Your Thoughts: "I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story"


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Aug 12, 2015
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When I saw that the film was rated TV-14, I was a little dumbfounded as to why that was, till I saw some behind-the-scenes clips, hearing Jon Stone losing his cool and shouting the S-bomb when Caroll apparently went ahead of cue (and later hearing Caroll himself drop the F-bomb later, heh). Caroll and Jon's fiery relationship has been touched on before, but I wasn't aware that they actually started out on really good terms, and then it just soured overtime. Although Caroll says he never understood why, I believe it was touched on in STREET GANG that Jon felt Caroll was always unprofessional in not wanting to reherse, or not wanting to go over a script before taping. I also had no idea the tension go so bad that one day Jon and Caroll were lashing out at each other in the middle of taping to the point that Emilio Delgado stepped into the control room to reprimand Jon for cracking down on Caroll so harshly, and all over one line flub.
I know this is a pretty old post, but this is something i've been thinking about ever since I first watched the movie over a year ago...

Several people who worked with Jon have noted that he was great at holding grudges, but I definitely don't get the impression he had a very sour relationship with anyone on set besides Caroll.

My theory is simply that Jon was jealous of Caroll. He didn't like the fact that Caroll gave Oscar a heart of gold. As Jon said in an interview that was seen on the movie, "He fights very hard against my concept of Oscar." Oscar grew a lot as a character after the first season, as did Big Bird, both largely because of suggestions made by Caroll. Jon was one of the main creators of them, so the fact that Caroll took them and helped make them into something better might've angered him. But that's just my take on things.


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Aug 8, 2003
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That could be, I do believe that Jon was wanting Oscar to be the sort of unofficial villain of the show and really nothing more. However, the thing of it is, Jim himself encouraged the performers to sort of just take the characters and further their personalities the way they saw fit, and it seems to me that's essentially what Caroll did (though even Jim was surprised to see how Big Bird went from being a bumpkin to a kid).

I mean if Caroll's "unprofessionalism" played a factor in their sour relationship, that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense, considering Jim and Frank almost always would forego the scripts for Ernie and Bert inserts, and just do the bit their own way, while still maintain the specific educational goal and/or punchline that was scripted.

minor muppetz

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Jun 19, 2005
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I finally got a copy of the movie recently and have watched it. And it is a great documentary.

That conflict stuff with Jon Stone is interesting. It's something I've thought about for years. It seems like there's hardly anybody involved with the show that he had issues with, the only other person I can think of being Michael Earl, who he pressured Jim Henson into letting go from the show. It seems like the whole cast and crew in general respected him (and it's clear that his conflict with Caroll Spinney was one-sided). I actually have a hard time respecting him because he didn't seem to like Caroll Spinney (or Michael Earl). And yeah, that point that he pretty much let Jim, Frank, and the other performers improvise does seem like double standards (maybe Stone saw them the same way Spinney did - we know Spinney had trouble performing with them because they were such great performers and felt inadequate in comparison, maybe Stone also saw them as respectable performers and Spinney as less respectable?). It was good to actually see other people besides Spinney talk about this (and it was heartwarming/awesome to see Emillio DeGardo talk about the time he had to stand up to Stone over Spinney even though, as he said, he could have lost his job).

It's also interesting during that part where it's said that Stone got on Spinney when he flubbed a line, claiming he was goofing off when it was the only mistake he'd made that day, considering not only him letting Henson and Oz improvise a lot, but also how in the early years, they generally kept in any mistakes made on camera to save on time and tape.

Could it have had more to do with the fact that Stone dealt with Spinney on a more daily basis than the others? Most of the others performed considerably less on the show, while Spinney was, for the longest time, the only Muppet performer to work a real full-time schedule. In fact Michael Earl was one of the few others to work full-time on the show and Stone had him fired for not taking direction well, so that could support this theory. I wonder if he had any issues with any of the actors.

It's interesting how one of the bonus features has Spinney talk about meeting Michael Jackson in A Special Sesame Street Christmas without them showing any footage or images from the special, despite the fact that the clip does appear in the documentary itself.

Until I saw the bonus features, I had never known about the time he appeared on-camera as a magician (and never thought about the fact that he really never makes cameos, though I think he was an extra in Elmo's Musical Story: Peter and the Wolf). Too bad they didn't show any clips from this appearance (yeah, it might have been too hard to come through each episode until they found it).

I thought the review at Tough Pigs said that the film only showed a few seconds of behind-the-scenes footage from A Muppet Family Christmas, but this film clearly shows more than a few seconds. Or maybe I misunderstood and it was referring to a clip from the actual special (which is just a few seconds). I wonder why that clip is presented as it is, looking like it was filming it on a television as opposed to just editing a clip into the documentary like with many of the Sesame Street clips. I was also surprised to hear audio in those behind-the-scenes clips, considering so many of Spinney's behind-the-scenes home movies don't have audio.

I already knew via the review at Tough Pigs that this documentary doesn't include any clips with Shivers the Penguin, but while a few brief clips with Bruno are shown, it would have been great if they'd talked a bit about the character, maybe showing some behind the scenes clips (are is behind-the-scenes footage of Spinney as Bruno - the 40th anniversary DVD as well as a clip that's in a video Copper Pot Pictures compiled showing behind-the-scenes home movie footage from Follow That Bird).

There's one thing I wonder that's not really mentioned here, and this might be better for a different thread, but does Caroll Spinney actually dislike doing bluescreen scenes? I know Matt Vogel's Big Bird has slightly different coloring on the eyelids so that it won't turn invisible on blue screen, but I think I've read that he does dislike that (could be a good thing to ask during this week's live "Below the Frame" which will feature Carol Spinney). There is a line where Vogel says "if he doesn't want to do the blue screen, I am willing to do that", I had to rewind a few times to see whether he started that sentence with "if" or not.