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{{performer2|Caroll Spinney|1969 - present|Matt Vogel|ca. 1998 - present, understudy}}
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{{performer2|Caroll Spinney|1969 - present|Matt Vogel|2000 - present, understudy}}
 
[[Image:Bigbirdnewversion.png|right|316px]]
 
[[Image:Bigbirdnewversion.png|right|316px]]
 
{{designer|[[Jim Henson]]|designer|[[Kermit Love]] and [[Don Sahlin]]|builders}}
 
{{designer|[[Jim Henson]]|designer|[[Kermit Love]] and [[Don Sahlin]]|builders}}
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[[File:KUHT_Big_Bird.jpg|thumb|300px|Big Bird in a publicity photo promoting ''[[Sesame Street, Special]]''.]]
 
[[File:KUHT_Big_Bird.jpg|thumb|300px|Big Bird in a publicity photo promoting ''[[Sesame Street, Special]]''.]]
   
Big Bird lives alone on Sesame Street, essentially adopted by the general neighborhood, with [[Susan]] and [[Gordon]] often acting as stand-in parents. In ''[[Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Hospital]]'', when the hospital receptionist asks if Maria is Big Bird's mother, she replied, ""Not exactly... Kind of... Yes."
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Big Bird lives alone on Sesame Street, essentially adopted by the general neighborhood, with [[Susan]] and [[Gordon]] often acting as stand-in parents. In ''[[Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Hospital]]'', when the hospital receptionist asks if Maria is Big Bird's mother, she replied, ""Not exactly... Kind of... Yes."
 
As a [[Baby Big Bird|baby]], Big Bird was raised by his [[Granny Bird]] and his aunt, [[Nani Bird]]. As he became more self-reliant, Big Bird moved out on his own, to his nest on Sesame Street.
 
As a [[Baby Big Bird|baby]], Big Bird was raised by his [[Granny Bird]] and his aunt, [[Nani Bird]]. As he became more self-reliant, Big Bird moved out on his own, to his nest on Sesame Street.
   

Revision as of 17:08, November 19, 2012

Performer:
Caroll Spinney • (1969 - present)
Matt Vogel • (2000 - present, understudy)
Bigbirdnewversion
Design Team:
Jim Henson • (designer)
Kermit Love and Don Sahlin • (builders)
Big-bird-NEW
Bird&hooperpic
Jimhenson-bigbird
Jim Henson's original design for Big Bird.

Big Bird is an 8-foot, 2-inch yellow bird who lives on Sesame Street. Since Sesame Street premiered in 1969, Big Bird has entertained millions of pre-school children and their parents with his wide-eyed wondering at the world. Big Bird is also a bird who makes friends easily.

The world-famous bird has been a central character on Sesame Street for the program's run, premiering in the first episode. The big yellow bird can roller skate, ice skate, dance, sing, write poetry, draw, and even ride a unicycle — pretty talented for a character described in the TV show's writer's guide as a 6-year-old. But despite this wide array of talents, he's prone to frequent misunderstandings, like thinking that the alphabet is one long word.

Big Bird lives in a large nest behind 123 Sesame Street and next to Oscar's trash can, and he has a teddy bear named Radar.

Big Bird helps children feel all right about not knowing everything because he himself does not know everything, and encourages them to inquire: a common Big Bird phrase in recent years has been "Asking questions is a good way of finding things out!" He also teaches other life, alphabet, and numerical lessons: "I guess it's better to be who you are. Turns out people like you best that way, anyway." [1]

For many years his best friend Mr. Snuffleupagus (who Big Bird calls Snuffy) was deemed as imaginary by the adults on Sesame Street. Every time Snuffy would visit, he would coincidentally leave just before the adults arrived. Despite not being believed by the adults, Big Bird continued to assert that Snuffy was real. In the early 1980s, a string of high-profile child sexual abuse cases caused Sesame Workshop (then Children's Television Workshop) to eliminate this running gag, fearing that children would take to heart the message that, if adults don't believe something out of the ordinary even when they are telling the truth, they'd be just as well off to remain silent.

Big Bird took center stage on Sesame Street in the early 1980s, when the show dealt with the death of storekeeper Mr. Hooper (necessitated by the death of Will Lee, the actor who played the role). Big Bird got confused when he tried to go into Hooper's Store to give Mr. Hooper his drawing Big Bird made of and for him. The adults, including Maria, David, Bob, Susan, Gordon, and Luis tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper is not coming back because he's dead and when people die, they don't come back. ("Ever?" "No, never") Big Bird's realization that Mr. Hooper wasn't just gone temporarily, and Big Bird's acceptance of Mr. Hooper's death, have been hailed as a milestone in children's programming.

Big Bird starred on the big screen in the 1985 film Follow That Bird, in which he is sent by Miss Finch, a bird social worker, to live with a foster family of Dodos. He soon runs away from his new home to get back to Sesame Street and he is kidnapped and dyed baby blue by two ratty circus-owners. He also had a role in the feature film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and starred in the feature-length specials Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan.

Big Bird also appeared in cameo roles in the films The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan and the television special A Muppet Family Christmas, and as a guest on The Muppet Show episode 318, plus a variety of outside TV appearances.

Big Bird's species

Big Bird Jim Henson design
An early design for Big Bird by Jim Henson, on Children's Television Workshop stationery.
SesameStreet-EarlyBigBird

Big Bird's precise species is unknown, and over the years, there have been varying explanations for his unusual size and appearance:

  • In a 1981 episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, King Friday XIII asked Big Bird if he's related to the cassowary. Big Bird replied "actually, I'm a golden condor." [3]
  • In the 2004 direct-to-video special A Celebration of Me, Grover, Big Bird says, "I wish I could fly like Super Grover. But my Grandpa was an emu bird. They can't fly. But they can run! Every fall, Grandpa ran south for the winter." Also Big Bird always says he can't fly, but because he's only 6 could be a reason why he can't fly.
  • Oscar the Grouch sometimes refers to Big Bird as a "turkey" -- an insult rather than a reflection of Big Bird's species. However, this does help Big Bird hitch a ride on a turkey truck in the 1985 film Follow That Bird; he talks his way onto the truck by claiming that "my friend Oscar always says that I'm a big turkey!" In a 2009 interview with TV Guide, Big Bird said that Oscar is "a little grouchy. He calls me a turkey. I'm not a turkey; I'm a lark." [5]

Big Bird's family

Birdfamily33
Nani Bird, Granny Bird, and Baby Big Bird
4058s
Big Bird and his best friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus
BigBird&Radar-2009
Big Bird with his teddy bear Radar
KUHT Big Bird
Big Bird in a publicity photo promoting Sesame Street, Special.

Big Bird lives alone on Sesame Street, essentially adopted by the general neighborhood, with Susan and Gordon often acting as stand-in parents. In Sesame Street Home Video Visits the Hospital, when the hospital receptionist asks if Maria is Big Bird's mother, she replied, ""Not exactly... Kind of... Yes." As a baby, Big Bird was raised by his Granny Bird and his aunt, Nani Bird. As he became more self-reliant, Big Bird moved out on his own, to his nest on Sesame Street.

Granny Bird remains a part of his life; he's visited her in various books. [6] When Big Bird's nest was destroyed in a hurricane in 2001, Big Bird called Granny for advice about building a new nest. [7]

There is also scattered evidence of other relations. In a 1971 episode, Big Bird receives a coat from his mommy in the mail, and he babysits for his sister's egg in a 1972 episode. He also mentions a mother, father, and sister in the song "Tall Enough". It's unclear why Big Bird was raised apart from his nuclear family.

Other relatives include the following:

  • Uncle Ned, Big Bird sees a chicken mask that he says looks a little like his uncle.[8]
  • Cousin Bubba, according to the Elmo's World episode "Penguins," lives at the South Pole. A scarf his Granny Bird knitted for Bubba is shown draped on a penguin.
  • Cousin Bernie; a seagull, whom he has fish with every time they visit, as mentioned in Big Bird in Japan
  • Big Bird's Grandfather; an emu bird, mentioned in A Celebration of Me, Grover
  • Big Bird's uncle; a turkey, mentioned on his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. When he was shown the Google Doodle of his legs and was asked if he ever "googles", he replies "No, but I have an uncle turkey who gobbles."
  • Big Bird's cousin Robin, mentioned and seen in the song Spring is Here

Additionally, the birds from several international co-productions have been designated as cousins of Big Bird:

Although Big Bird does know his family, in the book Big Bird's Bedtime Story, Luis tells Big Bird's back story, stating that a large egg was delivered to Hooper's Store one day, and the various residents of Sesame Street chose to build a nest for it and took care of it until it hatched. However, the story is probably not considered canon because it features a few characters who were not around when the series began (such as David and Luis).

Big Bird's age

The character was originally conceived as a kind of a yokel, it took most of the show's first season, but the writers and performers soon came to see Big Bird not as the "village idiot," but as a curious child. Spinney described him as "He was the too-big kid, much as I had been the too-little kid when I was his age. I suggested that we think of him as a child first learning to read and learning the alphabet, like our audience. That made him about 4½."[9]

As Sesame Street's core audience has gotten younger, Big Bird has aged. "He's about 6," Spinney says, "arrested at 6."[9]

For years Big Bird's age has been frozen at a particular point -- he's six years old in the 1985 film Follow That Bird, and still six in the 1989 special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting. Big Bird celebrated his sixth birthday (again) in the 1991 PBS pledge drive special Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake.

They realized that Big Bird isn't the village idiot - he a child, with a wide-eyed view of the world. For a long time we played him at age 4. Now we see him as 6½ - and there he stays.
-Caroll Spinney[10]

Big Bird's birthday is March 20th.

Performing Big Bird

Ssbts
SesameStreet web 04L
Bigbirdpensive
Bbnest
Big Bird in his nest
Big bird book kids

The Big Bird performer is completely enclosed within the costume and extends his right hand over his head to operate the head and neck of the puppet. The Muppeteer's left hand serves as the Bird's left hand, while the right hand is stuffed and hangs loosely from a fishing line that runs through a loop under the neck and attaches to the wrist of the left hand. For some of the "Journey to Ernie" segments, a second puppeteer (usually Jim Martin) controls Big Bird's right hand.

When Spinney is performing on-location and cannot get a video feed on his television monitor, a hole is made in the bird suit to give Spinney the ability to see out in front of him. In these occasions, Big Bird wears a neck tie at all times to hide the hole. Don't Eat the Pictures, Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan are all examples of this.

As Caroll Spinney has aged, the show has gradually started to train new performers to play Big Bird. These apprentices include both Rick Lyon in the opening theme song of the show's 20th, 25th, and 33rd seasons[11] and Matt Vogel in the show's Journey to Ernie segment. Sometimes, Matt Vogel performs in the Big Bird puppet, with Caroll Spinney dubbing all his lines in later, though Vogel has also performed the voice on occasion.

Caroll Spinney was sick during the taping of a few first season episodes, so Daniel Seagren performed Big Bird in those episodes.[12] He also performed Big Bird when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969, and in a number of Sesame Street Cast Tours in 1970. Jim Henson, who designed Big Bird, proved to be a possible candidate to perform the bird, as he was slender and over six feet tall. But Kermit Love, who built the costume, didn't think that he walked like a bird is supposed to walk.[13] Henson then offered the part to Frank Oz, but since Oz hated performing full-body characters, he turned down the job.[14]

For years, Caroll Spinney had a policy of refusing to pose for photographs in half of the bird suit. He later explained why in an interview for The New Yorker:

Look magazine had an article on us in 1970. Big Bird was built a little differently then: He was strapped on me, and you couldn’t easily get out without an assistant reaching underneath and unbuckling things—now it slips right off, it’s much better. So I couldn’t get out. But you had to breathe after a while, so I was able to stick my head out between the body and the head, and they had a photo of me sticking my head out. And Jim Henson said, “Don’t let that ever happen again. You’re either bird or you, but no in between. [15]

Trivia

  • Big Bird's feathers are white turkey feathers, dyed yellow. There are approximately 4,000 feathers on the puppet.[16] (According to the Count, he has over 5,961 feathers--he counted them himself.)[17]
  • Jim Henson had originally planned on having the performer inside Big Bird perform the character by wearing the suit backwards, so that Big Bird can bend his knees backwards like a real bird.[18]
  • Big Bird made a special guest appearance on an episode of Deal or No Deal, to help contestant Lamar Wilson overcome his childhood fear of the bird.
  • According to Muppet wrangler Michelle Hickey, Big Bird's feathers are "hand-glued and backed with a ribbon that is hand-stitched on." His feathers are also rated from A to D, with only A and B rated feathers making up the puppet. Occasionally C rated feathers are used towards the bottom of the puppet. Hickey also states that the feathers are replaced every two weeks, or after the Muppet has been to an event. [20]
  • There were plans to have Big Bird fly on the Space Shuttle Challenger (specificially, on the exact same flight that ultimately ended with the destruction of the Challenger), but the sheer size of the puppet prevented these plans from reaching fruitation. Instead, there was a plan to feature Big Bird's teddy bear Radar to fly on the Challenger, and Radar was even included on the original mission plan, but the plan was scrapped in favor of having teacher Christa McAuliffe fly on the ill-fated mission.[21]

Awards & Honors

  • Big Bird was featured on a US postage stamp in 1999 and on postage stamps in Fiji, Kiribati, the Cayman Islands, and Samoa in 2000.

See also

Sources

  1. Borgenicht, David, Sesame Street Unpaved (book), p. 37
  2. Hollywood Squares, 1976. (YouTube)
  3. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, episode 1483: "Mister Rogers Talks about Competition". June 3, 1981.
  4. Borgenicht, David. Sesame Street Unpaved, Hyperion Books, 1998. page 34.
  5. Eng, Joyce. "Sesame Street and Big Bird Feel 40 Years Young", TVGuide.com. November 25, 2009.
  6. Big Bird visits Granny Bird's house in I Want to Go Home! (1985), Nothing to Do (1988), I Can't Wait Until Christmas (1989), Big Bird Visits Granny Bird (1991) and Fly Away with Big Bird (2006).
  7. Sesame Street, Episode 3979 and Episode 3980.
  8. Sesame Street Video Player
  9. 9.0 9.1 Spinney reveals "The Wisdom of Big Bird"
  10. Walker, Joseph. The Deseret News: "Meet the man behind Big Bird's beak". November 25, 1988.
  11. Lyon, Rick behind-the-scenes photos and information
  12. Jim Henson Archives, personal correspondence archived at [1]
  13. Durrett, Deanne The Importance of Jim Henson
  14. Spinney, Caroll The Wisdom of Big Bird, p. 39
  15. Spinney, Caroll Interview with Caroll Spinney
  16. Sesame Street 35 Years Anniversary Game
  17. Learning About Numbers
  18. Spinney, Caroll The Wisdom of Big Bird, pp. 40-41.
  19. Jim Henson's Memorial Service running order.
  20. Big Bird's Wrangler
  21. At the Carroll Spinney Muppet Vault, Copper Pot pictures related this story.

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