Wednesday, October 29, 2014

P Is for Prairie Dawn

I hadn't planned on talking about any of the major Muppet characters, but I'd like to make an exception for Prairie Dawn for a couple of reasons. The first is, it genuinely bugs me how much Prairie Dawn isn't really seen as a main character on Sesame Street. Despite major appearances for decades and leading roles in many, many sketches--and an incredible presence in the Sesame Street books--she never really gets any big roles (if she even appears) in any of the bigger productions, like Christmas Eve on Sesame Street or Follow That Bird or A Muppet Family Christmas. You'll never see a Sesame Street On Ice show without Elmo, but has Prairie ever appeared in one? This really, really bothers me.

Prairie is a great character. She's that levelheaded seven year-old who is mature for her age, always sensible and efficient. She's very detail-oriented and often appears in an organizational capacity. A lot of my favorite sketches with her were the ones where she directed the school pageants. Here's the first one, "A Flower Grows," from a 1974 episode:

And here's "Let's Make a Face," from 1975:

(Both of these sketches feature another favorite of mine, Herry Monster, who is also not counted often enough as a major Sesame Street character.)

Prairie also appeared on a lot of game show sketches, where she would play the frustrated straight character who was exasperated by the bizarre premises. Here are a couple of links: "Squeal of Fortune" and "The Triangle Is Right," where the answer to every clue is "triangle." (And hosted by another great character, Guy Smiley.)

In later years, Prairie hosted the news reports in the "Fairy Tales Today" segments (list here) and she often appeared in the "Letter of the Day" segments with Cookie Monster from seasons 33 through 37. But she stopped making so many appearances after season 39 in 2008, I'm not sure why that is; she'd been on the show so long.

I think it was partly because Abby Cadabby had become a main character starting in 2006. Performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Abby became a very popular character. Prairie was sort of pushed into the background both by Abby and by Zoe, who was introduced in 1993 as something of a female counterpart to Elmo, in answer to criticism that the show didn't feature very many female Muppet characters. Fran Brill performed both Prairie and Zoe, and I think Prairie was more or less replaced by Abby.

The second reason I wanted to talk about Prairie Dawn was to say a little farewell to Fran Brill. She was the first female Muppet performer hired by Jim Henson, in 1970, and has been with Sesame Street ever since. But just a couple of months ago, Fran announced that she had officially retired from show business. I have no idea what that means for Prairie or Zoe, and as wistful as it makes me to see another longtime Muppet performer retire, she's more than earned a break.

Thanks for all of those amazing years, Fran!

One last sketch, since it's Halloween this week. Here are Prairie Dawn and her friend Walter in a haunted house...

Have a nice week!

ABC Wednesday


Roger Owen Green said...

I never knew her name, but surely had seen her. The school productions were SO on target!


Ann said...

I just love the name Prairie Dawn--such a cutie.

Joy said...

That is a lovely, and fun photo of Fran Brill. I think puppeteering requires a lot of dexterity which may be one of the things that becomes harder as the years go by but as she has not given a reason guess we'll never know. The 'face' sketch is a classic.

fredamans said...

Sad, I forgot about her until seeing this post. Under-rated character for sure. Thanks for the reminder.

Z-Kids said...

Hadn't heard Fran had retired... thankful for all her contributions. Prairie Dawn is great!

Trubes said...

What a lovely post,
and such a cute little puppet.
I just love the name Prairie Dawn.
Must say, I don't remember seeing her but then there were so many episodes of Sesame Street and The Muppets it was difficult to see them all.
Perhaps there should be an on-line petition to bring the adorable puppets back to daytime TV.
I'd love to watch them with my grandchildren that would such fun!
Thank you for sharing the wonderful clips and information about Prairie Dawn with us...priceless!

Best Wishes,

Abcw Team.

Marcy said...

I never knew her name either! and that's a pity, she is wonderful!!

Shady Gardener said...

What a fun post! My "kiddos" loved Sesame Street (so did I) when they were little!! I remember Prairie Dawn, but I'm not sure I ever knew her name. (How did YOU know all this???)

Thanks for fond memories and laughter! I sent links to my grandchildren. ;-)