Former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman says he considered Bert and Ernie a same-sex couple during his 15-year tenure writing for the children’s series. However, now he’s insisted his words were “misinterpreted.”
Saltzman, who came out during his “Sesame Street” years, recalls the idea of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple in the 1980s after a young child asked if the puppet duo were “lovers”.
“I remember one time that in a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked, “Are Bert & Ernie lovers?” And that, coming from a preschooler was fun. And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it,” he told Queerty. “I always felt that, without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them.”
On Tuesday, “Sesame Street” released a statement describing Bert and Ernie as “best friends” who “do not have a sexual orientation”.
Puppeteer Frank Oz also weight-in:
Saltzman then told the New York Times that his words were misinterpreted.
He shared, “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work. Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”
He added that the duo were just “two guys who love each other.”
The writer also plumbed his own relationship when writing for the characters, adding that more than one person in his life referred to him and his partner, the late film editor Arnold Glassman, as “Bert and Ernie”.
“I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish. And Arnie as a film editor — if you thought of Bert with a job in the world, wouldn’t that be perfect? Bert with his paper-clips and organization? And I was the jokester,” he explained. “So it was the Bert & Ernie relationship, and I was already with Arnie when I came to ‘Sesame Street’. So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them but as a loving couple. I wrote sketches… Arnie’s OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that’s the Bert & Ernie dynamic.”
Saltzman, who was one of three ‘out’ “Sesame Street” writers in the 1980s, said he consciously wrote for characters that appealed to gay audiences.
“The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not? I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, ‘Oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.’ But those two, Snuffleupagus, because he’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…you had characters that appealed to a gay audience. And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted, too.”
Upon hearing the news that Saltzman wrote Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, Twitter rejoiced: