Kermit Love (b. August 5, 1916 - d. June 21, 2008) has long been associated as a designer/builder with the Muppets, in particular those on Sesame Street (where he also acted as Willy, the hot dog vendor).
Early Theatrical Career
Like many of Jim Henson's associates, Love began his theatrical career at a relatively 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. His most notable costuming work at this time was for the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free in 1946. He also worked with George Balanchine, designing, amongst other items, a 28-foot marionette giant for Don Quixote (1965).
Birth of Big Bird and Others
During the early 1960s, Love first met Jim Henson through Don Sahlin, who urged Love 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, Mr. Snuffleupagus. For the special The Great Santa Claus Switch, Love contributed to the giant Thig.
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.
Beyond Sesame Street
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. On that show, he encountered a young Kevin Clash, and urged him to apply for Sesame Street. Other achievements included building the Snuggle Bear puppet for the popular Snuggle fabric softener commercials.
Going into semi-retirement in the 1990s, Love still remained active, building many full-body puppets for the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker performances (designing the mice and the 16-foot-tall Mother Ginger puppet, among others), an association that continued as recently as 2004. In 2001, Love designed Aza, the bird-like mascot for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.