RooseveltFranklin
PERFORMER Matt Robinson voice
DEBUT 1970
PATTERN Reddish-Magenta
DESIGN Jim Henson designer
  Caroly Wilcox builder
RooseveltR
Susan Gordon Roosevelt Franklin

Susan (Loretta Long) and Matt Robinson (Gordon) with Roosevelt and his mother.

Roosevelt-Peetes

Roosevelt with Holly Robinson Peete and her brother Matt on Meet the Peetes.

Paul Scheer - Sesame50

Roosevelt Franklin with Paul Scheer and others taping material for the 50th anniversary of the series.

RFES-HighLow

Roosevelt with his pupils at Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School.

Roosevelt Franklin appeared on Sesame Street from Season 1 (1970) to Season 7 (1975). It goes without saying that his name is simply a reversal of that of president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The precocious Roosevelt Franklin attended Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School, where he taught the class as often as not. He taught concepts like family, pride, respect, geography and not drinking poison. Roosevelt was a cool kid who loved to scat, rhyme and sing the blues. His mother was proud of him.

In addition to his elementary school, he had his own stadium, Roosevelt Franklin Stadium, where he coached Headball. Roosevelt has a younger sister, who wishes that she could go to school like he does.[1]

Matt Robinson, who played Gordon during the first three seasons, created the character and performed Roosevelt's voice.[2] Frank Oz was Roosevelt's original puppeteer.[3]

For a while, Roosevelt was considered one of the main characters on Sesame Street. He even had his own record album, The Year of Roosevelt Franklin. Despite significant popularity, he was dropped from the cast following letters complaining of a negative African-American stereotype, and because his rowdy elementary school did not set a good example for children.[4] However, Roosevelt continued to make appearances in storybooks, as late as 1996. Roosevelt can also be seen in the large crowd of Muppets at the end of The Muppet Movie, along with his mother.

In 2009, a behind-the-scenes photograph of guest star Paul Rudd playing with the puppet was featured in Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street.

Roosevelt Franklin made a cameo in a Episode 4509 in 2014. He also made cameo appearances in the background of a Smart Cookies episode, "Making Whoopie Pie in the Library," alongside Betty Lou. In 2018, Roosevelt popped up during Caroll Spinney's retirement party, performed by Ryan Dillon.

In 2019, Roosevelt began making his first new speaking appearances in decades in productions related to the show's 50th anniversary, voiced by Chris Knowings and puppeteered by Ryan Dillon.[3]. He first returned in a 2019 episode of Meet the Peetes, in which Holly Robinson Peete and her brother Matt (daughter and son of Matt Robinson) visited the set. He additionally made a brief, speaking cameo in a September 2019 "Sesame Street Memory" video with Paul Scheer, and appeared in Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary Celebration.[5]

Criticism

Roosevelt Franklin was the source of criticism by some African-American intellectuals who scrutinized the character for signs that he was too black, or not black enough.

For example, in a 1973 issue of literary digest Black World, the article "Sesame Street: A Linguistic Detour for Black-Language Speakers" took Sesame to task for the way that black characters on the show spoke: "The fact that Black Language is a legitimate linguistic system is not recognized on Sesame Street... Adherents to the fallacious assumption that poor Black children are verbally destitute, the producers of Sesame Street attempt to eradicate what they perceive as a "communicative deficit" by subjecting their audience to large doses of middle-class verbiage... An analysis of the content of Sesame Street will reveal that only a token effort is made to acknowledge that some Black people speak differently than white people and that this effort, in fact, constitutes a gross misrepresentation of Black Language."

The article took issue with the language used in a sketch in which Roosevelt's mother asks Roosevelt to spell his name:

Even a cursory analysis of the preceding transcription reveals that Matt Robinson and Loretta Long do not employ Black Language in portraying Roosevelt and his mama. Usages such as "she says" (versus "she say"), "who was to blame" (versus "who be to blame" and "an L" (versus "a L") make it apparent that the producers of Sesame Street confuse Black Language with what William Stewart describes as a "stage Negro dialect" which "... is little more than standard English with a slightly ethnicized or southernized pronunciation, reinforced by insertion of such general nonstandardisms as ain't and the double negative, and perhaps a sprinkling of southern or inner-city Negro lexical usages like honey child or man."

The fact that Roosevelt says "po'rly" or that Mama says "right on" (a phrase whose cultural-linguistic significance has been destroyed through its co-optation by whites) or that southernized inflections are employed in portraying these characters does not make them Black Language speakers...

It becomes apparent that it is unreasonable to assume that any educational program devised by the oppressor can do anything other than serve his interests... The only effective educational program for the majority of Black children in this country must be one devised and controlled by Blacks who, although having acquired certain technical skills, continue to identify with the interests of the Black masses rather than with European interests. Language intervention programs like Sesame Street are merely deterrents or detours on the road to this goal.[6]

Sketches

See Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School and Headball

Songs

Roosevelt-Franklin
Franklin Doctor
Roosevelt-Franklin-card

Book appearances

See also

Sources

  1. A Day on Sesame Street, Western Publishing, 1979. Drawings by Irra Duga.
  2. Children's Television Workshop Season 2 press release, November 1970: "A versatile artist, Robinson created the character Roosevelt Franklin which Muppeteer Jim Henson has translated into an engaging black puppet figure. Robinson has written several songs for Roosevelt and voices the character as well."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ryan Dillon on Instagram (April 23, 2019)
  4. Borgenicht, David. Sesame Street Unpaved page 135
  5. Ryan Dillon on Instagram (November 2, 2019)
  6. Stewart, Barbara H. "Sesame Street: A Linguistic Detour for Black-Language Speakers", Black World. August 1973.

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