While the show takes place in a magical mirror New York, the set is at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, where decidedly grittier fare, including “Fort Apache - The Bronx” was filmed.
On the last day of filming this spring, the Big Bird head was wheeled upright on a dolly as Mr. Spinney sat on the stoop. The scene began with Big Bird asking two children if they would like to hear a story.
When Big Bird and Oscar appear in the same scene, Mr. Spinney prerecords Oscar’s voice. Then he acts the scene as Big Bird while someone else puppeteers Oscar.
Mr. Spinney says he modeled Oscar on the Bronx taxi driver who drove him to the old Muppet Mansion the first day he played the character, greeting him with a gruff, “Where to, Mac?” In Mr. Spinney’s mind, Oscar is 43.
When the Big Bird costume is not in use, it’s stored in a crate about 10 feet high. A Muppet wrangler smoothes Big Bird’s feathers when they get ruffled and hand-glues replacements if they get crunched. The feathers arrive from supplier American Plume & Fancy Feather Co. in New York’s Garment District on boas, dyed two shades of yellow. The Muppet wranglers grade them, A through D. Only A and B-plus feathers are applied to Big Bird’s head and neck.
“I’m still using the head we started with,” Mr. Spinney says. “He’s had face-lifts.” He estimates Big Bird has been through four bodies. Oscar still has his original eyebrows.
A Muppet wrangler also travels with Big Bird when he’s on the road. The body of the costume is shipped in two crates; the head travels in a separate box.
“My worst fear is that we take off and I would see the boxes lying on the tarmac,” says senior Muppet wrangler Michelle Hickey.
After seven years of working with Mr. Spinney, Miss Hickey describes him as having “the heart of Big Bird and a teeny bit of Oscar.”
Elizabeth Fernandez, 20, started working at “Sesame Street” as an intern in the research department and is now an assistant talent coordinator, working with the children who appear on the show, while she finishes college at night.
“People here are so encouraging about going to school, getting your master’s degree,” she says. “There’s room to move up; a lot of people started as interns.
“It really is Sesame Street.”
By Elaine Donnelly
Extending sexual misconduct to combat units
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Entertainment News and Reviews from Washington, D.C. and beyond.
Columns from Voices around the World talking about the events, people, politics and social issues that concern us wherever, and whoever, we are.
Video reviews of today's hottest trends in Minecraft (servers and mods) along with a look at the latest video games with your host MCairsoft14 (alias Jerad Zad).
Covering the world of soccer, including the World Cup, Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the English Premier League and other interesting sporting events.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention