Written by Joseph Scarborough.
LEFTY THE SALESMAN
Sesame Street Season 1: Episode 0079 (1969)
Most recent appearance…
Sesame Street “Storybook ABCs” book (2008)
Best known role…
Sesame Street’s shifty, shady-looking, trench coat-wearing letter salesman
“Psssst! Hey, bud! See this ‘U’? We had this ‘U’ in my family for years.”
WHO IS LEFTY THE SALESMAN?
Lefty is a shady-looking salesman who appeared on Sesame Street throughout the 1970’s. He speaks in a whispery voice, and usually tries to sell Ernie such esoteric items as the letters ‘O’ and ‘U,’ a snowman, an invisible ice cream cone, or even a painting with elephants hidden in it; his sales pitches are rarely successful, such as one insert in which Ernie bought air from a bottle before dropping to the ground.
Many of these inserts would follow the same formula: while Ernie minds his own business, Lefty will enter – usually accompanied by a sneaky-sounding music cue – and would then attempt to gain Ernie’s attention by sidling up and whispering: “Hey, bud! C’mere.” Ernie shouts, “Who, me?” before Lefty would shush him afterwards. Ernie would then follow with a lower, “Who, me?” to which Lefty would answer with an elongated “Riiiiiight,” while then beginning his sales pitch, which would usually start with, “How would ya like to buy…” Lefty’s regular performer was Frank Oz, however, for at least two inserts from Season 1 (1969-70), Caroll Spinney performed him instead, including one in which Lefty attempts to sell Ernie the letter ‘U’, and another where the two compare the letter ‘R’ and the letter ‘P’.
Lefty was a green Anything Muppet dressed in a wide-brimmed black fedora, and a trench coat. To make him all the more shifty, in the first two seasons, Lefty also had slightly hidden angry eyebrows and eye lids, but by the third season, the eyebrows were removed and his eye lids were repositioned to make him look considerably less menacing. On occasion, Lefty can also be seen sporting a pointed mustache.
Lefty’s signature song is, “Would You Like to Buy an O?” which was originally recorded for the 1971 record The Muppet Alphabet Album, and later used for an insert on the show, in which Lefty approaches Ernie, and makes him a tempting offer: “When ya buy this O, ya get two sounds for the price of one. Ya get one sound that ya can use for words like olive, ostrich and ox — and for no extra money, ya get another sound for words like ocean, over, old and opening.”
In addition to being a shifty salesman, Lefty was also occasionally depicted as a typical New York City gangster who would attempt to carry out assignments for his boss (a Fat Blue Anything Muppet performed by Jerry Nelson); in these particular inserts, the two criminals would commonly be seen engaging in such shady and illegal activities as alphabet trafficking, black marketeering and robbery. Their most daring robbery was the theft of the Golden ‘AN,’ for which Lefty’s boss had a plan: Lefty was to put it in the tan van and give it to Dan, who would take it to Fran. However, Lefty couldn’t remember the plan very well and had to repeat it – out loud – which resulted in a police officer named Stan hearing the plan and giving him, “Ten days in the can for stealing the Golden ‘AN’.” As Lefty was being taken away, he added, “I should have ran.”
Another interesting note is that Lefty’s boss was the only character who referred to him by name; until recently, Sesame Workshop production materials, storybooks, and record albums had referred to the character simply as “The Salesman.” In another insert involving Anything Muppet gangsters, another character was named Lefty – this one being a Fat Blue Anything Muppet in a beret and a striped shirt performed by Jim Henson; this Lefty had trouble remembering the secret knock to the gang’s secret hideout.
Lefty appeared frequently on the show through the early and mid-70s, by which time he was eventually written off the show, after the Sesame writers and producers grew concerned that the inserts were giving children the wrong impression that it is okay to talk to and accept things from strangers, when they shouldn’t. Despite disappearing from the show by Season 7 (1975-76) Lefty continued to make illustrated appearances in various Sesame publications up until the early 80s; the 2008 book, Storybook ABCs, features Lefty his first illustrated appearance since then, and is also the first to use his name in print. In the book, Grover is dressed as Jack (of “Beanstalk” fame), and Lefty approaches him from behind a tree with an offer: “Care for some candy beans for that cow?” Grover as Jack replies, “Thanks, Lefty! And do you also have a candlestick?” Lefty apparently has one in stock — a few pages later, Grover as Jack (this time of “Jack Be Nimble” fame) jumps over the candlestick. At the end of the book, Lefty returns to feed four and twenty blackbirds with birdseed from his carry-all bag.
WHY DOES SESAME STREET NEED LEFTY THE SALESMAN?
Lefty was a streetwise salesman who had been dropped from the show by the mid-70s to avoid sending kids the wrong message of how they should react to strangers. Given his most recent illustrated appearance in 2008’s Storybook ABCs, if Sesame Workshop has any plans to bring him back on the show, especially now that it is in its 45th season, maybe Eric Jacobson (the current performer for Bert and Grover) could perform him.