Caroll Spinney

Puppeteer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, Caroll 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.

"You could be almost anything when you're running a puppet. You can play a lady, you could play monsters, you name it.  For instance, Oscar and Big Bird are nothing alike. It's sort of a wonderful stretch. You're still acting, but you're acting at the end of your arm, and out of sight."

Highlights
Caroll Spinney on the first time he met Jim Henson
01:21
Caroll Spinney on the story of how "Oscar the Grouch" supposedly got his name
01:18
Caroll Spinney on operating "Big Bird' - and having a monitor to work with
04:23
Caroll Spinney on performing the scene in "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" when "Big Bird" comes to fully realize that "Mr. Hooper" has died
02:26
Caroll Spinney on Jim Henson's death
01:39
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On why his mother selected the name "Caroll" for him; on his parents and older brothers; on loving to draw as a child; on discovering puppetry at age eight and his first puppetry performance; on his mother writing puppet plays for him to perform
On his father wanting him to follow in his footsteps in the watch business; on attending art school in Boston; on his first professional puppet show at age twelve; on why he was drawn to puppetry; on designing training aids in the Air Force; on drawing a comic strip; on loving Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy as a kid; on other radio shows and movies he enjoyed; on liking TV's Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Chapter 2

On his first time seeing television - at the 1939-40 World's Fair; on deciding to be a TV puppeteer after seeing a local Boston puppet show on television; on his family's first television set; on the marionettes on Howdy Doody; on attending the Art Institute of Boston (then called The School of Practical Art); on doing puppet shows while in school; on joining the Air Force
On showing his art portfolio to the Air Force art department; on getting stationed as a draftsman in Las Vegas, but working as an artist; on working with airbrushes; on doing illustrations for a local TV puppet show; on getting his first television show, Rascal Rabbit, on KLAS-TV; on the secret to a good puppet show; on a friend from the Air Force writing stories for his show; on getting stationed in Germany
On interviewing to work for Walt Disney

Chapter 3

On Crazy Crayon; on playing Mr. Lion on Boston's Bozo's Circus; on developing the character of "Picklepuss
On attending the Puppet Festival of America; on the first time he met Jim Henson and Frank Oz; on Jim Henson's early work - commercials with Sam and friends; on seeing Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show; on the name "Muppets"; on Henson asking Spinney to come to New York to check out the Muppets; on Jim Henson scouting for someone to play "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" in 1969

Chapter 4

On going to New York to work for Jim Henson on Sesame Street; on the story of how "Oscar the Grouch" supposedly got his name; on how Jim Henson first described "Big Bird"; on meeting Joan Ganz Cooney; on the mechanics of operating "Big Bird" during the first year of Sesame Street and changing the character's persona to that of a six-year-old child; on "Big Bird" being featured by the second season of Sesame Street; on contemplating quitting Sesame Street
On Jim Henson giving puppeteers creative freedom; on "Oscar the Grouch"; on changes to "Oscar the Grouch" within the first year; on operating "Big Bird' and "Oscar the Grouch"
On the development of "Big Bird's" character; on the fun of doing "Oscar the Grouch" and "Big Bird"

Chapter 5

On children bring traumatized when they see him in half of "Big Bird's" suit; on being a puppeteer and some of the wonderful experiences he's had; on working with Margaret Hamilton, who played The Wizard of Oz's "Wicked Witch"; on traveling with "Big Bird"; on working with the regulars on Sesame Street; on ad-libbing; on how long it takes to shoot one season of Sesame Street
On telling Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") he loved him, during what turned out to be Lee's last day of shooting; on the "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" episode of Sesame Street; on two Sesame Street episodes that never aired: one on divorce and another on a bad dream (by "Ernie"); on one of his favorite episodes in which "Snuffleupagus" becomes "real" (as opposed to being "Big Bird's" imaginary friend)
On being on Sesame Street for over 30 years; on how he spends his time when he's not performing "Big Bird"; on the commercialization of Sesame Street; on the success of The Muppet Show

Chapter 6

On The Muppet Show; on Jim Henson's dream of making movies and Labyrinth flopping; on his schedule and making appearances for Sesame Street; on working on The Muppet Show; on "Big Bird's" dancing; on the second season and beyond of Sesame Street; on loving working on Sesame Street
On Jim Henson's death; on the future of puppeteering; on his parents' reactions to his success; on advice to aspiring puppeteers; on the joys of working on Sesame Street
Shows

Bozo's Circus

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Caroll Spinney on playing Mr. Lion on Boston's Bozo's Circus
11:50

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Caroll Spinney on seeing Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:56

Hollywood Squares, The

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Caroll Spinney on appearing on Hollywood Squares
00:11

Howdy Doody

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Caroll Spinney on the marionettes on Howdy Doody
01:03

I Love Lucy

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Caroll Spinney on the popularity of I Love Lucy
00:55

Kukla, Fran & Ollie

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Caroll Spinney on loving Kukla, Fran & Ollie
01:13

Muppet Show, The

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Caroll Spinney on the success of The Muppet Show
00:25
Caroll Spinney on The Muppet Show
03:29
Caroll Spinney on working on The Muppet Show
01:48

Sesame Street

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Caroll Spinney on performing "Oscar the Grouch"
00:31
Caroll Spinney on performing both "Bird Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" when they appear in the same scene
00:49
Caroll Spinney on his characterization of "Big Bird"
01:54
Caroll Spinney on going to New York to work for Jim Henson on Sesame Street
27:41
Caroll Spinney on a child's shock at seeing him getting out of his "Bird Bird" costume at one filming; on children's belief that there is a "real" Sesame Street and that the show just recreates it
01:27
"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") and "Big Bird's" mispronunciation of "Mr. Hooper's" name
01:03
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on telling Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") he loved him, during what turned out to be Lee's last day of shooting
01:02
"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on the Sesame Street episode "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" which addressed the death of character "Mr. Hooper," following actor Will Lee's death
01:10
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on performing the scene in "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" when "Big Bird" comes to fully realize that Mr. Hooper has died
02:26
"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on two Sesame Street episodes that never aired: one on divorce and another on a bad dream (by "Ernie")
01:22
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on a scene in which "Snuffleupagus" becomes "real" (as opposed to "Big Bird's" imaginary friend)
02:17
Caroll Spinney on the commercialization of Sesame Street
02:01
Caroll Spinney on his schedule and making appearances for Sesame Street
01:06
Caroll Spinney on the second season and beyond of Sesame Street and how Jim Henson's death affected the show
05:17

Sesame Street: "Farewell, Mr. Hooper"

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"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") and "Big Bird's" mispronunciation of "Mr. Hooper's" name
01:03
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on telling Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") he loved him, during what turned out to be Lee's last day of shooting
01:02
"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on the Sesame Street episode "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" which addressed the death of character "Mr. Hooper," following actor Will Lee's death
01:10
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on performing the scene in "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" when "Big Bird" comes to fully realize that Mr. Hooper has died
02:26
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
Caroll Spinney on performing Sesame Street's "Oscar the Grouch"
00:31
Caroll Spinney on his characterization of "Big Bird" on Sesame Street
01:54
Caroll Spinney on the mechanics of operating "Big Bird" during the first year of Sesame Street and changing the character's persona to that of a six-year-old child
03:53
Caroll Spinney on "Oscar the Grouch" and changes to the character within the first year of Sesame Street
03:25

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Carroll Spinney on Jim Henson scouting for someone to play "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" in 1969, and Spinney's one lesson on operating Muppets
01:55

Pop Culture

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Caroll Spinney on the name "Muppets"
01:11

We Cried

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"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on telling Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") he loved him, during what turned out to be Lee's last day of shooting; on "Farewell, Mr. Hooper"
04:38
Professions

Puppeteer

View Profession
Caroll Spinney on discovering puppetry at age eight and his first puppetry performance
08:24
Caroll Spinney on his first professional puppet show at age twelve
02:14
Caroll Spinney on why he was drawn to puppetry
02:14
Caroll Spinney on deciding to be a TV puppeteer after seeing a local Boston puppet show on television
01:43
Caroll Spinney on being a puppeteer and some of the wonderful experiences he's had
03:51
Caroll Spinney on the future of puppeteering
02:26
Genres

Children's Programming

View Genre
Caroll Spinney on playing Mr. Lion on Boston's Bozo's Circus
11:50
Caroll Spinney on going to New York to work for Jim Henson on Sesame Street
27:41
Caroll Spinney on the cast and memorable episodes of Sesame Street
27:12
Caroll Spinney on the second season and beyond of Sesame Street and how Jim Henson's death affected the show
05:17
People

Fran Allison

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Caroll Spinney on loving Kukla, Fran & Ollie
01:13

Edgar Bergen

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Caroll Spinney on loving Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy as a kid
00:56

Joan Ganz Cooney

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Caroll Spinney on meeting Joan Ganz Cooney
01:11

Walt Disney

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Caroll Spinney on interviewing to work for Walt Disney
01:39

Lew Grade

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Caroll Spinney on The Muppet Show
01:31

Jim Henson

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Caroll Spinney on making adults enjoy puppets
00:19
Caroll Spinney on loving Kukla, Fran & Ollie
01:13
Caroll Spinney on seeing Jim Henson at the Puppet Festival of America in Salt Lake; on the first time he met Jim Henson
01:33
Caroll Spinney on Jim Henson's early work - commercials with Sam and friends
02:11
Caroll Spinney on seeing Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:56
Caroll Spinney on his first conversation with Jim Henson, and Henson's reaction to Spinney's show with the character "Goggle" - a character similar to "Big Bird", and asking Spinney to come to New York to check out the Muppets; on Henson's popularity and work in the late '60s
08:57
Caroll Spinney on going to New York to work for Jim Henson on Sesame Street
06:42
Caroll Spinney on not getting paid while Sesame Street was on hiatus, then coming back for the second season of Sesame Street
01:47
Caroll Spinney on Jim Henson giving puppeteers creative freedom
01:11
Caroll Spinney on the success of The Muppet Show
00:25
Caroll Spinney on The Muppet Show
03:29
Caroll Spinney on Jim Henson's death
01:39

Will Lee

View Person Page
"Big Bird"/"Oscar the Grouch" performer Caroll Spinney on Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper"); "Big Bird's" mispronunciation of "Mr. Hooper's" name
01:03
"Big Bird" performer Caroll Spinney on telling Will Lee ("Mr. Hooper") he loved him, during what turned out to be Lee's last day of shooting; on "Farewell, Mr. Hooper"
04:38

Loretta Long

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Caroll Spinney on working with Loretta Long on Sesame Street
01:28

Kermit Love

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Caroll Spinney on Kermit Love's designs for "Big Bird"
03:45
Caroll Spinney on traveling with "Big Bird's" suit
01:53

Bob McGrath

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Caroll Spinney on working with Bob McGrath on Sesame Street
01:12

Jeff Moss

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Caroll Spinney on changing "Big Bird's" persona to that of a six-year-old child
01:35

Roscoe Orman

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Caroll Spinney on working with Roscoe Orman on Sesame Street
00:16

Frank Oz

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Caroll Spinney on the first time he met Jim Henson and Frank Oz
01:21
Caroll Spinney on Frank Oz beginning to do voices
01:03

Ed Sullivan

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Caroll Spinney on seeing Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:56

Shirley Temple

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Caroll Spinney on why he was drawn to puppetry - and loving performing
02:14

Burr Tillstrom

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Caroll Spinney on loving Kukla, Fran & Ollie
00:06

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