Remembering Bob McGrath
We are sad to learn that performer Bob McGrath has passed away at the age of 90. Best remembered and beloved for his decades playing Bob on Sesame Street, he began his career on early television and was a featured singer on Mitch Miller’s Sing Along with Mitch.
Below are some selections from his 2004 interview:
On the character of “Bob” on Sesame Street:
"Well, that was interesting because, you know, I didn’t really consider myself 'an actor.' I considered myself a professional singer at that point. I had taught some…so I had that feeling. My wife was a wonderful pre-school teacher and probably 90% of what I’ve learned about working with children I’ve learned from her, both sitting and watching her classes and viewing her at the same time when we’re recording. … So we got scripts and the part is written for Bob. And so I said, 'OK, who do you want me to be?' because I figured they’re not going to pay me just to come out and be Bob, like when I wake up in the morning, right? That’s not what you get paid for. That’s not acting. And they said, 'Well, we’re not sure yet. You know, we haven’t really figured out what we want you to be in.' Through the whole first year I sort of kept asking -- I was doing a lot of music because I was the music teacher and music guy on the show and I was doing a lot of singing and working with Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, who were just extraordinary song writers. And I think well into the second year I said, 'You know, I just don’t have a fix on who I’m supposed to be.' And ultimately they said, 'You know, we didn’t really want you to be anybody. We just really want all of you folks to be yourself. We’re going to write silly stuff for you.' I mean, they wrote the most outrageous things for me over the course of the years. Jeff Moss particularly loved putting me in the most outrageous costumes that he could possibly devise in his writings. …So bottom line, not only for myself, but for most of the people, they really wanted us to be ourselves."
On working with the Muppets:
"A lot of people wonder, you know, a lot of major stars that have been on the Muppet show, I’ve heard them ask that and so forth. Some were uncomfortable, but I’d say for the most part, it was no different than working with another actor. And I think the reason being, if you’re doing this with sort of a silly dumb character, creation, creature, or Muppet or puppet or whatever, and the script was badly written and the manipulation was bad and the voice -- all those things that could happen, then you’d feel like an idiot. But because they were so brilliant at what they do in terms of manipulation and the voice and the script, you have to be totally on your toes or you’re going to be the one that looks like a dummy, not the puppet. So, I love working with them. I’ve never felt uncomfortable for a moment in my life for doing it."
On advice to aspiring children’s performers:
"I think you have to really enjoy and like children and kind of be able to focus in on their sense of humor and where their heads are and have a tremendous respect for what they say and do. I’m reminded -- I have six grandchildren. When my one little granddaughter was about five, we were down in the basement, I was working, and she said something. I said, 'That’s a good idea, Natalie.' And she said, very serious, she said, 'Well, you know, Grandpa, kids have valuable ideas.' And I managed to keep a straight face and I said, 'Well, that’s true. I wonder why.' I just wanted to die inside. And she said, 'Because they have the newest brains.' And I said, 'You’re right, they do.' ... But, you know, you have to have respect for all those new brains that are out there because they are terrific. … So I guess, have some of the basic skills, you know, in acting and if you’re comfortable in the medium of television. But, there have to be new people coming along all the time, and so I would encourage it. Because it’s probably one of the most worthwhile fields you can be in. I mean, it certainly beats a lot of other things that are out there which shall remain nameless."
Watch Bob McGrath’s full interview and read his obituary in The New York Times.