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In Memory 

Judy Freudberg

Published in The Commercial Appeal June 14, 2012

Film and television writer Judy Freudberg, who died Sunday at the age of 62, worked with some of the most famous names in entertainment -- not just Steven Spielberg and Jim Henson, but Big Bird, Elmo and Fievel the Mouse.

A native of Memphis and a 1967 graduate of White Station High School, Freudberg had been a staff writer for PBS' groundbreaking children's program "Sesame Street" since 1975.

In that capacity, she earned 17 Daytime Emmys, shared with the program's other writers. But her impact on popular culture far exceeded her name recognition.

Freudberg was a co-creator and head writer of the popular "Elmo's World" segment of "Sesame Street" that popularized the ticklish red Muppet that became an international phenomenon in the late 1990s.

She also was a co-writer of such Spielberg animated productions as "An American Tail" (1986), which introduced Fievel the Mouse, and "The Land Before Time" (1988), about five orphan dinosaurs.

"An American Tail" was especially meaningful for Spielberg and Freudberg, who used the story of Russian mice and Cossack cats in the 1880s to acquaint young moviegoers with the epic saga of Jewish emigration to America.

Freudberg's "four decades with 'Sesame Street' brought laughter, music and learning to children every day," the program' cast, crew and producers said in a statement released Wednesday. "Judy's words and stories will continue to entertain and bring joy to generations of young children to come throughout the world."

A profile of Freudberg that appeared in The Commercial Appeal in 1985 described the children's writer as something of "a shy, pixie-like child herself, easily embarrassed and quick to smile."

"She's a Memphis treasure," said classmate and longtime friend Ann Schwartz Knight, who shared an apartment in New York with Freudberg for a couple of years after college. "We were both going to conquer New York. She did; I came home."

At White Station, Freudberg was active in theater, acting in plays with fellow student Kathy Bates. She earned a bachelor's degree in speech and dramatic arts at Syracuse University, and began working at the Children's Television Workshop -- the home base for "Sesame Street" -- in 1971, first as a "go-fer" and then as a production assistant and writer.

Freudberg often worked with a writing partner, Tony Geiss, who had written for Dick Cavett and Bill Cosby. The duo co-scripted Freudberg's first feature film, 1985's "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird," a G-rated starring vehicle for Big Bird.

"Writing for children is in a lot of ways harder than writing for adults," Freudberg once told The Commercial Appeal. "You have to say things so clearly, and be funny -- and not be preachy and heavy."

Freudberg was diagnosed with cancer about 13 months before her death. A New York memorial service likely will be held later this year.

She leaves two sisters, Jean Ballin of Memphis and Joan Leibovitz of New York, and a brother, Lee Freudberg of Charlottesville, Va.

Published in The New York Times on June 13, 2012

 FREUDBERG--Judy. The Board of Trustees, staff of Sesame Workshop, and cast and crew of Sesame Street deeply mourn the loss of Judy Freudberg, show writer and co-creator of "Elmo's World." Her four decades with Sesame Street brought laughter, music and learning to children every day through Sesame Street, her work on the feature film "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird," through books and so much more. Judy's words and stories will continue to entertain and bring joy to generations of young children to come throughout the world. We will all miss her.


Judy Freudberg has been writing for Sesame Street since 1975. One of the creators and developers of Elmo's World, she now serves as head writer for that popular segment.

Freudberg collaborated with Tony Geiss on Sesame Street's first feature film, Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird as well as The Land Before Time and An American Tail, two feature animation films for Steven Spielberg. She and Molly Boylan were nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Children's Special for the home video Elmo's World: Wild Wild West. For Sesame Street season 35, Judy co-wrote, with Lou Berger, the primetime special, Sesame Street Presents: The Street We Live On, which was nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Children's Program.

Anne Schwartz Crooker "Sadly, we lost another Spartan today. Judy Freudberg died in New York City after a courageous battle with cancer. She will be remembered by all of us as the cute, tiny, talented one who was in plays and a favorite of Dr. Crain. The world will remember her by the words of Elmo, The Count, Big Bird, and Fievel from The Great American Tail. Good bye my dear friend"

Anne Chapman "I know that some of you are still very close to Judy and we are so sorry for your personal loss.  Our love, thoughts and prayers go out to Judy’s family, friends and colleagues.  Judy was certainly very talented and definitely has left a beautiful legacy for millions of children and adults".


 
Fall 2008 Syracuse University Magazine- ALUMNI PROFILES
Judy Freudberg ’71 Not Just Kid Stuff
 

When Sesame Street’s popular “Elmo’s World” was first tested on preschoolers at a daycare center more than 10 years ago, head writer Judy Freudberg was among those anxiously awaiting their reactions. “It was very painful, and humbling,” recalls Freudberg, a Sesame Street writer since 1975 and one of the segment’s six creators and developers. Before the now familiar “la la la la” theme music began, “kids were all over the place. They were playing with each other, throwing things, running around,” she says. “But slowly the noise stopped. It took them about three minutes to realize something new was happening, and they got totally involved in the program. They were hooked! From the start, kids just loved Elmo. And they still do.”

 
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Freudberg earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and dramatic arts at Syracuse, and was interested in a career in television and film. In fall 1971, not long after graduating, she got a foot in the door as a “go-fer” at what was then the Children’s Television Workshop, and moved up to a production assistant position before becoming a writer. “I was the new kid ‘on the block,’ and kind of starry-eyed about the whole thing,” she says. “It was fun and exciting to work with such talented people. It really was a workshop. If you showed any initiative and had some smarts about you, they were more than happy to promote you. It was a very supportive place, and the people were wonderful.”
 
Freudberg later collaborated with Tony Geiss on a feature film, Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird, as well as An American Tail and The Land Before Time, two feature animation films for Steven Spielberg. “I had always wanted to work in the movies in some capacity,” she says. “I fell in love with the movies when I took a Development of Cinema Art course at Syracuse. It gave me a whole new perspective on film as an art form and as entertainment.” Freudberg’s writing successes allowed her to achieve another lifelong goal. “I was one of those little girls who loved horses and always wanted one,” she says. “So about three years ago, I fulfilled my childhood dream by getting a place upstate where I could have a horse. I’m so lucky to have had good, steady writing work that gave me the opportunity to do this.”
 
Currently collaborating with Molly Boylan on new scripts for Sesame Street’s 40th season, Freudberg still loves what she does. “You’ve got to have fun with these characters, or it shows up on the screen,” she says. “The show was created to appeal to both adults and children, so parents will watch with their kids. So, if we have fun and laugh while we’re writing, we figure our audience will be laughing, and learning, too. That, to me, is what Sesame Street is all about.”
 
—Amy Speach