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Love as Willy the Vendor
|Born||Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love
August 7, 1916
Spring Lake, New Jersey
|Died||June 21, 2008
Poughkeepsie, New York
|Occupation||Puppetmaker, Puppeteer, costume designer and actor|
Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love (August 7, 1916 – June 21, 2008) was an American puppet maker, 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.
Love was born in Spring Lake, New Jersey on August 7, 1916 to Ernest and Alice Love. He was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother following after his mother's death when he was three years old.
Love began his theatrical career working as a marionette maker for a federal Works Progress Administration theater in Newark, New Jersey in 1935. He was also a costume designer for Broadway and other stage productions as in the 1930s, including Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre troupe. Love also appeared 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 28 ft (8.5 m) marionette giant for Don Quixote (1965).
Involvement with the Muppets
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 Oscar the Grouch and then Big Bird after a drawing was designed by Henson (though Sahlin had carved the first head). 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. Later, Love designed Mr. Snuffleupagus and helped create Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch. He accompanied the Big Bird costume (Love preferred calling it a "puppet") when it traveled overseas for appearances.
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 also portrayed Willy, the hot dog vendor, on Sesame Street. 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. For the special The Great Santa Claus Switch, Love contributed to the giant Thig.
Beyond Sesame Street
One of his specials was watched by a young Kevin Clash, whose parents contacted 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 children's shows 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.
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 ft (4.9 m)-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.
Personal life and final years
Although he was American, Love often spoke with an English accent.
- 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."
- Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (June 26, 2008). "Influential designer had hand in 'Sesame'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
- "'Big Bird' costume creator Kermit Love dies". MSNBC. Associated Press. June 25, 2008. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
- Spencer, Jim (December 15, 1983). "A gift of Love: The man who made Big Bird a star". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
- "Kermit Love: costume designer, puppeteer and creator of Big Bird". The Times. June 26, 2008. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
- "Cookie Monster co-creator Kermit Love dies". Metro.co.uk. June 25, 2008. Retrieved April 20, 2016.