Caroll Spinney: “I Am Big Bird”

Caroll Spinney 146_B3_ARC_Photo_036_CS_Playing_in_Leaves photo by Debra Spinney

By Jae-Ha Kim
May 19, 2015

A resident of Woodstock, Conn., Caroll Spinney also spends time on the Upper West Side of New York when he films “Sesame Street.” Since 1969, he has been the puppeteer inside the Big Bird costume. Spinney, 81, said it has been fun playing such a famous character without being recognized himself. That’s about to change, though, with the release of the documentary, “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.” For more information on the film, check out the website.

Q. You’ve created so much magic for many generations of children. Where is the most magical place you have been to?

A. Ireland. We had a tree planted in honor of my Debbie’s (my wife’s) mother on Christmas Eve. We went outside to listen to some Christmas carols and exchange gifts and the tree is a leafy tree and we put ornaments on it. At midnight, Debbie said to me, “Do you think mommy knows we’re here?” and the tree started shaking. And it was the stillest night and the only thing moving was the tree. And I said to Debbie, “She knows.” Ireland is a special place.

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?

A. (In Big Bird voice.) There’s no place like home!

Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. Into work, no, but into our house, yes. Traveling has inspired my paintings. For example, my painting “In My Dreams I Can Fly” was inspired by Saskatchewan, Canada.

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?

A. Bora Bora is very romantic. We renewed our 30th wedding anniversary vows in Bora Bora. Also, Moorea — near Tahiti — is the most beautiful of all the islands, and also the Alps. We always feel really great in the Alps. We love river cruises also, and you stop at all the ancient towns, which is pretty special. And Venice is one of the most romantic places we’ve ever been.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. The Marquesas Islands. They are beautiful, unusual and exotic and in the middle of the ocean in the middle of nowhere.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. The World’s Fair in New York City in 1940 when I was 5 years old and I loved it! I also went to the second one in 1964.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. New York, Amsterdam, Munich, Prague and Paris.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. Norway. We’d love to do a Norwegian cruise, also to see the Northern Lights.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. Music. We bring a lot of CDs, cameras, my favorite pillow and Benadryl, just in case!

Q. What would be your dream trip?

A. We’ve traveled all over the world, but we’ve never gone all the way around the world. So we would love to do an around-the-world trip and stop at places along the way. I’d love to go to Bali.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. We mostly go to the same places. We’re creatures of habit. If I do research, I usually get a book about the place and read up on what to see. I’m not a computer person, so we do all our research from books.

Q: What is your worst vacation memory?

A. The first time we went to Kona (on the Big Island of Hawaii), it clouded up when we got there and stayed that way for seven days. It cleared up on our way to the airport at the end of the trip. And on our first trip together ever, we went to Switzerland via Amsterdam and they lost all of my wife’s luggage. The airline never found her suitcase. Six months after they lost her suitcase, Debbie found it herself in London at the airport’s Lost and Found.

Q. What was a memorable place you visited?

A. Ashford Castle, it’s on the west coast of Ireland. It’s so beautiful and so rugged and unusual. The people who work there are the most lovely, wonderful people, we consider them family. The castle itself is magnificent, it was build in 1228 and sits on the largest lake in Ireland – Lough Corrib – you can go boating , fishing, horse back riding…

Q. If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. Christmas in Ireland.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. De Rozenboom in Amsterdam – we love their mussels! In NYC Luce, and Italian Restaurant on 68th street, in Hawaii, on the big island, The Kona Inn. The restaurant has been open since the 20’s and it used to be the only place you could go there. It is really good.

Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. A Deer Manor in Ireland, Ashford Castle in Ireland, The Interalpen Hotel in Austria, near the city of Telfs. It’s probably the most magnificent hotel in the world. We also love The Hotel Badersee in Grainau, Germany on the Austrian border.

Caroll Spinney_094_B11_ARC_Photo_056_CS_Birdlegs_ x640

© 2015 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (15)

  1. Mavis says:

    Bless his heart that he loves to travel more and wants to see the rest of our amazing world! I hope that if I live to be as old as him, that I won’t lose that love of adventure either!

  2. Carolyn Howard  says:

    Thanks for this interview. With all the crap that’s on children’s television today, it’s refreshing to have something “safe” like “Sesame Street” for the kids to watch.

  3. Mandy not Moore says:

    I love the past few columns especially, Jae. The Neil deGrasse Tyson, Marky Ramone and this are three of my favorites because they all excel in their genres and are INTERESTING and unusual celebrities. Keep up the GREAT work!

  4. Traci Lee says:

  5. Larry says:

    I grew up watching him, so did my kids. Big Bird is a great role model.

  6. Carta Collins says:

    thanks for writing about quality people like him, instead of the kartrashians!

  7. Denton says:

  8. Kim Jaehwa says:

    I like Big Bird and I like you! Liked and shared with my friends! 🙂 It’s a great piece! I’ve heard he is just the sweetest man.

  9. Antoinette deMaray says:

    I grew up watching Big Bird every day. I was a latchkey kid and home alone some days when I was too little to go to school. He helped me feel safe. God Bless Mr. Spinney!

  10. arari says:

    Big Bird was my favorite character on Sesame Street! So excited to read the interview. My next favorite was Cookie Monster.

  11. Tiana says:

    I’ve always loved Big Bird, although Oscar the Grouch is awesome too!hehe

  12. Mark Simpson says:

    This was a great read. He sounds like a down to earth man. Thanks for the article!

  13. Valencia says:

    What? Big Bird isn’t real? How dare you! 😉 Keep up the great work! Love your columns!

  14. Fred says:

    Congratulations to Mr. Spinney for the film about him. it’s about time!

  15. Sara Majors says:

    He’s no Oscar the Grouch but he’ll do. 🙂 I know he did the voice of Oscar too. What a talented and wonderful man!

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