By Andrea Cano
Early on the people who populated our young baby boomer lives included Howdy Doody and Clarabelle, all the kind teachers from Romper Room and their Mr. Do Bees and Mr. Don’t Bees.
From these folks, we learned about being nice to one another, courtesies, acceptance, and affirmation. We learned to find expression in singing, dancing, laughing, and more.
Decades later, my young son Michael enjoyed others — Mister Rogers, the Electric Company, and the inimitable “Sesame Street” with Big Bird, Miss Peggy, Kermit and other residents of that happy neighborhood — Mr. Hooper, Susan, Maria, Bob, Gordon, and Luis — an intergenerational and intercultural community first brought to you by the Children’s Television Workshop, then PBS.
Now, after 40-plus years “Sesame Street” is relocating to Nickelodeon/HBO. Word has it that the actors known as Bob, Gordon, and Luis may have “aged out” of the series. So, I called Luis himself — actor Emilio Delgado, the character who ran the Fix-It shop and a friend for years — and reminisced about his time with a program now seen or replicated all over the world.
To this day, Emilio says he has no idea how they found out about him. By 1970, his only TV acting credits were Canción de la Raza portraying a returning Vietnam vet and Angie’s Garage, playing his guitar and singing, both offerings on KCET, the local PBS station serving Greater Los Angeles .
Originally from Calexico, one of the Twin Cities of border towns with Mexicali being the other, Emilio says that around his 14th birthday, the family moved to Glendale, California, where he attended Glendale High, took drama classes, acted in every play, played the trombone for the marching band and the symphony, even sang in the school chorus. His theater studies continued at Glendale Community College.
By the early 1960s, few roles were available for Latinos except the romantic leads that went to Cesar Romero, Ricardo Montalban, and Anthony Quinn. Young actors were cast only as gang leaders, dope dealers, generally just bad guys. But alas, he earned his Actors Equity card performing in a summer musical with Martha Raye, and hoped for the best.
“So when Sesame Street called,” he said, “I never could have imagine going to New York and keeping such ‘a day job’ for 44 years,” a distinction of being the only Latino with a consistent presence on a national TV program.
As with other actors, he also secured other roles on prime time TV and theatre. One year, he was hired by Broadway producer Joe Papp to understudy Raul Julia in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” He got used to NYC winters and the different cadences and accents of the Spanish spoken throughout Manhattan.
Emilio also maintained his bicoastal relationships and was fortunate to establish roots for a while in southern Oregon with his wife Carol. Now they visit Oregon as much as possible and Emilio sometimes performs with Pink Martini.
It appears that Emilio and his colleagues are still waiting for some clarification, but also know that their time on Sesame Street was a great run. He says they are very much surprised and appreciative of the myriad responses and support people have voiced — from generations of people who grew up with the program.
After all, generations of children not only learned their ABCs and numbers from Luis, Maria, Bob, Gordon, Susan, and Mr. Hooper, but also what it meant to be an intergenerational, intercultural community, and more importantly, to be familia in that very special neighborhood called Sesame Street.
At an age when most people are retiring, Andrea Cano continues to serve the community as a palliative care chaplain for Providence Hospital in Hood River and affiliate faculty for the Providence Center for Health Care Ethics while “creatively embracing my crone y doña status, and aging in place!”
Editor’s note: Andrea is one of those people who defines “well-rounded.” She is an ordained minister, a former journalist, a social justice advocate, a chaplain, an educator, a foodie — even a lover of jellyfish. We met years ago when I was at The Oregonian and she was chair of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
Tomorrow: Monique Gonzales, Pregnancy in my 40s