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.