On August 7, 1916, Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love was born in Spring Lake. Love 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 the television program Sesame Street, where together with Muppets founder Jim Henson, he is credited with creating the characters Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, among others. He was also a costume designer for some of the greatest choreographers in U.S. history.
Love was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother following his mother’s death when he was three years old. His father, Ernest Love, was a plasterer. Kermit Love was an entertainer from a very early age, staging backyard circuses and amateur shows. He faced a crippling bone disease in his youth that would require 16 surgeries, but never broke his spirit. After recovering, he began acting in summer stock and regional theater productions, which soon led to an interest in designing and building sets and costumes.
Love was the costume designer for many years for George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, and Twyla Tharp among many other luminaries of ballet and modern dance choreography. He also designed costumes for major Broadway theatrical productions, but it is the puppets he helped create for Sesame Street for which he is most famous.
Sesame Street is an American educational children’s television series that combines live-action, sketch comedy, animation and puppetry. In 2001, there were more than 120 million viewers of various international versions of Sesame Street, and by the show’s 40th anniversary in 2009, it was broadcast in more than 140 countries. Sesame Street was by then the 15th-highest-rated children’s television show in the U.S. A 1996 survey found that 95 percent of all American preschoolers had watched the show by the time they were age three. In 2018, it was estimated that 86 million Americans had watched the series as children. As of 2018, Sesame Street had won 189 Emmy Awards and 11 Grammy Awards, more than any other children’s show. Love’s characters continue to be among the most popular, year after year.
Love acted as Willy the Hot Dog Man on Sesame Street, and in addition to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he also helped design the puppets Cookie Monster and Mr. Snuffleupagus. Big Bird was originally designed based on a drawing from Jim Henson, and built by Kermit Love in 1969. The design evolved from a previous Henson creation, a seven-foot-tall dragon that the puppeteer created for an advertising campaign. Big Bird quickly became an iconic popular character on the program.
Despite his close relationship with Henson, the legendary puppet character Kermit the Frog was not named for Kermit Love, but rather, for a childhood friend of Henson’s. Kermit Love was not involved with the creation of Kermit the Frog.
Love died in 2008 after a long and storied career. But his creations live on as Sesame Street continues to be a leading source of entertainment and educational content for children around the world.
Hevesi, Dennis. (2008). Kermit Love, Costume Creator, Dies at 91. The New York Times, June 24, 2008. Available https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/arts/24love.html
Featured Image credit: Kermit Love as the character Willy the Vendor on Sesame Street, Muppett Wiki, https://muppet.fandom.com/wiki/Willy?file=Willy.jpg. Consistent with Fair Use Doctrine.