Cookie Monster, v. 1.0: The Wheel Stealer, seen here in Jim Henson's original doodle, was created for a never-aired snack-food commercial.
Jim Henson/The Jim Henson Company
This week, NPR's In Character takes a look at a deeply sensuous character who speaks to our most basic appetites and desires.
That's right: Cookie Monster.
He's always been blue, always been furry, always been voracious. But he — or at least his predecessor — didn't always eat cookies.
Years before Sesame Street, Muppet creator Jim Henson made a very similar monster who ate snack foods and computers in television commercials. The basic look and spirit were there, but the character we know today was still a ways off.
Enter puppeteer Frank Oz. For nearly 30 years, Henson and Oz were an extraordinary team. Cheryl Henson, Jim's daughter and the president of the Jim Henson Foundation, says the two men shared a subversive sense of humor. Their Muppets were regulars on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show.
It was later, on a Muppet game show, that the cookie-fixated creature we know emerged, Oz says. The winning contestant was offered the chance to choose a prize: a vacation, a new house, $10,000 cash, or a cookie. He chose the cookie — and the Cookie Monster was born.
"As opposed to many of us who need many things to try and make us happy, he only needs one thing, and that's a cookie," Oz says. "That is his one obsession, and he's insatiable."
Though Cookie Monster was the improvisational brainchild of several writers, producers and puppeteers, Oz is most often credited for his existence. The puppeteer, who also created Miss Piggy and Bert, was known for taking character development seriously — often refusing to break out of Cookie Monster's voice during writing sessions.
"Frank puts everything that you can into that part," says Sesame Street veteran Chris Cerf. "People have said this when they've analyzed it: It's really like Frank's id, with no control over it whatsoever."
But id, in the Cookie Monster sense at least, isn't a dark term.
"All of his monomania ... would not stop him from caring about someone else," says longtime Sesame Street writer Norman Stiles. "He's not gonna knock anybody over to get the cookie. He's gonna try to get around them to get the cookie. He's gonna beg for the cookie."
As part of their Healthy Habits for Life campaign, Sesame Street producers tried to rein in Cookie Monster's obsession a few years ago. Hootsy the Owl serenaded him with a little ditty called "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food." There were rumors that he'd be replaced by a Veggie Monster.
It wasn't true, but angry fans inundated the Sesame Workshop with letters, and more than 3,000 people signed an online petition.
"What's wrong with you people?" one of them wrote, "To quote the monster himself: 'C is for Cookie, and that's good enough for me!'"