The talented Sonia Manzano has a new book out! Sesame Street’s “Maria” not only wrote for and acted in the popular children’s program, but is also an established novelist. Her latest book, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, is set in 1960’s New York City and follows a young girl’s coming of age in the midst of the Latino Civil Rights movement.
Archive for the ‘"Sesame Street"’ Category
Carroll Spinney portrays two of the most recognizable characters on television, yet his face might not be a familiar one. He spends most of his time either in a yellow, feathered suit, or hidden behind a trash can. For over 40 years now, Spinney has performed both “Big Bird” and “Oscar the Grouch” on the beloved children’s show, Sesame Street. Surprised that “Big Bird” and “Oscar” are played by the same person? According to Spinney, “that’s the fun of the job, doing them both. It’s refreshing to get to be ‘Oscar’ after being so sweet all day.”
Spinney’s interest in puppetry began at age eight, when he started making his own puppets at the urging of his mother. He attended art school, soon had his own show, Rascal Rabbit, and in 1962 met a young man named Jim Henson, who at the time was beginning to enjoy his own success in the field of puppetry. Henson asked Spinney to come work for him in New York, but it wasn’t until 1969 that Spinney took him up on the offer. The show Spinney traveled to New York to work on: Sesame Street.
Below Spinney shares the genesis of his two characters:
Carroll Spinney on the first version of “Big Bird”:
And on the earliest incarnation of “Oscar the Grouch”:
Watch Carroll Spinney’s full interview here:
About this interview:
In his three hour Archive interview, Carroll Spinney discusses his early interest in drawing and puppetry. He describes his first work in television puppetry, with his “Rascal Rabbit” puppet, outlines his time on Boston’s Bozo’s Circus, and recalls the first time he met Jim Henson. Spinney then details joining the cast of Sesame Street and explains the intricacies of performing “Big Bird” and “Oscar the Grouch.” He describes the two characters, what he’s added to their personalities over the years, and why he loves getting to play them both. Spinney speaks of his castmates on Sesame Street, how the death of Will Lee (“Mr. Hooper”) affected the show, and what it was like to shoot the memorable, “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” episode of Sesame Street. Spinney also illustrates the educational nature of the children’s program and offers advice to aspiring puppeteers. Michael Rosen conducted the interview on May 12, 2001 in Woodstock, CT.
“My sister wants to see the world the way John Lennon saw the world. My nephew wants to see the world the way Kermit saw the world.”
A child of the ’80s, I was one of those kids who wanted (and still wants) to see the world as Kermit sees it. He believes in dreaming big, following your heart, and in bringing together creatures of all sorts to sing and dance. Kermit was, and still is, the friend you want in your corner – the peace-keeping, loyal frog who also happens to play a mean banjo.
And now he’s back on the big screen! In honor of the new Muppet movie out today, we’ve uncovered memorable Muppet moments in the Archive’s collection, and there are a-plenty! Many of the cast members of Sesame Street, including Roscoe Orman, Loretta Long, Sonia Manzano, and Bob McGrath, spoke with us about working with Muppets. Several interviewees recalled guest appearances on The Muppet Show, and many shared what it was like to work with the Muppet Man himself, Jim Henson. Our collection holds a plethora of Muppet memories, and has once more brought out the Kermit-loving kid in me.
When you hear the word Muppet, a few characters probably come to mind: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Bert and Ernie, maybe Fozzie and Cookie Monster, or even Red from Fraggle Rock. I was always a fan of Snuffleupagus and The Swedish Chef. There are a lot of Muppets out there, and each has its own distinct personality. Yes, technically, they’re puppets fashioned of fabric and rods, but through their facial expressions, voices, movements, and interactions with others, they seem as real as the flesh and blood actors with whom they appear on screen. For inanimate objects, they’re always sooo animated. (Think of Kermit’s “sheesh” and his gulp, when he scrunches up his face, or Miss Piggy’s snout when she’s mad at Kermit.) In his Archive interview, Sesame Street’s Roscoe Orman, who plays “Gordon Robinson,” sheds light on why the Muppets always feel like living, breathing beings: “The Henson puppeteers are extremely talented actors,” Orman explains. “They just happen to act with dolls. Whereas we act with our own selves, our own bodies, they act with these dolls. They become these dolls.” Gifted individuals like Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, and Carroll Spinney performed the Muppets – skilled actors whose puppets were extensions of their personae. Enjoy for yourself as Orman and others on Sesame Street describe what its like to have Muppets and Muppeteers as co-workers:
The Muppet Show was more adult in nature than Sesame Street, and a hard sell for that very reason. In his 2001 Archive interview, Jim Henson’s manager, Bernie Brillstein shared the difficulty he encountered in convincing people that Muppets did not have to be solely for young audiences. The Muppets appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1975, in sketches that Bernstein described as not a great fit, but the Muppets finally found a primetime home in London, where The Muppet Show was shot in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Brillstein and Archive interviewees Andy Williams and Florence Henderson, who appeared as special guests on the program, recall their experiences with Jim Henson on The Muppet Show:
Statler and Waldorf, “Pigs in Space,” “Mahna mahna”- which my sister and I mistakenly believed was called “Phenomenon…” so many incredible characters and skits emerged from The Muppet Show. Turns out the Muppets were ready-for-primetime players, and Jim Henson knew how to make them shine. So when Henson’s own light went out on that day in May of 1990, his death came as a shock, and many wondered what it would mean for the future of his beloved Muppets. Several of our Archive interviewees reminisced on working with Henson, and on the atmosphere he fostered on his shows:
Though there will never be another quite like Jim Henson, his death did not signify the end of all things Muppet. Disney, Jim Henson Studios, and The Sesame Workshop continue to provide the world with the joy of Kermit, Ernie, and friends, and I sincerely hope that there will never be a world without Muppets. I hope that today’s new Muppet movie is simply the latest adventure in a long list of great Muppet capers yet to come, and that the film honors the characters I cherish from my youth. In my book, every child should have the chance to see the world according to Kermit.
- by Adrienne Faillace
For more on Jim Henson, the Muppets early television appearances, and The Muppet Show, visit manager Bernie Brillstein’s interview
For more on Sesame Street’s Muppets, visit our Sesame Street show page
Wise words from an adorable red Muppet. Elmo made a special guest appearance at the Archive’s 2004 interview with puppeteer Kevin Clash, greeting everyone and offering the above as advice for aspiring Muppets. Not a bad piece of advice for us all.
Kevin Clash, better known to many as the man behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, spoke to the Archive for two hours about his early interest in puppetry and how he got involved with shows like Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street. Selections from the interview are featured in the new documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, out today, November 4th. The film follows Clash’s path from constructing puppets as a 9-year-old boy in Baltimore, to creating Elmo and traveling the world with one of the most beloved Muppets of all time.
Below are some clips from Kevin Clash’s interview:
On how he became Elmo’s puppeteer:
On working with Elmo – Elmo makes a special appearance!
On developing Elmo’s character:
View Kevin Clash’s full interview at: http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/kevin-clash
Learn more about Being Elmo and where to see the film at: http://beingelmo.com/
Tony Geiss, a key collaborator on Sesame Street for which he was awarded several Emmy Awards, has died at the age of 86.
Click here for his New York Times obituary.
Click here for Tony Geiss’ full Archive interview.
Tony Geiss was interviewed for one-and-a-half hours at the Sesame Workshop in New York, NY. Geiss spoke in great detail about his 28-year association as a writer of the classic children’s series Sesame Street. He described the basics of writing for the show, the importance of research, and his composition of the enduring theme song for “Elmo’s World.” He also talked about key creative talent from the series including series developer Joan Ganz Cooney and performers Kevin Clash, Will Lee, and Carroll Spinney. Additionally, he talked about his early years as a writer on such television series as WNET’s “How to Be Mayor of New York.” The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on July 20, 2004.
The Archive of American Television has interviewed many of the key talents associated with this series.
Among the many other contributors to Sesame Street who have been interviewed by AAT are: Dr. Lewis Bernstein (executive producer), Ed Christie (art director/ puppet designer), Kevin Clash (puppeteer, “Elmo”), Danny Epstein (music director), Tony Geiss (writer), Loretta Long (“Susan”), Sonia Manzano (“Maria”), Lloyd Morrisett (executive, Children’s Television Workshop), and Roscoe Orman (“Gordon”). These interviews can be viewed at Television Academy headquarters in North Hollywood, CA and will be available on Google Video in the future.
What did you learn from watching Sesame Street?
Archive interviewee Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who plays the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, was honored with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 33rd Annual Daytime Craft Emmy Awards. Spinney was chosen for his work entertaining and educating children for nearly four decades, since the series debut in 1969. His characters have been seen on more than 4,000 episodes, as well as Sesame Street television specials that have taken Spinney to China, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Spinney starred in the feature film Follow That Bird and has performed on a number of other shows, including The West Wing and Hollywood Squares.
Mr. Spinney’s Archive of American Television interview was conducted on May 12, 2001.