Sunday, December 26, 2010

Carroll Spinney: The Man Behind The Grouch

Carroll Spinney, the man behind Sesame Street's legendary characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, occupies an enviable place in the world of puppeteering; having performed literally thousands of hours in an eight foot tall pile of foam and feathers - which is the kind of gig that would kill even an Australian drag queen - he must surely hold some kind of world record for endurance.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1933, Spinney had a long career in puppetry and animation before coming to the Children's Television Workshop. Renowned as a children's educator (not to mention the co-author of The Wisdom of Big Bird and the author of How To Be A Grouch), Spinney has received four Daytime Emmy Awards, 2 gold records for his musical performances, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and the adoration of two generations of children.

Recently, after more than thirty years, Spinney has had to give up playing Big Bird, passing that duty off to Matt Vogel.

I must confess, though, it's Oscar the Grouch for whom I developed an early affinity; and not just on my bad days either, when the resemblance between us is eerie, but all the time. I can tell you're shocked.

Even as a kid I had the vague sense that the show I loved had a tendency toward sappiness; Oscar, on the other hand, gave the festivities a little variety. For someone who lived in a garbage can (albeit one which was easily as palatial as Snoopy's doghouse) and had to endure an endless string of people calling him a grouch - which would make anybody grouchy - he actually seemed pretty happy in his own way; Oscar's embrace of his own bohemianism led me to believe that when I was older I too could live and act the way I chose and, aside from constant reminders of how weird I was from those around me, also be happy in my own way.

Having early on embraced my inner grouch, this is exactly what has come to pass...
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