It was 1969 and 5-year-old Beverly Hunt and her sister, Pamela, 3, were returning from a trip to Niagara Falls with their mother when a stranger made them an offer that would forever change their childhood.
"When my father picked us up at the airport, a strange man approached my parents and asked them if they wanted for us to be on 'Sesame Street,' " recalled Beverly Hunt.
"The guy had to talk to my parents for a while because they weren't going for any okey-doke stuff and were not about to turn their kids over to 'Sesame Street' or anyone else," she said, laughing.
Once their parents were satisfied with the proposal, they gave their approval. That was the beginning of a four-year stint for the Hunt sisters as regulars on the popular program for children. This year, "Sesame Street" is celebrating its 30th season on the Public Broadcasting System, and during the first few months of this year, the show traveled to various cities for anniversary celebrations.
Beverly Hunt, 34, who lives in Silver Spring and runs a public relations firm in the District, remembers her years on the show as a special time in her life. " 'Sesame Street' was a natural fit for me because I always talked and laughed a lot," she said.
According to Hunt, the children who appeared on "Sesame Street" were never given scripts because the producers wanted their young viewers to feel comfortable with the show and to relate to the cast. "It was a teaching tool, and they wanted us to learn the way kids at home were learning," Hunt said. "They didn't want us to have canned responses."
The sisters also were featured in the show's opening for several seasons. "In one of the intros, they had us just playing in a park in New York. It was all very natural and fun," she said.
The show's producer was initially interested in casting the Hunt sisters because he thought that they were cute and friendly and that they were twins. "We were 17 months apart, but I was a bit of a shrimp, so we were the same size. My mom made a lot of our clothes and she always made our things alike, but different colors," Hunt said.
Getting new clothes for the shows was a big deal for the Hunt girls, "but it wasn't like we were Shirley Temple and given a wardrobe," Hunt said. "My parents paid for our new clothes."
During its history, more than 20,000 children probably have appeared on the nearly 4,000 episodes of the show, said Lisa Sherman, a "Sesame Street" spokeswoman. The show has always sought a racially diverse group of children, she added.
Hunt recalled being elated the first time her family went from its apartment in Brooklyn to the "Sesame Street" set in Manhattan.
"We were so excited, and although my father tried to hide it, he gave himself away when they took us to the set and his face lit up as he pointed and said excitedly, 'There's Mr. Hooper,' the only character who had a last name," Hunt said. Her first reaction, she said, was "being shocked that the same guy who played Oscar also played Big Bird, but it didn't matter, it was still fun."
All of the "Sesame Street" staff members made them feel special, Hunt said. "They made it fun and had a room for us when we weren't on the air that had all kinds of games and people to play with you. We loved being there."
She continued, "My proudest moments on 'Sesame Street' were when they used to call children in to make letters of the alphabet with their bodies. I was double-jointed and they would use me to make the hard letters. I remember being the dot of the small letter 'i,' and that was exciting because when we were no longer on the show, they'd play those shows over and over."
The "Sesame Street" tapings took a whole day because two shows were always taped during each session. Because of the time involved, Hunt's mother insisted that the girls could do tapings only once a month.
They were paid $60 apiece for each show for their twice-a-month appearances.
"We could have been on more, but Mom told them she didn't want us missing school. I really admired my parents for taking that stand, because that was a big sacrifice for them, because my parents worked hard to make ends meet," Hunt said. "My father was in nursing school and working full time and Mom didn't have her degree in education yet. I felt that they could have really used the money."
Over the years, "Sesame Street" albums were produced that featured songs frequently sung on the show and the sisters appeared on the cover of the album "Somebody Come and Play."
The girls' appearances on "Sesame Street" came to an end when the family moved to Troy, N.Y., in the mid-'70s. "The drive to Manhattan from Troy was, I think, about four hours, and we would have had to have missed two days of school instead of one to continue, and Mom was not having that," Hunt said. Of course, Hunt and her sister were not happy to leave the glamour of television for school work.
Hunt who studied journalism in college, initially wanted to work in front of the camera, largely as a result of her experiences on "Sesame Street." She eventually decided to focus on writing, instead.
She has written articles for national and local publications, worked as the chief spokeswoman for the D.C. Lottery and five years ago, founded her public relations firm, Hunt and Associates. She also co-owns an events planning business, Platinum Performance Management.
Just as she has fond memories of her "Sesame Street" years, Hunt said her sister, Pamela, also treasured their time together on the show.
Last year, her sister died following a lengthy illness. Pamela Hunt-Hawkins, 31, lived in Columbia with her husband Brian and four sons.
"We were close, but on the days we taped 'Sesame Street,' there were no sisterly arguments. On those days we were each other's best friends," Hunt said.
Hunt cherishes the "Sesame Street" album cover featuring the two sisters. When Pam died, a cousin wrote to Sesame Street and asked for tapes of shows that featured the sisters.
"The Sesame Street people responded immediately and sent Pam's husband a couple of tapes for the children along with a very nice sympathy letter. I haven't been able to watch them, but I'm glad the boys have them," Hunt said.