I am a huge fan of puppeteer Caroll Spinney. Why this particular puppeteer? Why not Jim Henson? Why not Gus Alligretti? Oh, believe me, I love Jim’s and Gus’s work quite a bit. Yet for some reason, in 1969, my almost 5 year old eyes watched Caroll perform Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird on Sesame Street and loved them ever since.
It was at that point in my life that I can say that I was bit by the “puppet bug”. I do remember that one of the things that made the Oscar puppet so appealing to me was that he was originally orange, and guess what? Orange is my favorite color! I also enjoyed his sarcasm, yet probably didn’t quite understand what that was back then. Not too long after seeing the premier of Sesame Street, my father took me to a puppetry convention in Boston to meet the orange Oscar and his puppeteer. I did not know it then, but it was a life changing moment. Meeting my puppeteer hero and his superstar puppet character would plant the seed in my very young head that one day I too would be a puppeteer.
Now let’s jump ahead a few decades to 2004. I learn through the puppet grapevine that Caroll will be in the Cincinnati area to promote his book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers. Of course I was in the audience to hear him read from the book. I remember being so happy that I almost began to cry. The early part of that decade was an emotional time for me. My father had suddenly passed away in 2001, I was having a difficult time finding a job that I wanted to be at, and my wife Lara and I were expecting our first child. During those years I was slowly laying the foundation of what would eventually become the Wump Mucket Puppets.
Caroll’s reading was lots of fun, especially when he brought out Oscar and sang “I Love Trash” to the audience. After the reading I hung around the reception area to get up enough nerve to say hello. I am glad that I did, for Caroll was very kind and appreciated the fact that another member of the puppetry community had come to see him.
A couple of years passed, we were busy raising Eleanor, and expecting our son Tiernan’s birth. I was still getting things together for the puppet show during my “free” time. I mailed Caroll a letter with a photo or two to share my progress with him. A while later he replied with a very kind note that included this message: I was thrilled! The puppeteer who’s work captivated me as a child and inspired me to become a puppeteer as an adult had just suggested that I “keep puppeteering!”. Wow! Now I really had to get my puppet show together and get my puppets out where children could see them, after all, Caroll Spinney had told me to!
I am very pleased that a documentary is being made about Caroll, his life, and his work as a puppeteer. If any of our readers or audience members have the means to contribute to what I consider a very important film, please follow this link:
I have made a contribution, and hope that some of you will too. Thank you.