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Big Bird Interviewed

2017 Summer, Vol. 75, No. 3

"Summering"

Big Bird Interviewed

Our current number offers up a summer’s sampler of essays, stories and poetry for your sojourn at Ojai, Brighton Beach, the Hamptons or an empty Paris apartment in the summer. Read as your interest dictates. We lead off with a reprint of a 1979 "interview" with Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) a distinguished puppeteer who created the characters of Big Bird and the Grouch for Sesame Street. Our cover was adapted from a drawing by Spinney and completed by our designer David Battle.

In that 1979 issue the biographical sketch of Spinney gave a summary of his career up to that date: “Carroll Spinney’s drawing combines his contemporary puppets and the theatre where he presented his first show when he was eight. The monkey and the snake were my only players. The next Christmas, my mother presented me with Punch and Judy Puppets. Spinney lives in Connecticut and did a walk-on in the Muppet Movie.

Those characters are still a mainstay of the show and loved all over the world.

“Summering” is a term that emerged in response to such late nineteenth railroad developments that shortened the gap between the “country” and the “city,” particularly for urban families who wanted to spend their family time cheek to jowl with members of their own class, musical group or ethnic affiliation. The Catskills, for example, saw fancy resorts emerge for Jews and a number of “cottage communities.”

One study of these “enclaves of difference” described them as holding a “secularized view of nature” that recommended the mountain setting to give over-worked businessmen, professionals, and clerks relief from the pressures of the urban pace. The rationale for summer vacations increasingly included the psychological benefits of a change of scene and atmosphere.
 
Three prominent cottage communities stood out: Onteora, Twilight and Elka. The first attracted a literary and artistic set that enjoyed chamber music, the reading aloud of poetry, amateur theatricals, sketching from nature, and observing the ways of birds and bees: the second evolved from a men’s club in New York and the third, Elka Park, were all members of the Liederkranz Club of New York, a social and choral group of German-Americans. All had dining facilities that relieved the women (who often came up from the city) the task of preparing or overseeing meals. Despite the affluent origins of these places it was the simple life that reigned rather than one of ostentation and display. At Elka Park the German flag was flown and minutes of their meetings were maintained in in German.    

The page is now a “platform”–as they say–so you should use these fugitive pieces as you go summering or slumming. After “Big Bird” we have Jeffrey Meyers’s memoir of his literary relationship with Paul Theroux and sidebar characters like Vidia Naipaul and Graham Greene; an essay on the concept of “The Beloved Republic’; and a examination of the history of cholera that has reared its head again in modern society. To be sure we have sixteen pages of poetry. Some summer reading at your leisure. 

    
Robert S. Fogarty

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