In 2009, we put together an anthology of Sesame Street’s then 40 year history. The end product of this anthology was a coffee table book, “Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street.” The book is extensive – a full color, 300-plus page masterpiece. The amount of research it took to produce the book? A years-long endeavor, involving multiple people digging through a seemingly endless trove of boxes and bins — all of which, collectively, promised to tell the complete story of Sesame Street’s history.
Except there was one item missing.
In the summer of 1969, Sesame Workshop (then Children’s Television Workshop) created an episode of Sesame Street — an unaired test pilot shown only to a focus group of children. Later that year, on November 10, 1969 after incorporating the data gathered by this test pilot and many other sources, the first ever episode of Sesame Street – Episode 0001 — debuted.
The actor who played Gordon in the Episode 0001 was Matt Robinson, who held the role through season 3. In seasons four and five, Hal Miller took over. Since season six, Roscoe Orman has played the role. But the man who played Gordon in the unaired test pilot? We did not know who he was. And our records came up empty, the man’s identity, we feared, was lost to history.
On November 10, 2011 – our 42nd birthday – we decided to ask the Internet for help. And congratulations, Internet:
You found Gordon.
Gordon’s name was Garrett Hobart Saunders, an actor local to New York who primarily performed in traveling theater. Out of respect for the privacy of his family, we won’t be sharing the details of his life here. But the story as to how we found him – how you found him, well, here it goes.
We posted our call for help everywhere we could think of, starting with SesameStreet.org. We shared it across our social media accounts – Facebook (even on Elmo’s and Cookie Monster’s pages), Twitter, and Tumblr as well. And we posted it to Reddit, where it quickly hit the front page. Within hours, people were making suggestions, and within days, the story travelled across the web and across mediums. It even made a few television news shows, one of which ended up being the big break.
Mr. Saunders’ nephew saw a story of our search and immediately contacted his cousins – Garrett Saunders’ two daughters. Both women reached out to us later that day, providing us the photo above and the other information we needed. With their help, we were able to verify that Mr. Saunders was, in fact, the first Gordon.
We’d like to thank everyone who helped us spread the word and ultimately, solve our mystery. And thank you, too, to Garrett Hobart Saunders, for being part of Sesame Street’s history.
Posted on Friday, 9 December
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