The answer is he – the Sesame Street character – definitely was, but the better question to ask would be: “when did you found out that Mr. Hooper is Jewish?
By: Ringo Bones
Of all the human casts of the iconic children’s educational TV series, those who were there since the show first aired back in 1969 would probably cite Mr. Hooper as the most fascinating. The most probable reason is, is that the “powers-that-be” at the Children’s Television Workshop allowed his character to slowly evolve and reveal since he first appeared in 1969. Kids who were closely following Sesame Street since 1969 to about the mid 1970s would probably notice that Mr. Hooper – like the Children’s Television Workshop advisor Gerald S. Lesser made him out to be – as someone who is “slightly mean and abrasive but with a poorly hidden nice streak”. This was largely due to Big Bird’s inability to say storekeeper Mr. Hooper’s name properly.
Even though it was only around the mid 1970s until towards the end of the 1980s that Sesame Street was gradually building up for world wide recognition, these were by no means politically stable times when it comes to television viewing when compared to the first decade of the 21st Century. Most viewers in the Philippines despite lucky enough to view that Big Bird Went To China special just a week after it aired in the United States, most Sesame Street fans here didn’t manage to watch aspects of Mr. Hooper’s life on Sesame Street well until 1991 onwards via VHS and Betamax tapes.
That Sesame Street special where it was explained with honesty to kids that Mr. Hooper had passed away that won a daytime Emmy only became general knowledge here in the Philippines at about the same time when a post Operation Desert Storm euphoria was sweeping around the globe back in 1991. On Mr. Hooper being Jewish – probably around 1993 and it wasn’t until 1994 that I saw that official CTW book “Christmas Eve On Sesame Street” being displayed in our neighborhood’s second hand book store that I managed to read first hand that Mr. Hooper is Jewish and celebrated Chanukah. By the way, the official Children’s Television Workshop book was based on the 1978 special Christmas Eve On Sesame Street were Mr. Hooper’s was revealed to be Jewish. But in actuality, Mr. Hooper’s performer – the actor Will Lee who passed away back in 1982 of a heart attack – isn’t Jewish.
When It comes to Mr. Hooper’s full name, it wasn’t until the advent of Web 2.0 that I saw that episode where Mr. Hooper got his GED certificate from attending night school that his full name was revealed as Harold Hooper. Maybe we should be thankful of the modern internet for without it, most obscure Sesame Street trivia will remain a mystery to most of us.