Roscoe Orman was the third actor to be cast as Gordon Robinson on the landmark PBS series Sesame Street, which premiered in 1969. He joined the series in 1973. Thirty-seven years later Orman is still a part of the neighborhood, establishing himself as an iconic role model for families and fathers.
Orman is also an accomplished stage performer, director and author. In 2006 he published his memoir, Sesame Street Dad: Evolution of an Actor, and in 2007 he penned his first children’s book, Ricky and Mobo. Born and raised in the Bronx, Orman raised his own family of four, daughters Rasheda, Solana and Cheyenne and son Miles, in New Jersey, but he also has fond memories of living in an extended family with his grandparents in New York City.
“My maternal grandfather, Hunter Wells, who was born in Virginia in 1905, moved with his family as a young man up to New York City in Harlem,” Orman tells GRAND Magazine. “In his early years he developed a strong interest in the performing arts and actually performed in vaudeville for a little while as a singer and dancer. I remember as a young child listening to his reminiscences about that period of his life with such glee and a twinkle in his eyes, and he conveyed that enthusiasm and that love of performing to me.”
Roscoe’s love of performing was nurtured by a loving extended family. “My grandparents always lived throughout my childhood either in the same house or right next door to each other. There was always that close proximity of my maternal grandparents right there.”
Years later, Roscoe in his TV role continues to channel Hunter to serve as inspiration and role model to millions of families and children. And Roscoe was able to make Sesame Street a family affair when his own children came along. “All of my four kids have been on the show. My son, Miles, was a regular; he had the good fortune of coming along at a time when the producers were thinking of introducing a story line for Gordon and my TV wife, Susan, to become adoptive parents on the show.
We have millions of adopted children and adoptive parents who were fans and followers of the show and were not [previously] represented by characters on the show. And by introducing that, we became really popular in the eyes of those families.”
In the eyes of his own family, however, Roscoe was just a dad (and now a granddad) going to work. “I think one of the advantages my kids had growing up with me as their dad and granddad is that they got an early education about the reality of television as opposed to real life.
They realize that’s what grandpa does when he goes to work. He goes to Sesame Street. They assume that’s what all granddads do. My oldest grandchild is Trevan . He has two younger sisters, Nautica  and Nyla , who was born on my birthday. Then there’s Richmond  and Jaden . They’re all special with their own unique personalities.”
And what’s Roscoe’s favorite place to take his grandkids? “Sesame Place amusement park in Pennsylvania is one place I like to take them. I put on my hat and my glasses so I’m not too much of a distraction.”
How Roscoe Got to Sesame Street
“My audition began with a scene with Oscar the Grouch. I felt really intimidated by having to converse with and have dialogue and interaction with this seemingly inanimate rag, this green, grungy rag mop with eyeballs coming out of a trash can. I spent most of my time looking at Caroll Spinney, who was the puppeteer behind Oscar. After that sequence of the audition, I felt pretty certain I was not going to get the job.”
But Roscoe was great at interacting with the children during the next phase of his audition and got the gig. “One of the qualities that producers were looking for is a stable, intelligent, jovial but strong presence — an African American male presence who could be a friend to the kids and the Muppets, I’ve heard.
Michael Davis, who wrote a recent history about Sesame Street [Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street] described Gordon as a role model for Barack Obama as a community organizer — an African American community organizer who was there to help the community and be a model of stability and progress.”
Video: Michael Davis talks about his book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street
MARY ANN COOPER