Today’s article was written by Andrew Leal. Andrew is currently an administrator on the Muppet Wiki. Special thanks to Andrew for all his hard work!
This past week, another seminal figure in Muppet history has left us. Kermit Love, the man, who may or may not have loved Kermit the frog (and certainly did not inspire his name), died at the age of 91. Alongside Don Sahlin and Faz Fazakas, he was a key pioneer in the Muppet Workshop and in shaping how Muppets look and move. For even ardent Muppet fans, his name may register only as that, an interesting handle glimpsed in the closing credits. As a child, my awareness of Kermit Love was limited to his role as Willy the hot dog man, and by the early 1980s, that was limited to a ?¢‚Ç¨?ìHey, it’s that bearded guy who for some reason shows up in Sesame Street Treasury cast photos. But Kermit the human had a long and often surprising history, both within and outside the Muppets.
Before he came to Sesame Street, Love had his home on Broadway. After a childhood of puppet building and drawing, he made his stage debut in a small role as a student in the (apparently justly) forgotten 1937 musical Naught Naught ’00, a musical full of characters named Spunky and P. De Quincy Devereaux (still, the show managed three revivals through 1946). He soon shifted to costume design, working on such shows as 1943’s One Touch of Venus, the brainchild of humorsists Ogden Nash and S. J. Perelman, with music by Kurt ?¢‚Ç¨?ìThreepenny Opera?¢‚Ç¨¬ù Weill. For the latter, Love shared praise for ?¢‚Ç¨?ìreal genius?¢‚Ç¨¬ù in the inventive costumes worn by ingenue Pauline Laurence (one featured ?¢‚Ç¨?ìa front with no discernible relationship to its back.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù)
Love continued in this vein, and was one of an odd assortment of craftsmen (costumers, puppetmakers, set designers, even actors) recruited to build the stop-motion figures used in Michael Myerberg’s obscure 1954 animated feature Hansel and Gretel. Love worked with future Muppet designer Don Sahlin on the project, but soon returned to the stage. In the 1960s, he began working with famed choreographer George Balanchine, and created large-scale costumes and puppet figures, such as a giant for Balanchine’s 1965 ?¢‚Ç¨?ìDon Quixote.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù Around this time, Love and Jim Henson crossed paths. Not surprisingly, he worked, at first anyway, mostly on full-bodied Muppets, working out both mechanics and aesthetics for the La Choy Dragon and the full-bodied beasties in The Great Santa Claus Switch and The Frog Prince, among others. His biggest impact was on Sesame Street, however, constructing Big Bird, a beloved character built like a tutu, Caroll Spinney, in The Wisdom of Big Bird, remembered Love as simultaneously ?¢‚Ç¨?ìthe most frustrating man i knew…?¢‚Ç¨¬ù but also a ?¢‚Ç¨?ìperfectionist and brilliant craftsman.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù He went on to work on Mr. Snuffleupagus and for many years was the head of the Sesame Workshop, guiding and shaping the aesthetic of the street Muppets which was both familiarly similar and yet distinct from the Muppet Show gang. He did the same thing for many of the international shows, notably redesigning Samson and Tiffy for Sesamstrasse.
Love slowed down and eventually left Sesame Street after the 1980s (during which time he also worked on The Great Space Coaster and mentored the likes of Kevin Clash and Jim Martin), but abandoned neither puppetry nor costuming. Love was the man responisible for cuddly fabric softener spokescharacter Snuggle Bear, and in the 1990s, he launched a PBS series called Whirlygig, starring himself and various Love puppets. Through recent years, he worked with the Joffrey Ballet on their annual presentation of Balanchine’s Nutcracker, creating mice and an enormous Mother Ginger puppet.
So Love leaves another void for the Muppet historian, another link to the past gone. But living to the age of 91 is quite antihistimine (not to be sneezed at), and Love left behind a very diverse legacy for future children, puppeteers, designers, and obsessive Muppet bloggers. And on a personal note, Love’s life partner for an impressive fifty years was one Christopher Lyall. Lyall assisted Love on various projects, and in the Muppet realm, he chreographed Thog’s charming dance with Mia Farrow in The Muppet Valentine Show. It’s comforting to confirm that the grandfatherly, bearded father of Big Bird, this cheerful looking man called Love, was indeed loved himself.
Click here to help us remember Kermit Love on the ToughPigs forum.