Kermit Love

po_Love-KermitKermit Love (August 7, 1916 – June 21, 2008) was an American puppeteer, costume designer, and actor in children’s television and on Broadway.

Love was best known as a designer and builder with the Muppets, in particular those on Sesame Street.

Love worked with many of the great figures of mid-century Broadway and American ballet. He was the costumer for the Agnes de Mille ballet Rodeo (1942), for the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus (1943), and for Merce Cunningham’s The Wind Remains (1943) and Jerome Robbins’s ballet Fancy Free (1944). For George Balanchine he designed, amongst other items, a twenty-eight foot marionette giant for Don Quixote (1965).

During the early 1960s, Love first crossed paths with Jim Henson through Don Sahlin, who urged him to meet with Henson. The three first collaborated on The LaChoy Dragon. Love’s theatrical background had given him particular skill at handling full body-puppets and tailoring them to allow freedom for the performer’s movements. From this, Love went on to build Big Bird after a drawing was designed by Jim Henson (though Sahlin had carved the first head), and later, Snuffy. Love talked about how he designed Big Bird so that he would subtly shed feathers in the course of normal movement, “Not unlike a tree shedding leaves in the Fall.” He believed this made Big Bird appear more natural to young viewers. For the special The Great Santa Claus Switch, Love contributed to the giant Thig. He also portrayed Willy, the hot dog vendor.

Despite the coincidence of names, Kermit Love first met Jim Henson after the 1955 creation and naming of Kermit the Frog.

Though he also worked on The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, Sesame Street was Love’s domain, along with Caroly Wilcox, as one of the key supervisors. He even puppeteered on the special Julie on Sesame Street. For the feature film Follow That Bird, he served as special Muppet consultant, as well as appearing in many background scenes as Willy. Love was also involved in designing many of the Sesame Street puppets for the early international productions. In his memoir The Wit and Wisdom of Big Bird, Caroll Spinney speaks affectionately of Love and his importance to the show, though noting an occasional cantankerous side.

Love appeared as Santa Claus on the cover of New York magazine in December 1982, 1984 and 1985. Going into semi-retirement in the 1990s, Love remained active, building many full-body puppets for the Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker performances, such as designing the mice and the 16-foot-tall Mother Ginger puppet, an association that continued as recently as 2004. In 1993, he directed the “Whirligig” pilot for PBS at The Studios at Los Colinas, Irving, Texas. In 2001, Love designed Aza, the bird-like mascot for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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