‘Sesame Street’ Writer: Bert And Ernie Are Gay
“Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman says the beloved characters Bert and Ernie are gay, and were based on his own gay relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman (Arnie).
The seven-time Emmy Award-winning writer revealed the long-suspected rumor to Queerty:
I remember one time that 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. And 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. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as “Bert & Ernie.”
…Yeah, 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.
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…
That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? 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, Snuffalupagus, 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.
The secret friend… because at that point Snuffy was Big Bird’s secret friend. It was later on he out and everyone realized he actually existed.
That happened while I was there, yeah. But they haven’t…the New Yorker cover was kind of vindication, but there’s not a Bert & Ernie float in the Pride Parade.
And because it was always diversity, diversity, it’s a shame [Sesame Steet] wasn’t leading the charge. Here’s a story about pushing the gay envelope of Sesame Street…
I created [Sublime Miss M] based on Bette Midler. I mean, what could be gayer? That’s the gayest Sesame Street ever got. I think that was Fran Brill [performing her]. The only way it would have been gayer is if it had been Richard Hunt.
Saltzman said there were other gay people working on the famous children’s show:
There was Richard Hunt (the Muppet performer of Scooter, Janice, Beaker and more). Oh, and Judy Freudberg (noted writer of An American Tail and The Land Before Time). I think as I got out-ier I was the only male writer who was out. I think even being out, I was sort of…the straight guys, you know, are sort of non-inclusive. Even when everybody knows, it’s not a casual discussion discussing my boyfriend with the guys. You also have to remember, all our friends were dying.