Kermit Love

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Kermit Love
Kermit Love as Willy.jpg
Born Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love
(1916-08-07)August 7, 1916
Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S.
Died June 21, 2008(2008-06-21) (aged 91)
Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.
Occupation Puppeteer, costume designer and actor
Partner(s) Christopher Lyall

Kermit Love (August 7, 1916 – June 21, 2008) was an American puppeteer, costume designer, and actor in children's television and on Broadway. He was best known as a designer and builder with the Muppets, in particular those on Sesame Street.

Early life[edit]

Love was born Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love in Spring Lake, New Jersey on August 7, 1916 and was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother following the death of his mother when he was three years old.[1]

Early theatrical career[edit]

Love began his theatrical career at a young age, working as a marionette maker and costume designer for Broadway and other stage productions as early as the 1930s, even appearing on stage in a bit part as a student for the 1937 play Naught Naught 00.

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).[1]

Creating Big Bird and others[edit]

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.

Beyond Sesame Street[edit]

One of his specials was watched by a young Kevin Clash, whose parents got hold of Kermit and told him about their son. Kermit worked as a mentor to Kevin and introduced him to Jim Henson, helped Kevin get jobs on The Great Space Coaster and Captain Kangaroo. After both shows were cancelled, Kevin moved on to Sesame Street. Other works included building the Snuggle Bear puppet for the popular Snuggle fabric softener commercials.

In addition to his work on Sesame Street, Love remained busy as freelancer, creating and building puppets for the non-Henson puppet series The Great Space Coaster.

Love also 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.

Death[edit]

Love died on June 21, 2008, of congestive heart failure, in Poughkeepsie, New York. He had lived in Stanford, New York. He is survived by Christopher Lyall, his partner of 50 years.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Hevesi, Dennis. "Kermit Love, Costume Creator, Dies at 91", The New York Times, June 24, 2008. Accessed July 14, 2011. "Despite his assumed English (and sometimes French) accent, Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love was born in Spring Lake, N.J., on Aug. 7, 1916. His father, Ernest Love, was a decorative plasterer. His mother, Alice, died when he was 3, and he was raised by a grandmother and a great-grandmother."

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