We have recently lost Sesame Street legend, Caroll Spinney at the age of 85. He died from complications from dystonia at his home in Woodstock, Connecticut. In memoriam of this legend to begin 2020, let me honor him by sharing my biggest memories of him.
This hit me big as Sesame Street was my childhood and Big Bird was my favorite as a kid, though Grover has taken that place now as I think he’s the funniest, though in terms of emotion, Big Bird is still up there in second place. As a kid, I loved seeing Big Bird and his friendship with Snuffy, it was always adorable and charming. With that, when I wasn’t watching Sesame Street on PBS, I watched my My Sesame Street Home Video VHS tapes which while half the length of the show at the time of release, had original stories and for said cassettes and maintained a lot of the skits. Most of these starred Big Bird and gave me more of my fondest memories with him.
|Big Bird's Reading Hot Line from Getting Ready to Read
|Don't Eat the Pictures
|Big Bird in Follow That Bird
|Caroll Spinney at a private screening for Follow That Bird
|Big Bird's nest rebuilt
One of my other memories which was a sad one was during Season 32 in 2001 on episodes 3976 to 3980 when a hurricane happened at Sesame Street and Big Bird’s nest was destroyed in it. With this, Big Bird had to rebuild it so he could have his home back and the location got a major overhaul as a result. The full week’s street scenes from the week long arc are now available officially on YouTube.
|Oscar the Grouch
Also along with Big Bird, we have Oscar the Grouch who is the most negative character on Sesame Street, and we all love him for it. He’s a cranky, miserable, and dirty muppet whom I think humorously represents the negative side of many of us and also adds conflict to Sesame Street where need be. But I love that despite how he is antagonistic at times, he’s not evil and he is friends with some of the kids and the muppets, notably Telly Monster.
|Caroll Spinney as Bruno the Trash Man, Oscar's chauffeur
|Oscar and Bruno
The point of this with Oscar is that during the broken arm episodes, in episode 3112 which is set on the final day Telly has to keep his cast on before it’s removed, he lets those who haven’t signed it yet know it’s the last chance to get it signed. Oscar pops out saying he wants to sign Telly’s cast, but despite Telly being friends with him, he knows Oscar’s negative traits as well and fears that Oscar might be falsely getting Telly’s hopes up and when Telly does offer to let him, Oscar will quickly take back saying he wants to sign the cast. Oscar really wants to sign it and does what he can to prove to Telly that he’s sincere. He tells a story about when a monster who wanted to give a grouch a hug and the grouch refused until the monster got covered in mud and how Telly’s cast has gotten dirty and Oscar would love to sign it. Telly believes it for a moment, but Oscar’s marker has no ink and this leads Telly again to believe it was a trick. Oscar gains a new marker and once again wants to sign the cast, but Telly still doesn’t believe him until Luis and the kids on Sesame Street convince Telly to give Oscar a chance, and Oscar finally signs it which makes Telly so happy that he hugs Oscar. Yeah, Oscar acts like he doesn’t like the hug, but he’s happy he got to sign Telly’s cast.
He also drew a picture of Mr. Hooper when Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper sadly died, and that picture has been part of Big Bird’s nest ever since.
However, along with writing a book, Carroll Spinney took the Big Bird suit to China to film a tour with Bob Hope called “Bob Hope on the Road to China” and this inspired Spinney to come up with a story so he could go back one more time for his own tale. He pitched his idea to the Children’s Television Workshop which produces and owns Sesame Street (now known as Sesame Workshop) and it got approved. However, while this was Spinney’s story, he was not credited as one of the people who wrote it which I feel is a shame. Jon Stone and Joseph A. Bailey who also did the writing were credited instead. The story involves Big Bird seeing an old scroll with a picture of a phoenix and the shopkeeper where the scroll is tells Big Bird that it’s a magical bird in China and to find it, he must visit four locations pictured on the scroll. So Big Bird along with Barkley set out on a boat to China to find the phoenix. The movie premiered on NBC on May 29, 1983. I have not as of posting this seen the movie yet.
|Matt Vogel with Big Bird
|Spinney and Vogel together
|Eric Jacobson with Bert and Grover
From many of us who grew up for years on Sesame Street and all your joy with Big Bird and grouchiness with Oscar, Caroll Spinney, we will never forget you.
Special Thanks to the Muppet Wiki for the images.