Remember the classic PBS series Reading Rainbow? Longtime host LeVar Burton, who starred on the iconic educational show from 1983 to 2006, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring it back in as a web series. While the actor’s charisma and campaigning skills are definitely something to aspire to (Burton exceeded his $1 million goal in under 24 hours), nostalgic fans have made it clear that they’d love to see a reboot of the beloved series.
With 26 Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award to its name, the original show attracted plenty of big names in its quest to encourage reading in children. So, as we await Burton’s revamp, here’s a look back at some of our favorite Reading Rainbow guest readers and contributors from back in the day.
No shocker here! The show’s first season kicked off with the kid-friendly Bill Cosby, the mastermind behind the ’70s Saturday morning fave Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and those awesome Jell-O Pudding Pops commercials. Cosby, who has also hosted the classic kiddie TV segment “Picture Pages,” likes kids’ books so much he’s actually penned a bunch — his “Little Bill” series even got its own TV spinoff. The TV legend was just about to launch the groundbreaking Cosby Show sitcom when he provided narration for “Arthur’s Eyes” by Marc Brown on Reading Rainbow in 1983.
The famed television chef read more than a cookbook when she appeared on Reading Rainbow’s eighth season in 1990. The French Chef star Julia Child read “Florence and Eric Take the Cake,” and, we loved every single sweet minute of it.
Pete Seeger and Run-D.M.C.
It was a musical potpourri on the season 4 episode “Abiyoyo.” Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger narrated the picture book version of his popular story-song, while up and coming rappers Run-D.M.C. made a cameo in the episode as they rapped about their love of books.
See Pete Seeger on Reading Rainbow here and Run-D.M.C.’s rap here.
Four years before her death, Saturday Night Live legend Gilda Radner guested on Reading Rainbow and provided narration for a time-honored classic tale. The former Roseanne Roseannadanna narrated “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and she came up with a super cute tortoise voice to boot.
See the episode here.
A Slew of ’70s Stars
Season 5 of the show was a who’s who of classic TV stars. The roster included Barbara Feldon (Get Smart) who read “The Life Cycle of the Honeybee,” Family star Sada Thompson (“Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie”), Mary Tyler Moore Show alum Georgia Engel, who narrated “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones,” and The Waltons patriarch Ralph Waite, who narrated “Rumpelstiltskin.”
The man behind the manziere, Seinfeld alum Jerry Stiller, showed a different side of himself in 1983 when he provided the voice of a comedian dinosaur in the episode “Digging Up Dinosaurs.” (His corny jokes included: “How does a dinosaur doctor check his patient’s heart? He takes his mud pressure!”) And two decades later, fellow Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander made his own mark on the show in the 2000 episode “Pet Stories You Don’t Have to Walk.” Maybe Burton can line up Jerry Seinfeld for the reboot!
See “Digging Up Dinosaurs” here.