Love was born Kermit Ernest Hollingshead Love in Spring Lake, New Jersey on August 7, 1916 and was raised by his grandmother and great-grandmother following the death of his mother when he was three years old.
Love began his theatrical career at a young age, working as a marionette maker and costume designer for Broadway and other stage productions as early as the 1930s, even appearing on stage in a bit part as a student for the 1937 play Naught Naught 00.
Love worked with many of the great figures of mid-century Broadway and American ballet. He was the costumer for the Agnes de Mille ballet Rodeo (1942), for the Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus (1943), and for Merce Cunningham's The Wind Remains (1943) and Jerome Robbins's ballet Fancy Free (1944). For George Balanchine he designed, amongst other items, a twenty-eight foot marionette giant for Don Quixote (1965).
During the early 1960s, Love first crossed paths with Jim Henson through Don Sahlin, who urged him to meet with Henson. The three first collaborated on The LaChoy Dragon. Love's theatrical background had given him particular skill at handling full body-puppets and tailoring them to allow freedom for the performer's movements. From this, Love went on to design and build Big Bird (though Sahlin had carved the first head), and later, Snuffy. Love talked about how he designed Big Bird so that he would subtly shed feathers in the course of normal movement, "Not unlike a tree shedding leaves in the Fall." He believed this made Big Bird appear more natural to young viewers. For the special The Great Santa Claus Switch, Love contributed to the giant Thig. He also portrayed Willy, the hot dog vendor.
Above, Kermit Love's 85th birthday party: Back Row (L to R): Sal Denaro, Toby Conner, Marty Robinson, Pam Arciero, host Victor DiNapoli, Arthur Ansalone, Michael, John. Second Row (L to R): Dave Conner, Christopher Lyall, Carmen Osbahr, Kermit Love, Mark Zeszotek, Laurent Linn, Rick Lyon. Bottom Row (L to R): Cher Jung, Peter MacKennan, Naomi, Pam's sons Luke (grey shirt) and Nick (red shirt). (Photo from Private Collection of Rick Lyon)
Kermit Love was an American puppeteer, costume designer, and actor in children's television and on Broadway. He built Big Bird after a drawing was designed by Jim Henson. In 1958, he met the Australian dancer Christopher Lyall who would remain his lover the rest of his life. Love appeared as Santa Claus on the cover of New York magazine in December 1982, 1984 and 1985. He lived in Stanford, New York. Christopher, his partner of 50 years, survives him.
Despite the coincidence of names, Kermit Love first met Jim Henson after the 1955 creation and naming of Kermit the Frog.
Though he also worked on The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, Sesame Street was Love's domain, along with Caroly Wilcox, as one of the key supervisors. He even puppeteered on the special Julie on Sesame Street. For the feature film Follow That Bird, he served as special Muppet consultant, as well as appearing in many background scenes as Willy. Love was also involved in designing many of the Sesame Street puppets for the early international productions. In his memoir The Wit and Wisdom of Big Bird, Caroll Spinney speaks affectionately of Love and his importance to the show, though noting an occasional cantankerous side.
One of his specials was watched by a young Kevin Clash, whose parents got hold of Kermit and told him about their son. Kermit worked as a mentor to Kevin and introduced him to Jim Henson, helped Kevin get jobs on The Great Space Coaster and Captain Kangaroo. After both shows were cancelled, Kevin moved on to Sesame Street. Other works included building the Snuggle Bear puppet for the popular Snuggle fabric softener commercials.
In addition to his work on Sesame Street, Love remained busy as freelancer, creating and building puppets for the non-Henson puppet series The Great Space Coaster.
Love also appeared as Santa Claus on the cover of New York magazine in December 1982, 1984 and 1985.
Going into semi-retirement in the 1990s, Love remained active, building many full-body puppets for the Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker performances, such as designing the mice and the 16-foot-tall Mother Ginger puppet, an association that continued as recently as 2004. In 1993, he directed the "Whirligig" pilot for PBS at The Studios at Los Colinas, Irving, Texas. In 2001, Love designed Aza, the bird-like mascot for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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