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Lloyd Morrisett, co-creator of Sesame Street, dies at 93

Lloyd N. Morrisett, a psychologist and director of a foundation who, along with television producer Joan Ganz Cooney, created “Sesame Street,” the children’s television program that has taught generations of youth their numbers and letters and helped generations of adults raise their little ones who face the challenges of life. passed away at his home in San Diego on January 15. He turned 93.

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

Millions of children have grown up watching “Sesame Street” since it first appeared on public television on November 10, 1969, becoming international celebrities in the years that followed from the Muppets puppeteer Jim Henson created for the show. “Sesame Street” also featured a racially diverse cast of live actors interacting with the puppets and discussing matters from shoe-tie technique to the meaning of death.

Compared to the hulking yellow Big Bird, the ravenously hungry Cookie Monster, or the garbage can dweller Oscar the Grouch, Dr. Morrisett himself inconspicuous. A Yale-trained psychologist who served as vice president of the philanthropic Carnegie Corp., Dr. Morrisett – at least to the kids who watched “Sesame Street” – was an unseen but central force in the show.

In a statement posted on Facebook by the Sesame Workshop, the organization that Dr. Morrisett founded with Cooney in 1968 as the Children’s Television Workshop, Cooney said that “without Lloyd Morrisett there wouldn’t be Sesame Street.” He was the one, she said, who “came up with the idea of ​​using television to teach basic skills such as letters and numbers to preschoolers.”

Dr. Morrisett said the idea came to him one early Sunday in 1965 when he woke up to find his 3-year-old daughter Sarah standing in front of the television, eagerly awaiting the start of the morning cartoons. She was entranced, even hypnotized, by the test signal that filled the air before her show began.

“It struck me that there was something fascinating about television about Sarah,” author Michael Davis quoted Dr. Morrisett in the book “Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.” “What does a child do while watching the station identification signal? What does this mean?”

Not long after, Dr. Morrisett attended a dinner party at the home of Cooney, an educational television producer. “Do you think television can 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 formidable pair. While Cooney was preparing a report for the Carnegie Corp. – “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education” – which would form the philosophical foundation of their show, Dr. Morrisett went about getting 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 newspaper.” Using the medium of television, she and Dr. Morrisett, an educational program could help millions of children in the United States who entered school with little or no preparation.

Of particular concern were underprivileged children in urban areas and other marginalized communities who, as Dr. Morrisett had seen through his work at Carnegie Corp., were particularly difficult to reach.

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

The show was rigorously research-based, with psychologists and other experts on staff shaping the show’s material and the way it was presented. The show was full of jingles and rhymes, stories and fun, all to teach children in such a way that they hardly noticed they were learning.

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

“The goal,” he said, “was to get kids ready to go to school.”

Lloyd N. Morrisett – the middle initial stood for nothing – was born in Oklahoma City on November 2, 1929. He grew up in Yonkers, NY, where his father was an assistant superintendent of schools, and later in Los Angeles, where he became a professor at UCLA. The mother of dr. Morrisett was a housewife.

Dr. Morrisett received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1951 and a PhD in psychology from Yale University in 1956. He taught at the University of California at 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 president of the nonprofit Markle Foundation, where he used its donation to support the educational use of television and other media. He was a former board chairman of the 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 the recognition, in the company of a Muppet retinue of Elmo, Abby Cadabby and of course Big Bird.

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