research process was to assemble a team of experts, led by CTW research director Lewis Bernstein, in the fields of child psychology, child development, and religion. The team advised the show's writers and producers how to handle the topic, in what they called "a curriculum bath"; Bernstein described it in this way: "We bring in the experts to allow the writer to soak in expertise. We in Research bring in people to provide the information, and then the artistry of the writer takes over, as they integrate what they've heard". The experts advised the producers to provide their viewers with a sense of closure about Mr. Hooper's death. They decided not to focus on how Mr. Hooper died, since explaining that he was old and ill might increase children's fears about death. They chose to deal with his death in a single episode, and convey simple messages like: "Mr. Hooper is dead; Mr. Hooper will not be coming back; and Mr. Hooper will be missed by all". Gikow stated that the episode they created was an example of the writers and producers' skills as educators as well as entertainers.

Before the episode aired, the CTW conducted a series of studies to guide the writers and producers in creating the episode. Their goal was to answer four key questions: (1) Will children understand the messages they wanted to convey about death? (2) How attentive will they be to the storyline? (3) How will parents respond to the treatment of such a sensitive topic? and (4) Will children be disturbed by the messages, and if so, for how long? The researchers broke up children into three groups: children who only watched the scenes in which the storyline was played out and who were interviewed afterwards; children who watched the entire episode and whose attention was recorded while they viewed it; and children who watched the episode without the inserts, with their parents, who were interviewed 9 or 10 days later.

The researchers found that 73% of 4- and 5-year-olds in their study understood that Mr. Hooper was dead and that 88% of this group understood that he was not coming back, although only about one-fourth of the 3-year-old viewers responded correctly. Most of the 4- and 5-year-olds understood that Big Bird and the adults were sad. Most children (80%) were attentive during the episode. The parents interviewed had "overwhelmingly positive" reactions to the show, and that half reported that they had discussed death with their children after viewing it. None of the parents reported negative reactions from their children, either immediately after watching the episode or at a later time.

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