Joan Ganz Cooney

The founder of the Children's Television Workshop, Joan Ganz Cooney is the lady responsible for creating Sesame Street. She's married to billionaire banker Pete Peterson.

Arizona native Cooney worked as a newspaper reporter in Phoenix before moving to the city in the mid-1950s to work as a publicist for NBC. In the early '60s, she moved to public television, producing award-winning documentaries like Poverty, Anti-Poverty and the Poor. In 1968, Cooney submitted a proposal to the Carnegie Corporation for a production company that would create educational programming for kids; after raising some $8 million from the Carnegie and Ford Foundations, Cooney founded the Children's Television Workshop. The non-profit's first program, Sesame Street, debuted on November 10, 1969. Sesame Street was a surprisingly original creation for the era. Cooney's social activist streak ensured the cast featured both men and women and was ethnically diverse—and it tackled weighty issues that were almost never addressed in front of underage audiences, such as physical disabilities, death, and pregnancy. Of course, for the kids glued to their TV screens, the show was pure entertainment and millions were introduced to now-iconic fuzzy characters like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, and the math-crazy Count von Count. Decades later, more than 4,000 episodes of Sesame Street have aired on public television stations around the country and the show has been exported to 20 other countries around the world. It also holds the distinction of having won more Emmys than any show in history. These days, Cooney is largely retired: she retains a mostly advisory role at the non-profit, serving as the chair of the executive committee.

Cooney married her second husband, Pete Peterson, the co-founder of the private equity juggernaut the Blackstone Group, in 1980. (Her first marriage was to Tim Cooney.) [Image via Getty]