Sonia Manzano: I Met A Girl Named Maria The actress best known for playing Maria on Sesame Street reflects on 44 years of being on the show, and leads a game for mother-and-son contestants on their Sesame Street expertise.
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Sonia Manzano: I Met A Girl Named Maria

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Sonia Manzano: I Met A Girl Named Maria

Sonia Manzano: I Met A Girl Named Maria

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

This is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and please welcome our very important puzzler. You know her as Maria from "Sesame Street," Sonia Manzano.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: All right, so I mention this off the top - I have to ask you, where is "Sesame Street"? Where is it?

SONIA MANZANO: "Sesame Street" is everywhere.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: I mean, it truly is. I've been to the Midwest in the middle of a farm field, and I've asked a little kid, where is "Sesame Street"? And they'll say, oh, it's just right there around the corner.

EISENBERG: But, like, Queens, the Bronx, Harlem.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: Oh, you mean specifically. I thought you meant metaphorically. Oh, it's in Manhattan. I would say that it was in Harlem. There's a street sign, the 110th Street, and so I think that's...

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. All right.

MANZANO: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Good. I'm going. Now, when I told some people that you were appearing on our show, they said, when I see her, I might cry, which I'm told is not an uncommon response.

MANZANO: I know. It's really an effect that I have on people...

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: ...And I'm trying to - you know, I'm trying to accept it, and I think that they see me, and I'm a catalyst. And all of a sudden, they're thrown back onto their mother's milky laps at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and watching letters and numbers. And I think that's what gets them right in the heart, and that's why they start to cry, whether they like their mother or not, I guess. I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: They liked you. (Laughter). Do people come up and ask you if you know the Count?

MANZANO: Yeah, little kids do...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

MANZANO: ...You know, or - but adults that I went to college with will say, see that Maria, I knew her. And the kid will say, so? I know her, too.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: What up? (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Not impressed. And you have a new memoir coming out where you write all about your life called "Becoming Maria." Now, you were surrounded, as a child, with a lot of chaos and instability. Did you find solace in watching television?

MANZANO: I sure did. This is the television of the '50s. It was "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It To Beaver." And our life was like absolutely the opposite of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It To Beaver." And then when I got on "Sesame Street," I thought, this is cool. There's kids watching me, and I'm going to be for them what I needed to see. There's going to be calmness and beauty in a recognizable place for the children watching "Sesame Street."

EISENBERG: So - but wait a second. You're 21 years old. You're studying drama at Carnegie Mellon - right? - and you're in an off-Broadway production of "Godspell."

MANZANO: Yes.

EISENBERG: And then you get a call to audition for "Sesame Street."

MANZANO: Yeah, the most important things happen to you when you're not paying the least bit of attention because it was one of my first auditions, and I went, oh, OK. You know, what the heck? I didn't know it was going to end up - I was going to blink and 44 years were going to go by.

EISENBERG: So it's changed so much over the years - matter of fact, they re-released some early episodes a few years ago, and they came with a parent advisory warning. I will read it. (Reading) These early "Sesame Street" episodes are intended for grown-ups and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child.

MANZANO: I know. It was a disclaimer because Cookie Monster had a pipe.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: And after he watched "Monsterpiece Theater," he would eat the pipe.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: So, you know, you have to be very mindful that those 4-year-olds out there do not eat that pipe that they're smoking.

EISENBERG: It was just darker.

MANZANO: It was just darker. It was gritty. It was a gritty place.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: They cleaned it up. That's why I related to it so much. I thought, wow, that's my neighborhood on television. How cool is that, you know?

EISENBERG: So now that you're retiring from the show, how do they deal with your departure on "Sesame Street"?

MANZANO: Well, as a matter of fact, what had really happened - and, like, I'll tell you this, but don't tell anybody, OK?

EISENBERG: No problem.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: What happened is that Luis and Maria had this terrible fight over why the toaster hadn't been fixed in 44 years.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: So then Oscar heard about it, and he asked Maria to move in with him.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: The thing is, he didn't ask her to marry him - just move in with him. So that's where things stand.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: All right. So, Sonia, we are going to subject you to your own ASK ME ANOTHER challenge later in the show. But right now, you have graciously agreed to help us out with a game about the street of sesame. So how about a hand for Sonia Manzano?

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: And let's bring out our lucky contestants Patty (ph) and Tommy Marr (ph).

(APPLAUSE)

MANZANO: Hello.

EISENBERG: Now, this is mother and son. What is your favorite memory of watching "Sesame Street" with your kids?

PATTY MARR: Mine was when Elmo had his rubber ducky in the tub because I would then, at the end of the meal and everything else, getting three kids ready to get ready for bed, start singing that song. And to make me shut up, they would get up and do what they were supposed to do.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Tommy, what's your favorite memory?

TOMMY MARR: I like the Count.

(LAUGHTER)

T. MARR: And how he would always, like, count and then be so proud of himself and go (imitating the Count) ha, ha, ha, ha.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I like - just a broad memory like that.

MANZANO: He likes to count things. Yep, yep, yep.

EISENBERG: So this game is called I Met A Girl Named Maria. We are going to walk down memory lane with Sonia about the life of Maria, and the winner will move on to our final round. You ready?

P. MARR: We're ready.

EISENBERG: All right. Here's your first one. Maria was just a teenager from Puerto Rico when she arrived on "Sesame Street." Her first job was working where? Was it, A, the flower shop; B, the library; or, C, Mr. Hooper's Store?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Tommy.

T. MARR: Mr. Hooper's Store.

EISENBERG: No. I'm sorry, Tommy. That is incorrect.

T. MARR: I'm sorry.

EISENBERG: That's OK, but you recognized Mr. Hooper's Store, I bet, and you got excited.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: There was a lending library where the site for The Fix-it Shop eventually came to be. There was a lending library, and that was my first job.

EISENBERG: And didn't your character work briefly as a construction worker?

MANZANO: Yes.

EISENBERG: That is kind of amazing.

MANZANO: That's right. I was a construction worker when feminism was first in the air. This was when women were burning bras. That was a long time ago. And I still don't understand what - I had to get on the girder and go like this. I'm sorry. I forgot it's radio. I'm waving my hand in the air.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: And that's what I had to do as Maria, but I never understood what that meant.

EISENBERG: But they were like...

MANZANO: Yeah, yeah, I did it anyway.

EISENBERG: OK, very good. All right, in 1988, Maria and Luis finally get married. Bob was the best man, and Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer played Luis's uncle. Which "Sesame Street" muppet served as the ringbearer?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Tommy.

T. MARR: Big Bird?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Big Bird was a very good guess, Tommy.

MANZANO: It was Elmo.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

MANZANO: And he's saying, (imitating Elmo singing) don't drop right, Elmo, don't drop the ring.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: It is fascinating that on the show, your life - as you move through your life, the show also let Maria moved through her life, like getting married, having a kid, aging publicly on television. That was ground breaking.

MANZANO: That's right. That's right. Other kids' shows, if you were an ingenue, you had to remain an ingenue. And then you'd get fired when you stopped being an ingenue. But not on "Sesame Street." We just age as much as we want to or not want to.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Did you go to the producers and say, listen, I'm having a kid; what are you going to do about it?

MANZANO: No, actually it was their idea, I really...

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: Now, wait a minute. Now, wait a minute. I didn't mean it like that.

(LAUGHTER)

MANZANO: But I actually fell in love, and I actually said I was going to get married. And they said, well, this might be a good opportunity to show kids real love and real relationships and amongst people - real people that are just like everybody else in America. And that's why I got married on the show right after I got married in real life.

EISENBERG: Maria, Luis and their daughter, Gabi, live at 123 Sesame Street. Gordon, Susan and their son, Miles, are on the ground floor, and Oscar lives in the trashcan outside. But who lives in the basement?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Patty.

P. MARR: Bert and Ernie.

EISENBERG: That is correct.

(APPLAUSE)

MANZANO: Bingo.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Patty did you just know that?

P. MARR: I do.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I had no idea.

T. MARR: I had no idea, and I was the guru (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah, puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our contestants do?

ART CHUNG, BYLINE: Looks like Patty paid a little more attention watching TV 'cause she is our winner. Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: And thank you again to Sonia Manzano.

(APPLAUSE)

MANZANO: Thank you.

EISENBERG: We'll be subjecting you to a challenge a little later in the show. So get ready.

MANZANO: OK, I will.

EISENBERG: All right, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Do you want to be a contestant on ASK ME ANOTHER? Well, guess what? It's as easy as A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. All you have to do is sign up at amatickets.org. We will send you a quiz and see if you got what it takes to visit Elmo's world of trivia.

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