Jeff Moss (June 19, 1942 - September 24, 1998) was a writer, composer, and lyricist for Sesame Street. His most notable songs include "The People in Your Neighborhood", "I Love Trash", and "Rubber Duckie", the latter of which achieved widespread fame when it was released as a single reaching number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1970. Moss also served as head writer for a few seasons during the early 1970s. Moss is credited for helping establish the characters Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch.
Moss' work for Henson and the Muppets outside of Sesame Street include composing songs and score for The Muppets Take Manhattan and writing music and lyrics for the television special The Christmas Toy.
Jeffrey Arnold Moss was born in New York City. His father, Arnold Moss, was a Shakespearen actor, college drama teacher, and creator of crossword puzzles for the New York Times, and his mother, Stella Reynolds, had given up acting to become a soap opera writer. Moss displayed an appreciation for music and literacy at a young age. His parents kept recordings of classical music and Broadway show tunes around their house. He loved reading, and remembered discovering crossword puzzles for the first time while on a road trip. On his love for words: "I have always loved them and I still love them. When I'm sitting around, I play with them in my head, the way other people think about - I don't know - cars. I think a certain amount of that is just born into you. I think I would love words no matter what I did for a living - if I were a factory worker, or a doctor, or whatever."
Moss studied at the prestigious Browning High School, where he was number 1 in his class. He then transitioned to Princeton University, where he joined the Triangle Club, a student-run musical comedy group that toured major theaters across the country. Moss wrote the book and lyrics, and appeared in two of the Triangle Club revues.
After graduating from Princeton, Moss was offered two jobs at CBS as a writer for its news department or as production assistant on Captain Kangaroo. Moss chose the latter, the reason of which he explained in hindsight, "I've seen the news". Moss' stint on Kangaroo was cut short when he was called to serve in the army. While on a bus ride to a training session, he met future Sesame Street colleague Christopher Cerf. Moss returned to Kangaroo six months later as a staff writer, scripting sketches and songs until 1968. Among his contributions to the show is the song "When Ping Pong Balls Are Falling".
In 1969, Moss joined the writing staff of Sesame Street, where he reunited with Captain Kangaroo alumni David Connell (executive producer), Sam Gibbon (producer), and Jon Stone (producer/head writer). Moss was also recruited by music director Joe Raposo to write songs. The first song Moss composed for the show, written to fulfill a script assignment to teach the number 5, was "Five People in My Family," performed by the Anything Muppets. Moss' other musical contributions such as the recurring "People in Your Neighborhood" song and Oscar's "I Love Trash" became enduring classics, but it was "Rubber Duckie", Ernie's ode to his favorite bath time toy, that received mainstream pop status. Moss also played a key role in the development of two major Muppet characters, helping establish the personality of Oscar the Grouch, and giving a previously unnamed voracious blue monster an obsession for cookies.
Moss became head writer of Sesame Street for the next few seasons, succeeding Jon Stone. Moss explains his approach to writing for children: "I don't look at writing for children as that different than writing for anybody else. The emotions that you write about are for the most part the same as you would write about for anybody. You just do it with a vocabulary of experience that children will understand." Moss was originally going to resign as head writer after season 3, using the extra time to work on his own theatrical projects. Ultimately, none of his proposed projects got past development stage. In the next two seasons of Sesame Street (both of which would be his last during the decade), Moss slowly shifted away from supervising the writing staff, eventually giving back the role of head writer to Stone.
Moss left Sesame Street in 1974, although in the interim, he produced several Sesame record albums, writing linking material and new songs (some of which would be repurposed on the show itself). Moss returned full-time as a staff writer and composer in 1982, and would remain with the show until 1998.
In addition to writing and composing, Moss occasionally lent his voice to several Muppet characters, including namesakes Big Jeffie, the bass singer of Little Jerry and the Monotones (for whom Moss wrote most of their songs), and Jeffy, who sang "I'm Going to Get My Hair Cut" with Cookie Monster. He also voiced a Lavender back-up singer for Little Chrissy and the Alphabeats, and was also heard as the dove in the animated segment "Above It All."
In the intervening years away from his full-time Sesame work, Moss kept himself busy with numerous side projects, branching out into areas beyond television. He wrote the musical Double Feature with Mike Nichols and Tommy Tune.
For Henson and the Muppets, Moss composed songs and score for The Muppets Take Manhattan, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Original Song Score; he lost the award to Prince for Purple Rain. He wrote music and lyrics for the television special The Christmas Toy. Moss also wrote the songs "One Little Star" and "Upside Down World" for the first Sesame Street feature film Follow that Bird.
Moss collaborated with composer Stanley Silverman on A Good Life, a one-act musical theater piece based on Igor Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale" for the Kennedy Center's "Imagination Celebration" children's arts festival in 1986. He wrote the song "My Star" for the 1985 telefilm Ewoks: The Battle for Endor and composed songs for the stop-motion animated series Bump in the Night.
Moss wrote several children's books with illustrator Chris Demarest. The Butterfly Jar, a collection of poems, includes three of Moss' Sesame Street songs: "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon", "Lonesome Joan", and "Nasty Dan". The poem "Not the Best Feeling" is a reworked version of "Mad". His other book of poems, Bone Poems, inspired by dinosaurs and early mammals on display at the American Museum of Natural History, includes illustrations by Sesame illustrator Tom Leigh.
Moss died on September 24, 1998 at the age of 56 following complications from colon cancer. On the same day of his death, he had been working on the song "You and You and Me", making it the last song he ever wrote.
In 2007, Princeton University ranked Moss as one of its 25 most influential alumni, citing the effect of his songs and characters on the Sesame Street audience.
A chair at New York City's Hayden Planetarium is dedicated to Moss, immortalized with his name, dates of birth and death and the caption "Beloved Star".
According to Michael Davis, author of the book Street Gang: “In his prime, Moss was a force of nature, a wiry, strong, wild-haired, sometimes combustible, not always loveable, but dependably brilliant television writer, playwright, poet, composer, and onetime actor.”
Joan Ganz Cooney describes Moss as "a sort of child himself, and I don’t mean he had a way with children. I mean he, himself, was a kind of a child. He could be very difficult, very prickly. He could write anything, he could imagine anything. He himself was a very sober guy, not funny at all ... I loved him.”
Esther Newberg, Moss' friend and literary agent, remembers Moss as "a world-class perfectionist ... never compromising his sense of the way a character should act or feel or talk just for the sake of a convenient rhyme. And right to the end, he always found time to share his insights and his flawless editor's touch with his colleagues."
See also: The Muppets Take Manhattan soundtrack"
Sesame Street episodes written by Moss include (an added R indicates a main storyline repeat):
Sesame Street segments written by Moss include:
- Milk and cookie (First: Episode 0011)
- The King and the Fireman (First: Episode 0278)
- The Geefle and the Gonk (First: Episode 0452)
- The King's Nose (First: Episode 0537)
- The Monster's Three Wishes (First: Episode 0634)
- The King's Apples (First: Episode 2295)
- People in My Family (1971)
- People in Your Neighborhood (1971)
- The Sesame Street Storybook (1971)
- Cookie Monster's Circle Book (1972)
- The Sesame Street 1, 2, 3 Storybook (1973)
- The Sesame Street ABC Storybook (1974)
- Oscar's Book (1975)
- The Sesame Street Book of Fairy Tales (1975)
- Oscar-the-Grouch's Alphabet of Trash (1977)
- The Sesame Street Bedtime Storybook (1978)
- The Sesame Street Library (1978-1979)
- People in My Family (1983)
- The Sesame Street Treasury (1983)
- The Songs of Sesame Street in Poems and Pictures (1983)
- The Sesame Street Book of Poetry (1992)
- I Don't Want to Live on the Moon (2001)
Moss is credited as a writer on all albums, unless noted otherwise.
- The Sesame Street Book & Record
- The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record Album
- The Muppet Alphabet Album
- Sesame Street LIVE! - also directed
- ¡Sesame Mucho!
- Aren't You Glad You're You? - Musical Arrangements
- Happy Birthday from Sesame Street
- What Time Is It on Sesame Street?
- Fair Is Fair - Executive Producer
- Every Body's Record
- The People in Your Neighborhood
- Exercise! - Project Consultant
- For the First Time
- Sesame Street Sing-Along!
- My Sesame Street Record
- Jim Henson: A Sesame Street Celebration - Music Consultant
- Something About the Author Volume 73
- Moss, Jeff, The Sesame Street Songbook introduction
- Alumni Adventurers: "The Rubber Duckie Man" Princeton Alumni Weekly Volume 72, March 7, 1972
- "Sesame Street to Kennedy Center" Ocala Star-Banner, October 30, 1985
- Festival Attractions.com - Jeff Moss biography (archived)
- "ON SESAME STREET WITH: Jeff Moss; Making a Splash With Children From Morning Till Bathtime" New York Times, January 6, 1993
- "Sesame Street Storyteller" Washington Post, October 24, 1992
- Davis, Michael. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, Viking, 2008, p. 334
- Martin, Douglas. "Jeffrey Moss, 56, Writer and Father of Cookie Monster, Dies." The New York Times. September 26, 1998
- Davis, Michael. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, Viking, 2008, p. 332
- Princeton Alumni Weekly's 25 Most Influential - #12: Jeffrey Moss
- episode scripts via a trusted source