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Oscar the Grouch

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Performer:
Oscar-can2
Design Team:
Jim Henson • (designer)
John Lovelady • (original Oscar builder)
Oscar-can
0001c

The original orange Oscar.

Oscarpurplesketch

Jim Henson's first designs for Oscar, originally intended to be colored purple.

Ssbts oscar

Spinney performing the original Oscar.

Jim and Oscar

Jim Henson and Oscar.

Oscar-can

The Oscar puppet from the 1970s.

CSpinneyOscarStrawHat
Ss3
Oscarlegs

Hervé Villechaize as Oscar's legs.

Character.brunotrash

Bruno the Trashman carries Oscar's trash can.

4173i

A rare shot of Oscar's full body, as seen in a 2008 episode.

OscarMAH

Oscar in the Smithsonian

Oscar and Slimey
OscarsClassicStare

Oscar the Grouch is a furry, green Grouch who lives in a trash can on Sesame Street, in between 123 Sesame Street and Big Bird's nest. In fact, he loves trash so much that he's rarely seen outside of his trash can. His trademark song, explaining his passion for refuse, is "I Love Trash".

Like all Grouches, Oscar's mission in life is to be as miserable and grouchy as possible, and pass that feeling on to everyone else. When a visitor knocks on his trash can -- invariably interrupting him from a nap or an important task -- Oscar greets them with a snarl. He complains that he wants to be left alone, although when he's left entirely to himself, he's dissatisfied -- there isn't anybody around to irritate or complain to.

While Oscar has had many pets, his closest companion is his worm, Slimey. He also has a girlfriend, a Grouch named Grundgetta, although a romantic relationship between two Grouches is understandably rocky. Grundgetta usually calls him Oskie while he occasionally calls her Grungie. Telly Monster and Elmo both consider Oscar to be a close friend, although Oscar disputes this since Telly and Elmo are the two monsters that Oscar doesn't like at all. However, Oscar reluctantly confirmed in Grouchland that Elmo was indeed his friend.

Oscar's family includes Granny Grouch, who appeared in season 2 of Sesame Street, and was the first indication on the series that Grouches are a separate species. Since then, Oscar has been visited by his grandfather and his mother, and sometimes baby-sits his niece, Irvine. He also has a brother named Ernest and a sister named Bunny. In both Episode 0131 and A Special Sesame Street Christmas, Oscar revealed that he also has a father.

According to performer Caroll Spinney, Oscar is 43 years old.[1]

Origins

According to Sesame Street Unpaved, "The character of Oscar was inspired by a nasty waiter from a restaurant called Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan. Jim Henson and Jon Stone were waited on by a man who was so rude and grouchy that he surpassed annoying and started to actually amuse both Jim and Jon. They were so entertained that going to Oscar's Tavern became a sort of masochistic form of luncheon entertainment for them, and their waiter forever became immortalized as the world's most famous Grouch." In the Ask Henson.com web column, Jim Henson Company Archivist Karen Falk said that the restaurant was named Oscar's Salt of the Sea -- and went on to say, "Some of the designs that we have in the Archives were done by Jim Henson on Oscar's paper placemats!"

Caroll Spinney says that he based Oscar's voice on another New York resident -- a Bronx taxi driver who drove him to work on his first day performing the character. When Spinney got into the cab, the driver snapped, "Where to, Mac?"[1]

While Jim Henson's first Oscar sketches were colored purple, the original Oscar puppet was orange (Henson later said in an interview that this change was made because the early cameras weren't good enough to capture the color right[2]). In chapter nine of the book The Wisdom of Big Bird, Caroll Spinney states that the Oscar puppet was rebuilt about a month after Sesame Street had started taping. Jim tore apart the original puppet, and a new puppet was built. An early version of the green Oscar debuted on The Flip Wilson Show in 1970 and Oscar's explanation for that was that he had vacationed at Swamp Mushy Muddy, where the dampness had turned him green overnight. In a 2003 appearance, Oscar stated that while his time in Swamp Mushy Muddy made him appear green, he is still in fact orange underneath all the slime and mold. (With an exception, he's just never taken a bath).[3]

In his introduction to the book Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street (which also contained his lunch from yesterday, grape juice, and something unidentifiable), he explains how he ended up on Sesame Street, saying he was a normal when Joan Ganz Cooney and Jon Stone decided to create the show, they hired Jim Henson, who bugged him until he agreed to be on the show for the first episode only. He headed of to Swamp Mushy Muddy after the production wrapped, disgusted, but discovered that his agent, Bernie, had signed a contract to have him on the entire run of Sesame Street. Oscar became so mad he that he turned green (a fictous explanation around how he became green), but figured the show wouldn't run for more than six months anyway (obviously disappointed).

Oscar explained his family roots and fur color again in a Life Magazine article in 2009, "Most of the family was orange. But I had a lovely vacation in Swamp Mushy Muddy resort. It was so dark and dreary I kind of turned green. It's mostly moss. I like it — it goes with my eyes. I accidentally took a bath once, turned orange again and washed all the moss off, so I went right back to Swamp Mushy Muddy, and here I am.[4]"

Oscar's first line on Sesame Street, in episode 0001, was "Don't bang on my can! Go away." This sums up his personality as it would remain for over 40 years.

Performing Oscar

During the first season of Sesame Street, the street set was arranged in such a way that Spinney, who is right-handed, was forced to operate Oscar's head with his left hand. A subsequent redesign of the set allowed Spinney to switch hands.

When Big Bird and Oscar (both performed by Caroll Spinney) are required in a scene together, Jim Martin often operates Oscar.[5]

At the 2003 Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala, Oscar was performed by Paul McGinnis.

Transportation

Oscar has many forms of transportation. He can move with his legs sticking out of his trash can, as seen in early 70s episodes of Sesame Street (portrayed by Hervé Villechaize), in the specials Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Don't Eat the Pictures and various stage shows. He also often has Bruno the Trashman carry his trash can around while he's inside. While the puppet Oscar frequently moves outside of the trash can on his own his limbs are rarely shown. Rare moments where his full body was shown include a season 30 episode and a season 39 episode. In a few episodes he has also made out-of-his-trash-can appearances during which the top half of his body is shown. When he sings, "I'm Sad Because I'm Happy" we see his feet splash in the mud but his voice is off-screen.

Oscar has a car, the Sloppy Jalopy, which was used in Follow That Bird and various episodes of Sesame Street. The Sloppy Jalopy's New York license plate says "SCRAM." Oscar has also been seen driving a broken-down taxi cab.

Trivia

  • According to Caroll Spinney's book The Wisdom of Big Bird, Oscar's eyebrow has never changed in the entire run of Sesame Street. It is the same eyebrow that graced the Grouch's face when he was still the orange Oscar of Season 1.
  • In the show's early years, enthusiastic young viewers frequently mailed gifts of trash to Oscar in care of the Children's Television Workshop, eliciting dismay from the mailroom staff. An Information Department staff member wrote in March 1971, "Aside from an unopened can of sardines, which are probably perfectly good, Oscar has been gifted with a box of old sneakers (not a box of Snickers), a ratty old bathing cap, some stale poppy seeds and some used Kleenexes. On the other side of the coin, an adult fan sent a $50 check to purchase a new trash can. We may soon need one for his fan mail!"[6]
  • Oscar temporarily turned white (and nice) in the Sesame Street Live show Elmo's Coloring Book in 1997.
  • Although he doesn't have a nose visible to the TV audience, he insists he has one (as well as ears), as he did in an early nineties episode, when Ruby kept giving him a hard time about it. Years earlier, another episode had explained that he has a "cute" nub hidden among his fur.
  • Spinney is a golf fan and brought Oscar to the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor, where the puppet posed with Padraig "the Grouch" Harrington, the eventual tourney winner.[7]
  • When appearing on the game show 1 vs 100 Oscar revealed his age to Bob Saget claiming he's 43 years old and has always been 43.
  • In A Muppet Family Christmas, Oscar shares his trash can as a bed with Rizzo the Rat stating that he has never had a rat in his trash can before and that it will be nice. He also complains that he hates "Deck the Halls" when it is his turn to sing the line "Follow me in merry measure" and he states "I am not going to sing this song."
  • Along with his girlfriend Grundgetta and the rest of his fellow Muppets, Oscar sang "Just One Person" at Jim Henson's Memorial.
  • Oscar has become somewhat of a mascot for waste reduction and waste management, including Canada's Waste Reduction Week, the Japanese Eco Kids Project, and various unofficial uses.[8]
  • Oscar makes a cameo appearance in the film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. He tries to get recruited into Kahmunrah's army, alongside Darth Vader from Star Wars, as evil people can join, but Kahmunrah finds him "mildly grouchy."
  • On the show, the lid on Oscar's trash can opens by swinging up, with the back edge still attached. In illustrations, Oscar normally wears the lid like a hat. And whenever Bruno carries the trash can, the lid hangs from the side.
  • Oscar claims to own a cell phone. He says of it, "but it weighs 7 pounds — it's an old one Jim Henson threw away."[9]
  • Oscar eats a lot of the same foods that people like. However, he prefers them mixed together in unusual combinations. Once he paid Ernie and Bert a visit and traded his ice cream cone for a banana with ice cubes and gravy on it. Another time, he invited Candice Bergen to join him for lunch, which would consist of clam tuna pie with chocolate sauce and anchovies.
  • For Sesame Street's 40th season, Sesame Workshop created an online promotion spoofing Facebook called "Muppetbook." For his profile, Oscar said he likes Anchovy milkshakes, but dislikes that he likes anchovy milkshakes. Among his other dislikes were rainbows, candy and chocolate. He lists his favorite songs as "I Love Trash," "All You Need Is Trash" and "I Wanna Hold Your Trash"

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 "He's happy being Big Bird", Ellen Simon, The Washington Times. June 19, 2008.
  2. a clip of this interview can be found in the "Bonus Behind-the-Street Scenes" feature on disc 2 of Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days
  3. Caroll Spinney (as Oscar the Grouch) at a book signing appearance in Anderson Bookshop, Naperville, IL. May 13, 2003. (YouTube)
  4. "The Reflections of Oscar the Grouch", Oscar the Grouch, Guest editor, November 5, 2009. Life Magazine.
  5. Sesame Street Unpaved
  6. Patricia Tornborgh, memo, "Summary of Fan Mail Processed from Feb. 1 to Mar. 6, 1971," Children's Television Workshop archive, series II, box 45, folder 48, National Archive of Public Broadcasting, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
  7. "When Grouches Meet," Irish Abroad, May 24, 2007.
  8. "South Euclid: City wins 'Oscar' for having most improved recycling rate in county", Piorkowski, Jeff The Plain Dealer. November 25, 2008. Web. Accessed November 25, 2009.
  9. "The Reflections of Oscar the Grouch", Oscar the Grouch, Guest editor, November 5, 2009. Life Magazine.

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