Archives On The Air 64: Communists In Your Neighborhood: Sesame Street's Mr. Hooper & The Red Scare

Sep 18, 2018

Will Lee as Mr. Hooper on the set of Sesame Street, 1970s. Box 1, Will Lee papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

Will Lee is best known for playing the kindly grocer Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street in the 1970s. Before Sesame Street Lee was blacklisted from acting for being a suspected communist.

Will Lee grew up in Brooklyn. He was the son of poor Jewish immigrants. He joined a theater group on a whim and fell in love with acting.

An article from a 1932 communist newspaper about the communist theater movement. Box 1, Will Lee papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

In the 1930s and 40s Lee acted in many groups that used theater for political and social advocacy. Performances often had communist overtones.

In 1948 Lee was called to testify before Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. He would not say if he had been a member of the communist party. He was blacklisted until 1956.

In 1969 Lee was offered the Mr. Hooper role on Sesame Street. Lee played the part until he died at age 74. Big Bird told viewers of Lee’s death.

Will Lee’s papers are available at UW’s American Heritage Center.