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Will Lee (August 6, 1908 – December 7, 1982) was an Americanmarker actor who was known to many viewers for playing the store proprietor Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street, from the show's debut in 1969 until his death in 1982.

Early career

Lee was born in Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker and began his career as a character actor on stage. He was a member of the Group Theater in the 1930s and appeared in Johnny Johnson, Night Music, Boy Meets Girl, The Time of Your Life (as Willie the pinball machine addict) and other Broadwaymarker plays. He succeeded John Garfield as the lead in Golden Boy.

Lee was co-founder of the Theater of Action and a member of the Federal Theatre Project. During World War II, he served in Army Special Services in Australia and Manilamarker and was cited twice for directing and staging shows for troops overseas, as well as teaching acting classes. After the war, he appeared Off Broadway in Norman Mailer's Deer Park (as movie mogul Teppis) and on Broadwaymarker in The Shrike, Once Upon a Mattress. Carnival!, Incident At Vichy and The World of Sholom Aleichem.

Blacklist and Teaching

Lee also began appearing in films, including bit parts in Casbah, A Song Is Born, Little Fugitive and according to Sesame Street Unpaved, Saboteur. Will Lee was blacklisted as an alleged communist and barred from films and on television for five years during the Red Scare, according to members of his family. He had been active in the Actors Workshop and had been an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1950 investigating show business. At the end of that period, in 1956, he landed the role of Grandpa Hughes in the soap opera As The World Turns, before finally being cast as Mr. Hooper.

He taught at the American Theatre Wing for nine years (where his students included James Earl Jones) as well as at the New School for Social Research, Boston Universitymarker and the Uta Hagen-Herbert Berghof Studio. In addition, he conducted his own acting classes. Outside of Sesame Street, later roles included television movies and a supporting role as the judge in Sidney Lumet's 1983 film Daniel (with Mandy Patinkin, Ed Asner, and Peter Friedman). He also worked in commercial, including a spot for Atari, as a grandfather learning to play Pac-Man from his granddaughter.

Impact of Mr. Hooper

In 1969, he began acting the part of Mr. Hooper on the children's show Sesame Street. "He gave millions of children the message that the old and the young have a lot to say to each other," said Joan Ganz Cooney, president of the Children's Television Workshop. The New York Times reported that on Sesame Street, Will Lee's Mr. Hooper ranked ahead of all live cast members in recognition by young audiences, according to a survey. His bowtie and hornrimmed reading glasses became his trademark.

In a November 1970 TIME article, following the show's first season, Lee recalled his feelings about the show:

In addition to being a staple of Sesame Street for over ten years, Lee portrayed Mr. Hooper in television specials (Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, A Special Sesame Street Christmas), guest appearances (Evening at Pops: 1971), stage appearances, countless record albums, and parades, including the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was revealed in the Christmas Eve on Sesame Street special in 1978 that the character of Mr. Hooper is Jewish, as was Lee. Lee taped his final segments as Mr. Hooper in November 1982, but his death would become the focal point of Episode 1839, in which Mr. Hooper's death is explained to Big Bird.

According to his obituary in The New York Timesas he became known on Sesame Street, children would approach him on the street and ask, "How did you get out of the television set?"' or whisper, "I love you." "Apart from the joy of knowing that you are helping so many kids, the recognition is heartwarming," Lee was quoted as saying in 1981.

Death of "Mr. Hooper"

When Lee died of a heart attack in 1982, aged 74, 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.

Episode 1839, now known to children and fans as "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" aired on November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day), and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.

See also


  1. Jewish United Fund (accessed October 14, 2008). The Christmas special can be seen on Youtube, and in Part 4 character Bob wishes Mr. Hooper a Happy Hanukkah.

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