"How do you do," said Caroll Spinney, who spends much of his life inside an 8-foot-2 yellow feathered creature know familiarly as Big Bird. He introduced his companion, Debra Quinn.
"I help Big Bird get in and out of his costume," she said. "And soon I'll be Mrs. Big Bird."
"We hope sometime in the spring," said Spinney.
He also plays Oscar the Grouch. "One newspaper described him as a scruffy character who's mean," he said. "I don't think that's right. I wouldn't bother with a person so cantankerous, he should drop dead. He's really very human." Oscar the Grouchy later sang "I wish you a grouchy Christmas and a crummy New Year" at the White House party for diplomatic children yesterday.
Walter Cronkite was there too, taking a night off from the evening news to read "The Night Before Christmas." He read to an audience that included 300 tots, Rosalynn Carter, Amy Carter, Amy Carter, the Carter gransons Jason and James and television star Barbara Walters.
Later Big Bird-"His Maestroship"-conducted, with blundering panache, the Marine Band in "Jingle Bells," and then Cronkite, Jim Henson and Mrs. Carter joined him in a christmas carol.
Big Bird and Oscar are two of an ever-growing army of Muppets created by Henson and his cres at Henson Associates (HA! for short). With Sesame Street (home of Bird and Grouch) heading into its 10th year, and The Muppet Show seen in 10l countries, these puppety creatures are threatening to take over the
See MUPPETTS, C2, Col. 3
MUPPETS, From C1
world. There is soon to be a Muppet movie, more seasons of The Mupet Show, Muppet books, Muppet toys, Muppet records and there was almost a Muppet cover of Time but President Carter decided to recognize Red China and that news pushed them aside.
The Muppet Show audience is now the largest of any show on at 7:30 p.m., according to Arbitron ratings, and most of its fans are women between 18 and 49, for some strange reason. Henson, asked yesterday to explain this attraction to women, said, "I have no idea and I couldn't care less."
Henson's character-that is the one muppet that he operates himself-is Kermit the Frog, who despite being almost as famous as Walter Cronkite, was carried around in a plastic gargage bag. "I guess I should have something better for him," Henson said.
There is, of course, more than one Kermit, because there are Muppet outposts in London and Hollywood as well as New York. "We don't like to talk about it," Henson said. "I know I never felt the same after I found out there was more than one Lassie."
Kermit performed his famous song "It's Not Easy Bein' Green," whose composer, Joe Raposo, organized yesterday's entertainment. The song is a rather poignant ballad which is either a metaphorical comment on the existential dilemmas and psychological traumas of ethnic and social differences or, just a song about being green.
Henson brought three of his five children with him to the White House. "I never perform live," he said, "I never do this. I'm a television peson. I did this because it's fun for my family to come to the White House." Although he grew up in Hyattsville, Henson said he never visited the White House as a child.
An estimated 235 million people around the world watch The Muppet Show, including Sophia Loren and Mel Brooks. There are between 400 and 500 Muppet characters Henson said, "depending if you count a dozen chickens or pigs." Henson Associates employs about 50 muppeteers, and Henson jets around the world with the enthusiasm of an international financier.
"We're very big in Yugoslavia and Iceland," Henson said, "reasonably strong in France, not very good in Italy, a big hit in Israel and England, and we can't get on in Japan."
The humor on The Muppet Show is a combination of simple jokes, endearing characters and deft satire. There's a karate-chopping femme named Miss Piggy, who is also an attraction in a feature called "Pigs in Space." There are two elderly gents named Statler and Waldorf, and a commentator named Sam the Eagle.
"I would just like to say a few words about nudity in the world today," said Sam once. "And I, for one, am just appalled by it! Why, did you know that underneath their clothing, the entire population of the world is walking around completely naked? Is that disgusting?"
Big Bird is part of the Sesame Street stable, and there is only one of him. "Those Big Birds you see in parades or Whatever are fakes," Spinney said. When Big Bird travels they put his feet in the cargo section and his body in two people seats. "But he's under 12, so he can travel half price," he said.