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Will Lee

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Will Lee
File:TV hoopers candy store.jpg TV_hoopers_candy_store.jpg
BornWilliam Lubovsky
August 6, 1908
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
💀DiedDecember 7, 1982(1982-12-07) (aged 74)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.December 7, 1982(1982-12-07) (aged 74)
💼 Occupation
📆 Years active  1930–1982

William Lee (born William Lubovsky; August 6, 1908 – December 7, 1982) [1]was an American actor who appeared in numerous television and film roles, but was best known for playing Mr. Hooper, the original store proprietor of the eponymous Hooper's Store. He was one of the four original human characters on Sesame Street, from the show's debut in November 1969 until his death on December 7, 1982 at the age of 74.

Early career[edit]

Lee was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. His father, a bookbinder, lost his job due to economic changes. Will Lee came to adulthood during the Great Depression. He worked odd jobs in New York City and absorbed the intellectual atmosphere of Greenwich Village, an enclave of avant-garde culture where small presses, art galleries, and experimental theater throve. He began his career as a character actor on stage. He was a member of the Group Theater in the 1930s and appeared in Johnny Johnson, Night Music, Boy Meets Girl, The Time of Your Life (as Willie the pinball machine addict) and other Broadway plays. He succeeded John Garfield as the lead in Golden Boy. He also was involved in the Workers Lab Theatre, by presenting plays that supported the labor movement and social justice.[2]

Lee was co-founder of the Theater of Action and a member of the Federal Theatre Project. During World War II, he served in Army Special Services in Australia and Manila and was cited twice for directing and staging shows for troops overseas, as well as teaching acting classes.[3] After the war, he appeared Off Broadway in Norman Mailer's The Deer Park (as movie mogul Teppis) and on Broadway in The Shrike, Once Upon a Mattress, Carnival!, Incident At Vichy and The World of Sholom Aleichem.

Blacklist and teaching[edit]

Lee also began appearing in movies, including bit parts in Casbah, A Song Is Born, Little Fugitive, and Saboteur. He was blacklisted as an alleged communist and barred from movies and on TV for five years during the era of McCarthyism, according to members of his family. He had been active in the Actor's Workshop and had been an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1950 investigating Communist elements in show business. At the end of that period, in 1956, he landed the role of Grandpa Hughes in As the World Turns; however, the role was later recast with Santos Ortega.

He taught at the American Theatre Wing for nine years (including among his students James Earl Jones), as well as at the New School for Social Research, Boston University, and the Uta Hagen-Herbert Berghof Studio. In addition, he conducted his own acting classes. Outside of Sesame Street, later roles included TV movies and a supporting role as the judge in the 1983 movie Daniel. Lee also worked in commercials, including a spot for Atari, as a grandfather learning to play Pac-Man from his granddaughter and spots for Ocean Spray juice.

Impact of Mr. Hooper[edit]

In 1969, he pursued the role of Mr. Hooper on the popular children's show Sesame Street. "He gave millions of children the message that the old and the young have a lot to say to each other," said Joan Ganz Cooney, president of the Children's Television Workshop (later known as Sesame Workshop). The New York Times reported that on Sesame Street, Lee's Mr. Hooper ranked ahead of all live cast members in recognition by young audiences, according to a survey. His bowtie and hornrimmed reading glasses became his trademark.

In a November 1970 TIME article, following the show's first season, Lee recalled his feelings about the show:

I was delighted to take the role of Mr. Hooper, the gruff grocer with the warm heart. It's a big part, and it allows a lot of latitude. But the show has something extra, that sense you sometimes get from great theater, the feeling that its influence never stops.

In addition to being a staple of Sesame Street for more than 10 years, Lee played Mr. Hooper in TV specials (Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and A Special Sesame Street Christmas), guest appearances (Evening at Pops: 1971), stage appearances, countless record albums, and parades, including the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 25, 1982. It was revealed in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street that Mr. Hooper is Jewish, as was Lee himself.[4] Lee taped his final segments as Mr. Hooper on Wednesday November 24, 1982, two weeks prior to his death. This would become the focal point of Episode 1839, which aired a year later to the date, in which Mr. Hooper's death is explained to Big Bird, who had a particularly close relationship with Mr. Hooper, by the adults.

According to his obituary in The New York Times, as he became known on Sesame Street, children would approach him on the street and ask, "How did you get out of the television set?" or whisper, "I love you." "Apart from the joy of knowing that you are helping so many kids, the recognition is heartwarming," Lee was quoted as saying in 1981.

Death of Mr. Hooper[edit]

Following Lee's death, the producers of Sesame Street were uncertain how to acknowledge the death of one of the series' most visible actors. After considering a number of options (replacing or filling in for Mr. Hooper's original voice actor with a new one —so Mr. Hooper could still be in the show— or explaining that he could move interstate, quit, or having him retire), Sesame Workshop decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper die as well. Then they created an episode that dealt with the difficult topic of death.

Episode 1839, now known as "Farewell, Mr. Hooper," aired on November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day) and was quickly selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.[citation needed] Before the broadcast ended, a picture of Lee was shown, along with the dates of his birth and death and the writing "In Loving Memory of Will Lee" before fading out.

The cast of Sesame Street were saddened by Lee's death, as over the time Lee had played his signature character on TV, he had befriended most of the cast. The cast said that their characters' sad faces were real but they went through with their performance, remembering they were doing it for a good outcome. Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) said that the last time he saw Lee alive was during the taping of the last episode involving Mr. Hooper in November 1982. Lee felt ill that day and barely spoke to the cast. Spinney (who was wearing Big Bird's feet at the time) placed his arm around Lee's shoulder and said "I love you, Mr. Hooper." Lee replied, "And I love you, Caroll." Lee died a few days later.[5]

In an interview a few years later, Loretta Long, who played Susan, said of the episode's legacy: "People come up to us and say 'Thank you. Now we can explain what happened to Grandma, what happened to Grandpa.'"


Lee died on December 7, 1982, at the age of 74, from a heart attack at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Lee was never married and had no children. According to his obituary, he was survived by his sister Sophie Lee Lubov, who lived in Florida. The Sesame Street episode "Farewell, Mr. Hooper", episode 1839, was released 11 months later and is dedicated to Lee.[6]



Year Title Role Notes
1941 Whistling in the Dark Herman
1941 Melody Lane Mr. Russo
1941 Babes on Broadway Shorty Uncredited
1941 Ball of Fire Benny "the Creep"
1942 Saboteur Rogers Uncredited
1947 Brute Force Convict in Chow Line Uncredited
1948 Casbah Beggar
1948 They Live by Night Jeweler
1948 A Song Is Born Waiter at the Dixieland Club Uncredited
1948 Force of Evil Waiter Uncredited
1949 The Life of Riley Waiter Uncredited
1949 The Lone Wolf and His Lady The Waiter Uncredited
1950 Backfire Cab driver Uncredited
1950 Shakedown Cabbie Uncredited
1953 Little Fugitive Photographer
1954 The Headless Woman Johnny
1955 Let 'Em Eat Cake Louis, Dauphin of France
1956 Let 'Em Eat Cake Pop
1957 The Little Match Girl Pops
1958 Let 'Em Eat Cake Louis, Dauphin of France
1959 Let 'Em Eat Cake Louis, Dauphin of France
1960 Game of Desire Frank
1961 Let 'Em Eat Cake Louis, Dauphin of France
1962 The Red Shoes Pappy
1963 An Affair of the Skin Waiter
1983 Hit and Run Joseph Kahn Posthumous
1983 Daniel The Judge (final film role; posthumous)


Year Title Role(s) Notes
1950 Dick Tracy Reg Prof Episode: "The Mole: Part 1"
1950 The Philco Television Playhouse Episode: "Decoy"
1956, 1982 As the World Turns Grandpa Hughes #1 (1956)
Will "Pa" (1982)
2 episodes
1964 East Side/West Side Nat (Grocer)
1965 For the People Kurawicz Episode: "The Influence of Fear"
1969–1982 Sesame Street Mr. Hooper Series Regular
1974 Great Performances Kon Episode: "Enemies"
1978 Christmas Eve on Sesame Street Mr. Hooper Christmas special
1978 A Special Sesame Street Christmas
1979 A Walking Tour of Sesame Street Television special
1980 Playing for Time Shmuel Television movie

See also[edit]


  2. "Will Lee papers 1930-1980".
  3. Gray, Oriel (2020). Exit Left. Australia: Honour Bright Books. pp. 88–90. ISBN 9780648881704. Search this book on
  4. Jewish United Fund (accessed October 14, 2008). The Christmas special can be seen on YouTube, and in Part 4, Bob wishes Mr. Hooper a Happy Hanukkah.
  5. Borgenicht, David (1998). Sesame Street Unpaved: Scripts, Stories, Secrets and Songs. New York: Children's Television Workshop (CTW). p. 43. ISBN 0-7868-6460-5. Search this book on
  6. "WILL LEE, 74, WAS MR. HOOPER ON TELEVISION 'SESAME STREET'". New York Times. December 9, 1982.

External links[edit]