James Earl Jones (b. 1931) is an actor noted for his work on stage, film, and television, including the plays The Great White Hope and Fences; films such as Dr. Strangelove, Field of Dreams, and Patriot Games; and providing the voices of Darth Vader in the Star Wars series and Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King.
Jones is considered by Sesame Workshop to be the first celebrity guest on Sesame Street, since inserts of the actor reciting the alphabet and counting numbers appeared in the unbroadcast test pilots and heavily influenced the show's pedagogical models. These inserts were later included in first season episodes, beginning with episode 0002. However, Jones didn't originally think the show would last and thought the Muppets were the problem; he told Matt Robinson that "this Muppet business has got to go, kids will be terrified."
In 1978, Jones appeared on Sesame Street in Episode 1148 as a movie star who visits Hooper's Store in search of the perfect egg cream. In the story, Mr. Hooper (played by Will Lee, who studied acting with Jones), slowly recognizes him as a famous movie star, "I've seen almost every picture you've made!" (As a big fan, Mr. Hooper makes no mention of Jones's segments from Sesame Street’s early years where the cast would sometimes transition to his recitation of the alphabet by name. One of which, in Episode 0077, includes Mr. Hooper so furious over the misplacement of his glasses that he can't even think of the alphabet. Gordon urges him to watch James Earl Jones to help.)
Jones hosted the 10th anniversary Sesame Street special, titled A Walking Tour of Sesame Street in 1979. He returned to Sesame Street in 2004, taping a "My Favorite Sesame Street Moments" intro for Season 35.
The James Earl Jones Factor
CTW consultant Gerald S. Lesser and other researchers paid particularly close attention to James Earl Jones' appearance, in terms of children's response and the effectiveness of his alphabet recitation. Lesser described the basic performance as follows:
During the recitation, each letter appeared briefly near the actor's head prior to its being named, remains for the recitation and then disappears, and a pause in both Jones' speech and the visuals occurs before the next letter. The result of this particular staging prompted a particular positive response from viewers that producer Samuel Y. Gibbon, Jr. and research director Edward L. Palmer, as well as Dr. Lesser, termed "the James Earl Jones effect." The first time a child sees the performance, he responds to the invitation to say the alphabet along with the actor. Upon later viewings, the children would name the letter as soon as it appeared, but before it was named by Jones. Further repetition encouraged children to shout out the letter even before it appears. The "James Earl Jones effect" thus demonstrated to Sesame Street's producers and curriculum advisors the value of both repetition and anticipation, and supplied proof that Sesame Street could promote interactive learning as opposed to merely passive viewing.
- Borgenicht, David, Sesame Street Unpaved. New York: Hyperion Books, 1998.
- "From Darth Vader to Big Daddy, James Earl Jones remains an icon" by Anthony Venutolo, March 1, 2008
- YouTube video with identification in description and comments by Kevin Weist, song writer and vocalist. February 4, 2011.