Since 1969, a big yellow bird has appeared on our screens. Big Bird is one of the most iconic children’s characters of all time and while we may have been a bit too old to really love Big Bird ourselves, we would definitely remember him from when we were raising our children.
This week, Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer for the giant bird (and also the voice for Oscar the Grouch!), answered fan questions on the popular forum site Reddit. Contrary to what you may think, most of the people asking questions were well into adulthood and had been fans for 40+ years.
Caroll was promoting a new documentary of his time as Big Bird, called ‘I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story’.
Here are some of the best questions and answers:
Q. What has been your most meaningful interaction with a child during filming? Or maybe from someone who grew up watching you and relayed a poignant story?
A. Okay, here’s one.
This is a very sad story, but it’s real.
I got a letter from a fan who said his little boy, who was 5 years old, his name was Joey, he was dying of cancer.
And he was so ill, the little boy knew he was dying.
So the man, in his letter, asked if I would call the little boy. He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television.
So once in a while, he wouldn’t see Big Bird on some days, because he wasn’t necessarily in every show. So he asked could I telephone him, and talk to the boy, tell him what a good boy he’s been.
So I took a while to look up a phone, because this was before cell phones. And they got a long cord to bring a phone to the boy.
And I had Big Bird say “Hello! Hello Joey! It’s me, Big Bird!”
So he said “Is it really you, Big Bird?”
“Yes, it is.”
I chatted a while with him, about ten minutes, and he said “I’m glad you’re my friend Big Bird.”
And I said “I’d better let you go now.”
He said “Thank you for calling me Big Bird. You’re my friend. You make me happy.”
And it turns out that his father and mother were sitting with him when the phone call came. And he was very, very ill that day. And they called the parents in, because they weren’t sure how long he’d last.
And so his father wrote to me right away, and said “Thank you, thank you” – he hadn’t seen him smile since October, and this was in March – and when the phone was hung up, he said “Big Bird called me! He’s my friend.”
And he closed his eyes. And he passed away.
And I could see that what I say to children can be very important.
And he said “We haven’t seen our little boy smile in MONTHS. He smiled, as he passed away. It was a gift to us. Thank you.”
Q. How does it feel to be such a large part of so many people’s childhoods?
A. It feels wonderful.
I meet many people, and often they express how happy they are whenever the show was on, and that Big Bird was truly a friend of theirs. And they talk about their childhood, how much it meant to them.
Don’t know if you’ll see this, but will try anyway… I’m a 49 year old who saw the very first episode of Sesame Street, and immediately fell in love with Oscar the Grouch. So much so that when I got my first kitten for Christmas, he was christened Oscar (a name and image he lived up to).
User comment: Just want to say thank you for being such a big part of this middle aged woman’s early childhood development!
Q. Hi, Mr. Spinney! The characters you portray have always been some of my favorite, and I’d like to thank you for the impact you had on my childhood. To what would you attribute the major success and longevity of Sesame Street?
A. I think Sesame Street is fascinating to a lot of people, not just children. Because we tried to make it appealing to little children and to grownups. There’s a period of time in children’s lives where they don’t like things they perceive as “made for babies.” And my daughter, Jessie, loved the puppets until she was 9 or so. And then she sat with her friends, and they said “That’s such a baby show.” But when she got to be 13, or 14, she said she loved watching the show and got the jokes we put in for grownups.
So the children come back.
After a little period of saying “I’m a big girl now!” or “I’m a big boy now.”
So we try to make the show great for EVERYBODY who wants to watch.
Main image source
Did you watch Sesame Street with your children? Did you enjoy it too? Tell us below.