Today’s Weekly Muppeteer Wednesday article was written by Tom Stroud with edits by Ryan Dosier.
December 26, 1933
Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Bruno the Trashman
WHO IS CAROLL SPINNEY?
Caroll Spinney was born on December 26, 1933, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Before performing with puppets he expressed his talents as an artist, attending The Art Institute of Boston’s College of Art & Design. He created a comic strip while in the military, under the name Ed Spinney. After his time in the military, he worked on several television shows, including Rascal Rabbit in Las Vegas and The Judy and Goggle Show in Boston. Caroll also created two original puppet characters, Picklepuss (pictured at right) and Pop, for the Boston broadcast of Bozo’s Big Top.
In the late 1960s, Caroll met Jim Henson after a stage performance of Caroll’s that hadn’t gone well. As Caroll often notes, Jim came up to him after his failed performance and told Caroll “I like what you were trying to do,” then offering him a job working on a children’s television program that Henson was developing. Caroll, of course, accepted the job and when Sesame Street began he starred as the two Muppets designed for life with the humans on the street: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
As Big Bird, Caroll became a world-famous character–one he would talk about by saying, “It’s like growing up to be Mickey Mouse–only taller!” The Bird quickly became Sesame Street‘s break-out star, garnering his own globe-trotting television specials such as Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan. Later, Big Bird and Caroll starred in their first feature film, Follow That Bird.
Caroll continues to be a very talented artist in his spare time. He illustrated the 1976 Sesame Street book “How to Be a Grouch” and drew all of the pictures of the adults that Big Bird hands out after Mr. Hooper had died. Caroll’s work is currently on display in an exhibit titled “The Art of Caroll Spinney” Philidelphia at the ToonSeum and will be on display through January 30th.
In recent years it has become harder for Caroll to perform the full-bodied Big Bird due to the demand of the puppet, so sometimes Big Bird is performed by Caroll’s hand-picked understudy Matt Vogel. Matt mostly performs Big Bird for Caroll in scenes that require green screen and usually Caroll loops the dialogue over Matt’s.
Caroll has stated numerous times that he can never “imagine willingly walking away from Big Bird and Oscar.” His dedication to the craft of puppetry, Sesame Street, and the characters of Big Bird and Oscar has been unwavering for the past 41 years, and it appears that it will continue on and on until Caroll physically cannot perform the characters any longer. I know that every Sesame Street fan, including me, is incredibly happy to know that.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier