“Did you know that Kermit Love died?” I asked my brother two days ago. I called him when I read the news in The New York Times.
My brother was Kermit Love’s apprentice years ago, not long after my brother moved to Manhattan to attend the School of Visual Arts. Kermit Love, the creator of Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus, was also an artist in other venues.
Those were the days my brother and I sat out on the fire escape of the building where he sublet a room in someone’s apartment one summer. One night when I was visiting him, we climbed out the window with our dinner to watch a ballet class in session in a dance studio across the street. The studio’s windows were open so we could hear the music.
During that same visit, we dressed up in halfway decent clothes to head to Broadway about the time of intermission. In the summer back then, people spilled out onto the sidewalks for a smoke or something to drink. If the show wasn’t sold out, it was possible to mingle with the crowd and head back in for the second half. All one needed to do was wait at the back of the orchestra seating to find the empty spots. Such were the tricks of broke college students.
At first, while working for Kermit, my brother earned a small sum for ironing Big Bird’s feathers. Those feathers don’t look fluffy all by themselves. Because Big Bird travels in various shows, there’s more than one costume that needs refluffing.
Eventually, my brother graduated to larger, more complicated jobs. He and two other fellows reconstructed costumes based on Love’s design for a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. As what happens with apprentices, they work behind the scenes without getting credit up front. It was cool to go to the exhibit, though, and see my brother’s handiwork. Not long after, my brother moved on. But, not before I got my trip to Sesame Street.
My brother needed to deliver something–not feathers, something else, but I can’t remember what. No matter. We went to the studio where the show was filmed. It has since changed locations to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
Sesame Street looked like Sesame Street. Happy.
Carroll Spinney, the guy who has played Big Bird for years was standing around in his Big Bird legs. The top of the costume comes off in between takes, you see. It’s too hot to keep on.
Kermit Love smiled when I shook his hand. I’m sure we said, “Pleased to meet you”–or maybe not. It was a brief visit, but an awesome one that has stayed with me all these years. I connect Kermit Love to a time when my brother and I were younger and nervy enough to sneak into a Broadway show as if we belonged there.
My brother didn’t know that Kermit Love had died and there was a wistful tone in his voice when he told me he may look to see if there is a memorial service. He is still in touch with a person who also knew Love back then.
As for visiting Sesame Street again, the studio doesn’t do tours. The Studio Cafe is open to the public, though. If you head there for lunch, look for a guy with stripped legs and bird feet. You’ll know who he is. Ask him who irons his feathers.