"Cracks" is an animated musical insert produced for Sesame Street in the 1970s.
A young girl is unable to go outside to play because of the rain, and so she imagines the cracks in her wall form a camel. The camel takes her on an adventure through the wall where she meets a hen and a monkey, also made out of cracks. They soon encounter the "Crack Master," an angry creature that tries to scare them but ultimately ends up destroying the plaster around it as a result of being too mean. The camel returns the girl to her room and, seeing the rain has stopped, she goes outside to play while hoping to see the cracks again another day. The CTW archival notes for Episode 0979 at the University of Maryland describe the short as teaching "Divergent Thinking," the process of generating creative ideas using many possible solutions.
The segment's first appearance was in Episode 0818. It remained in circulation as one of the show's recurring animated segments until 1980, its last known appearance being Episode 1430. However, the insert was later dubbed and aired on several episodes of Plaza Sésamo in the 1990s.
In the years since its last appearance on the show, "Cracks" gathered a cult following on the internet due to its relative obscurity and the mystery of who created it.
The Search for the Missing Short
On September 20, 2008, cartoonist Jennifer Bourne posted about "The Crack Monster!" on her blog Tail O' the Rat. The post was an illustrated recollection of Cracks, which Bourne had been trying to find for some time but could only find other internet users who also remembered it. Soon, a small conglomeration of people trying to find the Cracks short formed, although they had little success.
One of them, voiceover actor Jon Armond (who had been searching for Cracks for several decades), eventually received a fax from an untraceable number offering to send him a copy of the short on the condition that he not share it publicly. Armond agreed, and shortly after received an envelope containing a DVD with the short. Although he privately showed the recording to Bourne and some fans, and even screened it at an event, he kept his contractual obligation and did not release the short to the public. Nonetheless, Armond made a 2009 audio documentary describing the short in detail with a recreated soundtrack.
Daniel Wilson (founder of the Lost Media Wiki) continued his search for another copy that could be released to the public, ultimately receiving his own recording of Cracks in December 2013 via an anonymous email. Wilson subsequently posted the video on YouTube. Bourne confirmed the copy Wilson has is different from Armond's, noting Armond's tape appeared to have been taken out of an episode due to a short, two-second appearance of Bert and Ernie right before the clip (possibly Episode 0848), whereas Wilson's recording appears to come from a film archive due to it having a title card. The title card, which confirms the segment's title, sports the production code "06-0431," suggesting it was produced for Season 6.
Studio 360 Investigation
In 2019, following the internet's reaction to the discovery of "Cracks," Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen began an investigation into who created the segment. He spoke directly with Sesame Street executive producer Benjamin Lehmann, who showed the insert was easily accessible in Sesame Street’s digital archive. Lehmann did not know why the short became so obscure, but noted the short was in circulation during an economic recession when houses were not in the best shape: a cartoon set in a home with cracks in the walls ran the risk of seeming insensitive. He also suggested the liberal use of the term "crack" could have been viewed as inappropriate during the War on Drugs in the 1980s.
Lehmann found a studio called "P. Imagination" animated the insert, but could not find any further information. Andersen noted the name was similar to "Imagination, Inc.," the animation studio run by Sesame Street animator Jeff Hale, but privately doubted the short was Hale's work. He could not follow up, however, as Imagination, Inc. closed in 1979 and Hale died in 2015. After some further investigation, Joe Hennes gave Andersen the credits for the music: saxophonist Mel Martin, radio producer Peter Scott, and vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz, the former lead singer of the experimental rock band The United States of America.
Moskowitz, who now works as a music teacher in California, was unaware of the short's cult following until Andersen contacted her for an interview. She provided information on the recording of the music, which she dubbed "the most goddamn strange recording session I ever attended": Moskowitz performed the vocals by improvising the melody where she felt it was appropriate in the text, and Martin added music to her narration. Moskowitz could not tell Andersen who animated the short, but remembered a woman whose name she could not recall (besides being "vaguely hippy-ish") was present at the recording session. She suspected the woman was either the animator or someone from the animation studio.
Who Made It?
As of 2019, it is still not known who or what studio animated "Cracks." Animators who confirmed the short is not their work include the following:
- Cosmo Anzilotti
- CTW Archive notes for Episode 0979.
- "The Crack Monster!" Tail O' the Rat.
- "How an Internet Obsession Resurrected a Creepy, Long-Lost Sesame Street Cartoon." Slate.
- "Come visit the Cracks...!" Tail O' the Rat.
- The Crack Monster: The mystery behind the creepiest cartoon on ‘Sesame Street’. Studio 360.
- Letter from Cosmo Anzilotti to Daniel Wilson, founder of Lost Media Wiki.
- Private correspondence with Muppet Wiki co-founder Scott Hanson.