Loretta Long (b. October 4, 1938) is an actress, singer, and educator who has played Susan on Sesame Street since the show's debut in 1969. In the earliest seasons, she also lent her voice to Muppet characters, including Roosevelt Franklin's Mother, Suzetta Something, one of the Anything Muppet backup singers in "Mah Na Mah Na", and the mother in "Five People in My Family", amongst others. In 2016, Long published her autobiography, My Best Friends Call Me Susan.
Born in Paw Paw, Michigan as Loretta Mae Moore, Long's father was a welder and her mother worked for Mary Kay Cosmetics. Her ambitious parents enabled her to attend Western Michigan University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in education and took theater classes on the side. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she continued to take acting classes while teaching English as a substitute in the city and Yonkers.
Long began her television career in 1967 on the variety series Soul!, which was produced at the New York public television station WNET. The series combined musical variety with frank talk on political and social issues affecting African-Americans, and played host to such performers as Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle.
In 1969, Long found Soul! set decorator Charles Rosen preparing a model of a street, and learned it was for a planned educational children's show. He encouraged Long to audition. She recalled the experience:
“So, I never could get Charlie Rosen to admit it, but he left out an essential piece of information. They wanted a Joan Baez-type folk guitar player... I looked more like Angela Davis than I looked like Joan Baez... I had big hair, short skirt, and show tunes. Well, I show up, and they said, 'Where's your guitar?' I said, "What guitar?' They said, 'Everybody here plays the guitar, so stand over there.'
Now, see, I always tell kids these are defining moments in your life. See, I could have got huffy and puffy and went back up to the Bronx, but I came all the way downtown in a cab to keep my Afro together, so I stood over there. So, I waited and waited and waited, and they were getting ready to leave. And I said, 'Uh, could I give my music to the piano player so I can sing for you?' They said, 'We didn't hire a piano player. Everybody here plays the guitar.' And I said, 'What?! But I came to sing for you.' So, very unenthusiastic, they said, 'OK, so sing.'
So my audition was I laid my music down... I started patting my foot, clapping my hands... [singing] 'I'm a little teapot, short and stout, here is my handle here is my spout.' And I looked right at the camera, and I said, 'Everybody sing.' And the little kids in the daycare, when they played the tape -- I said, 'Everybody sing, they all stood up and started to sing. So that -- I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career.”
While playing Susan on Sesame Street, Long also commuted to the University of Massachussetts on her days off, pursuing a doctorate in Urban Education. She received the Ph.D. in 1973, with a dissertation specifically examining the educational model used on the TV series, "Sesame Street": A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids. She also recorded her now-classic Susan Sings Songs from Sesame Street album, as well as a rare RCA single under her own name. As the seasons progressed, Long's portrayal of Susan changed, affected by the scripts and complaints from NOW, so she was no longer merely a dispenser of milk and cookies, but playing a working woman as well as a wife.
Outside of Sesame Street, Long has taught courses and served as a guest lecturer on such issues as women in the media and the relationship between children and television:
“I think TV is like fire. It's good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching. Don't turn it on because you are busy. I would like to see much less violence on TV cartoons; that really affects kids. But on the other hand, it can be a wonderful learning tool, as with Sesame Street.”
As a performer, Long has appeared in summer stock versions of Guys and Dolls and Sweet Charity and sung in The Vaudeville '80 tour. In film, she appeared in both Sesame Street movies, Follow That Bird and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, and had uncredited parts in Cotton Comes to Harlem, Husbands, and The Out of Towners. TV appearances, often accompanied by Big Bird, include The Dick Cavett Show, The Flip Wilson Show, You Bet Your Life, and The Today Show.
- ↑ Emmy TV Legends interview at 1:30 in part 1
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Karkabi, Barbara. "TV Educator Dr. Long has RX for Youths." The Houston Chronicle. December 11, 1994.
- ↑ The Tavis Smiley Show. November 09, 2004.
- ↑ Hendershot, Heather. Saturday Morning Censors. p. 152