Happy Birthday Caroll Spinney!

Happy Birthday Caroll Spinney from Wump Mucket Puppets!

Today is Caroll Spinney’s birthday.  He’s 79 years young!  Those of you not in the puppetry world may wonder who he is.  Perhaps you have heard of the puppets that he’s performed on Sesame Street since 1969.  I am sure you’ve heard of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird.

Little did I know it, Caroll Spinney was entertaining me several years before I watched his puppetry on Sesame Street.  You see, we are both from New England.  He performed as Mister Lion on the “Bozo the Clown” show that aired on Boston TV station WHDH.  I watched it almost every morning.  I remember being upset when my older sister started kindergarten.  Not only was she my first playmate, she watched Bozo with me.   Now we had to walk her to the bus stop BEFORE Bozo was on the air.   Not fair!

Here’s a video of Bozo that I probably watched in 1966:

Then in November of 1969, I  discovered something so wonderful and unique it would capture my imagination for the rest of my life…  Sesame Street, especially Oscar the Grouch!

My father was the morning radio announcer on WCCM in Lawrence, Massachusetts around the time that Sesame Street started.  His show was the usual news updates, weather reports, sprinkled with pop music of the 60’s & 70’s.  My dad knew that we would often have his show tuned in at home and would play “I Love Trash” for me now and then.  It was a special feeling, being 5, to have your Dad play one of Oscar’s songs for you on the radio.

As an adult I have had the pleasure of meeting Caroll several times.  He has always offered very encouraging words to me about my puppetry.  In 2004 I met him at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  I brought along my Cyril puppet to show him.  One of the university staff spotted the puppet as I brought it out of my bag to snap a picture with Caroll and Oscar.  She came up to us and firmly said “No outside puppets!” or something similar.  Caroll turned to her and calmly replied, “It’s okay, he’s another puppeteer with the puppet guild”.

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch with Terrence Burke

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch with Terrence Burke at Miami University 2004

Not only has Caroll helped educate and entertain millions of children through his puppetry, he has been the inspiration to many puppeteers, myself included.  Thank you Caroll, have a wonderful birthday.

Want more info about the life and career of Caroll Spinney?  Then you will want to check out the new film that is being made: http://www.iambigbird.com/

 

 

Sesame Street season 43 is here!

I was not sure what to expect from the season premiere of Sesame Street this past Monday morning. I knew that it would be on at 10 AM as usual, yet had not read anything about the new season.

My wife was not feeling well and stayed home from work. It’s rare that all four members of our little family are together, so I was happy that we would spend an hour watching the new episode of Sesame on the couch. It brought back happy memories from when Eleanor and Tiernan were much smaller.

Without giving too much away, I will say that I have not laughed as hard as I did watching Cookie Monster try to join the Cookie Connoisseurs Club. I consider this
“Must See Sesame”!  What a great show to start a new season, and on Jim Henson’s birthday too.

Now me go get COOOKIE!

Big Bird needs YOUR help!

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.Oscar the Grouch autograph sent to Terrence Burke from Caroll Spinney

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 Spinney, Oscar the Grouch, Terrence Burke and a peeking Cyril the Sea Serpent.

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:  Note from Caroll Spinney to Terrence BurkeI 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:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iambigbird/i-am-big-bird

I have made a contribution, and hope that some of you will too.  Thank you.

 

DVD review round-up time

In the last couple of weeks I have had the pleasure to view two new films (on DVD) that I found very touching.  Thanks to the Cincinnati Library for being such a GREAT library and adding these DVDs to their already amazing collection

The first is a documentary following the puppeteer Kevin Clash, you know, the man beneath the world’s most famous furry red monster.  The film is titled “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”, and what a journey (and treat) this film is.  I found myself close to tears as the story is told of how a child from a working class Baltimore family follows his dream all the way to Sesame Street.  I remember when I was around 10 years old and read about Kevin in an issue of National Geographic’s World magazine for children in the 1970’s, and thinking “Wow!  He makes his own puppets”.  Who knows where I would be now if I had followed that road back then?  Keeping in mind that I grew up watching “classic” Sesame Street I first found Elmo to be annoying.  Neither of our children became very attached to the puppet, yet we do have a number of toys and things with his likeness printed on it around the house.  Over time I have accepted Elmo, and found humor in his appearances both on and off Sesame Street.  I was pleased that the filmmakers captured a very real look at this very talented and successful puppeteer’s life when he is not performing Elmo.  He’s a human being following his dream, just like many of us.         Here’s the trailer.    I give this **** and recommend that you see it.

The next film that I enjoyed is also about a puppeteer (imagine that!), well puppetry was just a part of the volume of work completed in the lifetime of the film’s key figure, Fred Rogers“Mister Rogers & Me: A Deep and Simple Documentary Film” is the work of brothers Benjamin and Christofer Wagner, and what a wonderful piece of work it is.  At the start of the film Benjamin recalls his time spent as Fred Rogers real life neighbor and then takes to the road to speak to some of the people that Fred Rogers was friends with in his life time.  You may have heard of a few of them; Susan Stamberg, Tim Russert, and Found Magazine’s Davy Rothbart .  Each person had wonderful memories to share about the person Mister Rogers was and how his work touched their lives.

I was one of the early viewers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” as a young boy in the 1960’s and like Sesame Street it was the puppets that pulled my young eyes to the television screen everyday.  My childhood had some difficult times, and I can recall wishing to live in “The Neighborhood” or “The Land of Make Believe”, since everything seemed so more appealing to me back then.  Now, as a father of two children, I try to keep Fred Rogers simple yet very true words of wisdom in my everyday life.  The Wagner brothers have created a very simple and honest film that helps continue to spread Fred Rogers wisdom to a world that I feel could really use more neighbors like him more than ever.  Here is the trailer.  I give the film **** and a cardigan sweater.

Terrence Burke performing Coleman the SasquatchWatching these films made me reflect on a few things;  My own childhood, both the good times and the not so good times. The past 8 years of fatherhood, and my work as a puppeteer.  One thought stayed with me, and that is we are here on this planet a very short time.  We should do something that we love and share it with others.  If you watch either of these films, I’d love to know what you think about them.  Drop me a message at www.facebook.com/wumpmucketpuppets

Watching Sesame Street….by myself

As you may know, the children’s television program Sesame Street has always been very dear to me.  Watching it back in 1969 sparked my young imagination and inspired me to become a puppeteer.

Eleanor and her Daddy "play" piano with a Cookie Monster puppet.

When I became a father in 2004, I was very happy that I could once again enjoy the “sunny days” on Sesame Street.  Our daughter Eleanor picked up on her Daddy’s interest in all things Sesame quickly.  Some of her first baby words were “Ku Ku” (for Cookie Monster) and “Bi Bi” (for Big Bird).  She loved sitting with me on the couch every morning at ten to see what our pals on Sesame Street were going to do.   If you are a parent, you know that there are literally TONS of Sesame Street products for young children.  We bought, or were given, many of them. Both of our children played with their Sesame Street toys for many happy hours. I was often asked to supply the voices for our collection of Sesame Street puppets and toys.  Imagine that!

My daughter Eleanor watching Cookie Monster on TV, 2005

Yet, this past week I was watching a few episodes from the 42nd season of Sesame Street all by myself.  Eleanor and Tiernan were off at school and I had no one to share my thoughts about the new episodes with.  They had “graduated” from The Street just as I had many years ago.  I am sure that many parents have feelings of sadness as their children out grow certain television shows, clothes, toys.  I know that I have them and can expect more feelings similar to these in the years to come as my children learn and grow beyond the happy times we had watching Sesame Street together.

Thank you Sesame Street, for those sunny days I had with Eleanor and Tiernan, they will forever be cherished memories.

Can you tell us how to get to Sesame Street? Eleanor and her Daddy, 2005