Big Bird from Sesame Street was invited to orbit the earth onboard NASA’s Challenger in 1986 when the mission went horribly wrong and claimed the lives of seven passengers.
Caroll Spinney, the man underneath the yellow feathery costume, has made Big Bird quite a celebrity when NASA invited him on that mission to get children interested in space.
“About a month later we heard from them (ie. NASA) that there was no room to put Big Bird on the ship,” Caroll revealed in a documentary. A teacher was sent in his place.
THE B.R.A.N.D. of a bird
Caroll Spinney was the lesser-known name in the brand of Sesame Street. However, through the child-like character of Big Bird, he is the embodiment of the popular television show’s purpose; to teach little children in an entertaining way.
While watching "I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story", I was inspired to examine the B.R.A.N.D. anatomy of Caroll and draw some lessons from the man behind our big friendly feathered friend.
B: The man with a purpose
“I am going to be a puppeteer when I grow up,” said Caroll when he noticed his 2-cents puppet shows were putting smiles on people’s faces. Despite being teased as a child for playing with dolls, Caroll never gave up telling stories with puppets on his hands.
R: THE WOMEN BEHIND THE MAN
“She didn’t realize that she was giving me a career,” Caroll recalled how his mother had made a Punch and Judy theater set and wrote stories for him to perform. And when asked if he was scare of death at 80 years old, Caroll admitted that he cannot imagine life without Debra, his wife. Those were just two of the many people who supported and appreciated what Caroll loves.
A: IT'S PUPPETRY OR BUST
At 23, Caroll started looking for jobs that would allow him to pursue his passion and was even turned down by Walt Disney as a cartoonist. He started doing a low-budget show (eg. The Bozo Show) and performing at puppet festivals. It was during a festival when Jim Henson invited him to work for the muppets in New York.
N: HE HAS A KNACK FOR IT
“He just has a knack for creating characters and making them come alive”, Frank Avruch, Bozo the clown described Caroll. When Caroll suggested changing Big Bird’s personality from a goofy guy to a big kid, he “created a superstar,” said Joan Ganz, co-founder of Sesame Workshop.
D: no feathers needed to take flight
Laurent Linn, a former muppet wrangler has taken Caroll's mantra of “Never step back. Always step forward.” to heart as he recalled the impact the man had in his life. Stepping forward for Caroll was never about being successful financially and in one’s career. It is about overcoming obstacles as you live each precious day.
Caroll was the puppeteer for Big Bird as well as Oscar the Grouch for nearly 50 years on Sesame Street before passing away at 85. While the children show has evolved over the years, the memories of Caroll and the character of Big Bird live on. How does Sesame Street and Big Bird change with times? Continue with Part 2 of this B.R.A.N.D. Freeze post.
The AnATOMY OF A B.R.A.N.D.
“If Jim (Henson) didn’t tap him to be Big Bird, his life would be the same,“ J. Milligan, author of The Wisdom of Big Bird said of Caroll, describing him as someone with a tremendous sense of who he is, what he wants, and what makes him happy. “And I really don’t think he needed Big Bird to do that.”
I see in Caroll five components that made him a memorable human being:
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