Set your WABAC machine for April 1, 2004.
Upon arriving at The Phoenix restaurant in downtown Cincinnati I notice a sign for the lecture that I was attending was being held on the third floor. The lecture was to benefit the early childhood organization 4C, it’s speaker was none other than Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney!
I took the elevator up to the function room, checked in at the registration table, and entered the room. There was a dinner before the lecture, but the cost was beyond my budget so I paid for the lecture and dessert. Inside the large room I selected an aisle seat in the second row in the center section. From there I took out my camera to see how a picture would look.
After sitting for about 10 minutes I noticed Caroll Spinney approaching the stage with a woman from the 4C organization. He was carrying a duffel bag. They adjusted the microphone at the lectern, and then Caroll Spinney looked at me, I wave back. He then says, “Mister Puppeteer” and gives me a friendly smile. You should know that I had attended his talk the night before at Miami University and we were able to talk a little afterward. A group of newspaper photographers then arrived to take pictures of Caroll with Oscar the Grouch and then Ohio Senator Mark Mallory.
When the photographers finished, Caroll put Oscar back in his bag and then started to leave the stage when he made a sudden stop, turned around and approached me. I stood up to greet him, and he nodded towards the podium and jokingly says to me, “If anyone goes back there…kill them” referring to the famous puppet that was behind the podium.
When the lecture began Caroll walked onto the stage and looked at me with a nod of his head to say “thank you”. He read a few paragraphs from his then current autobiography The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers and then said that Oscar was gnawing at his leg!
In seconds Oscar the Grouch is singing “I Love Trash” and I snapped a few pictures of this wonderful performance that is only about 15 feet in front of me.
Caroll then took questions from the audience, I chose not to ask anything in order to give someone else a turn. When the lecture ended, Caroll moved to a table to sign his book, I was towards the beginning of the line -rather at the end as I was the night before. I brought with me the sleeve of an old record with Big Bird on the cover and a copy of Caroll’s book to sign. When it was my turn he recognized me at once, I told him that Oscar was safe while he was away from the stage. Caroll thanked me and said that he knew that he left Oscar in good hands. I then asked him what inspired him to become a puppeteer. He then went on to tell me that he saw a few teenagers perform with kitten puppets when he was three years old.
That evening was as close as I have ever been to Sesame Street. Watching Caroll Spinney’s performance as Oscar and Big Bird when I was almost 5 years old in 1969 has stayed with me for the past 40 years and remains a strong inspiration to be a puppeteer.
Happy 40th anniversary to everyone who ever walked on Sesame Street.