Designer, Performer, Special Effects, Assistant
( b. Aug 07, 1916 Spring Lake, New Jersey, USA - d. Jun 22, 2008 Poughkeepsie, New York, USA ) Male
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.
Young Kermit was first fascinated with Punch-and-Judy puppets at 7. “But what inspired me even more was shadow play,” he told New York magazine in 1985. Thrown by a horse at 12, he suffered serious damage to both legs. Bedridden for three years, he listened to radio dramas and drew pictures of what he imagined the characters looked like.
Mr. Love began making puppets for a federal Works Progress Administration theater in 1935 and soon after was designing costumes for Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater. Then he began working with Barbara Karinska, the costumer for the New York City Ballet.
Although Mr. Love collaborated with luminaries of dance like George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Robert Joffrey, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp, what brought him global attention was his work on Sesame Street with Jim Henson.
Mr. Henson, the creator of “Sesame Street,” who died in 1990, did the original sketches of Big Bird. Mr. Love built the bird, with its manhole-sized orange foam feet. He added feathers (with some designed to fall off) to make the creature cuter. Carroll Spinney (the man inside the bird) controlled Big Bird’s mouth with his hand and the eyes with a lever attached to his pinky finger. A television monitor inside the puppet allowed Mr. Spinney to see the set.
Mr. Love, who played Willy the Hot Dog Man on the show, also helped design Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster; he insisted he was not the namesake of the famous frog. He created characters for 22 foreign versions of “Sesame Street.”
It was Mr. Love’s work fashioning costumes and masks for dance that brought him to the attention of Mr. Henson. He had also worked in film and theater, including doing costumes for Broadway shows like “One Touch of Venus” in 1943 with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash; Mary Martin was the star.
Mr. Love worked on de Mille’s “Rodeo” in 1942 and, two years later, on Robbins’s first ballet, “Fancy Free.”
Mr. Love worked with Balanchine for more than 40 years. In 1965, he built the 28-foot-high marionette for the Balanchine production of “Don Quixote.” A decade later, they collaborated on “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” (“The Spellbound Child”), a one-act opera that tells the tale of a bratty boy who tears up his house and tortures his cat and squirrel, but is then taught lessons by objects that come to life. For the 1981 television production of the work, Mr. Love created settings and costumes, including dancing chairs, a clock that spins away from a wall and life-size owls, frogs and dragonflies that flutter about the boy.
Kermit Love died on June 22, 2008 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y of congestive heart failure. He was 91 and lived in Stanfordville, N.Y.
Source: New York Times