John Mack Joins Cookie Monster, Elmo for Sesame Workshop Benefit

  • Initiative with nonprofit IRC helps refugee families
  • BlackRock’s Winshel, JPMorgan’s Youngwood attend event

John Mack’s favorite Muppet is Cookie Monster. “I like to eat,” the former chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley said before sitting down to dinner with the bank’s vice chairman Thomas Nides at the annual benefit for Sesame Workshop.

The Muppets of Sesame Street perform "Sing."

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

John and Christy Mack

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

As the crispy artichoke hearts were served, Cookie Monster appeared on stage with talk show host John Oliver to auction -- what else -- a giant chocolate chip cookie. But in googly-eyed splendor, the Muppet quickly devoured it. Oliver instead auctioned the chance to visit the hungry Muppet on the set of “Sesame Street,” the educational program that first aired on U.S. public television in 1969 and is now on HBO and PBS. The opportunity sold for $20,000 to two different bidders, one of whom was Mack.

The New York event raised more than $2.3 million, with the Muppets providing most of the entertainment.

Debra and Caroll Spinney

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

“Kindness? Yuck!” said Oscar the Grouch, riffing on the event’s theme.

But when Oliver brought up photographs of Oscar tucking into bed his pet worm, Slimey, and hugging Big Bird and Oscar puppeteer Caroll Spinney, the Muppet who lives in a garbage can conceded.

“This whole kindness thing makes me really, really grouchy, which makes me happy,” Oscar said before yielding the spotlight to his “red, cute and disgustingly cheerful” castmate Elmo.

Andy Grammer and Elmo

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Elmo demonstrated he’s learned a thing or two from “Sesame Street” guest stars like John Legend and Gwen Stefani by singing two numbers: a song about kindness with Christopher Jackson, a writer for the show and the original George Washington in “Hamilton,” and “What a Wonderful World” with Grammy winner Andy Grammer.

Jeffrey Dunn, Sherrie Westin and David Miliband

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Proceeds from the event support Sesame Workshop’s philanthropic and global impact initiatives, led by Sherrie Westin. These programs deploy the Muppets to teach, among other things, financial literacy, hygiene and understanding autism.

Barbara and Brian Goldner with friends.

Source: Sesame Workshop

One constant priority is preparing kids for school. “We’re about inclusivity, tolerance -- we have a whole set of mission values -- but we’re also about numeracy and literacy,” said Jeffrey Dunn, CEO of Sesame Workshop.

Hasbro Inc., the toy company with licenses for “Sesame Street” products, received the award for corporate leadership, and made several guests happy by giving Love2Learn Elmo toys to those with a yellow sticker on the back of their programs.

Sarah Youngwood and Varun Chandra

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sesame Workshop “is needed now more than ever,” Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said at the lectern, noting the company has started its own philanthropic initiative called Be Fearless Be Kind.

David Miliband, the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, received the award named after “Sesame Street” founder Joan Ganz Cooney.

Deborah Winshel and Michael Harpe

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The IRC and Sesame Workshop have started a partnership to “bring the joy, the love and the comfort” of Sesame characters to refugee kids, Miliband said in an interview. The program will focus on refugees from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. “These are children who feel they’ve lost everything, and this gives them a friend for life.”

The partnership is one of eight semi-finalists for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and it’s one that Miliband said is important to forge now.

“The idea that Sesame represents a global language at a time when people are building barriers instead of links is very powerful,” Miliband said.

Hollis Hines, Michael Manasse and Stephen Youngwood

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Big Bird and John Oliver do the bump dance.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Guests included BlackRock Inc.’s Deborah Winshel and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Sarah Youngwood and Michael Cembalest as well as Michael Manasse, a Sesame Workshop trustee.

Oliver asked the crowd for donations at the end of the evening, saying that Sesame Workshop would put the money to good use. “I guarantee it’s not going up Oscar’s nose,” the comedian said.

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