|PERFORMER||Caroll Spinney 1969-2018|
|Eric Jacobson 2015-present|
|DESIGN||Jim Henson designer|
|Don Sahlin builder|
Oscar the Grouch is a furry, green Grouch who lives in a trash can on Sesame Street. In fact, he loves trash so much that he's rarely seen outside of his trash can. His trademark song, explaining his passion for refuse, is "I Love Trash."
Like all Grouches, Oscar's mission in life is to be as miserable and grouchy as possible, and pass that feeling on to everyone else. When a visitor knocks on his trash can -- invariably interrupting him from a nap or an important task -- Oscar greets them with a snarl. He complains that he wants to be left alone, although when he's left entirely to himself, he's dissatisfied -- there isn't anybody around to irritate or complain to.
While Oscar has had many pets, his closest companion is his worm, Slimey. He also has a girlfriend, a Grouch named Grundgetta, although a romantic relationship between two Grouches is understandably rocky (Oscar had previously courted grouches named Trashini, Matilda, and Hermine). Grundgetta usually calls him Oskie, while he occasionally calls her Grungie. The two got engaged in Episode 3609, but called off the wedding out of fear that they would make each other too happy. Telly Monster and Elmo both consider Oscar to be a close friend, although Oscar disputes this since Telly and Elmo are the two monsters whom Oscar doesn't like at all. However, Oscar reluctantly confirmed in Grouchland that the latter was indeed his friend.
Oscar's family includes Granny Grouch, who appeared in season 2 of Sesame Street, and was the first indication on the series that Grouches are a separate species. Since then, Oscar has been visited by his grandfather and his mother, and sometimes babysits his niece, Irvine. He also has a brother named Ernest and a sister named Bunny. In both Episode 0131 and A Special Sesame Street Christmas, Oscar revealed that he also has a father.
According to a 2008 interview with performer Caroll Spinney (and later confirmed by Oscar himself in an appearance on 1 vs 100), Oscar is 43 years old. The human characters previously celebrated Oscar's fifth birthday in Episode 0007.
According to Sesame Street Unpaved, "The character of Oscar was inspired by a nasty waiter from a restaurant called Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan. Jim Henson and Jon Stone were waited on by a man who was so rude and grouchy that he surpassed annoying and started to actually amuse both Jim and Jon. They were so entertained that going to Oscar's Tavern became a sort of masochistic form of luncheon entertainment for them, and their waiter forever became immortalized as the world's most famous Grouch." In the Ask Henson.com web column, Jim Henson Company Archivist Karen Falk said that the restaurant was named Oscar's Salt of the Sea—and went on to say, "Some of the designs that we have in the Archives were done by Jim Henson on Oscar's paper placemats!"
Caroll Spinney has said that he based Oscar's voice on another New York resident -- a Bronx taxi driver who drove him to work on his first day performing the character. When Spinney got into the cab, the driver snapped, "Where to, Mac?" This event was referenced in Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary Celebration, where Spinney dubbed the voice of a cab driver uttering the same quote.
While Jim Henson's first Oscar sketches were colored purple, the original Oscar puppet was orange (Henson later said in an interview that this change was made because the early cameras weren't good enough to capture the color right). In chapter nine of the book The Wisdom of Big Bird, Caroll Spinney states that the Oscar puppet was rebuilt about a month after Sesame Street had started taping. Henson tore apart the original puppet, and a new puppet was built. An early version of the green Oscar debuted on The Flip Wilson Show in 1970 and Oscar's explanation for that was that he had vacationed at Swamp Mushy Muddy, where the dampness had turned him green overnight. In a 2003 appearance, Oscar stated that while his time in Swamp Mushy Muddy made him appear green, he is still in fact orange underneath all the slime and mold. (With an exception, he's just never taken a bath).
In his introduction to the book Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street (which also contained his lunch from yesterday, grape juice, and something unidentifiable), Oscar explains how he ended up on Sesame Street, saying he was a normal when Joan Ganz Cooney and Jon Stone decided to create the show, they hired Jim Henson, who bugged him until he agreed to be on the show for the first episode only. He headed off to Swamp Mushy Muddy after the production wrapped, disgusted, but discovered that his agent, Bernie, had signed a contract to have him on the entire run of Sesame Street. Oscar became so mad he that he turned green (a fictitious explanation around how he became green), but figured the show wouldn't run for more than six months anyway (obviously disappointed).
Oscar explained his family roots and fur color again in a Life Magazine article in 2009, "Most of the family was orange. But I had a lovely vacation in Swamp Mushy Muddy resort. It was so dark and dreary I kind of turned green. It's mostly moss. I like it — it goes with my eyes. I accidentally took a bath once, turned orange again and washed all the moss off, so I went right back to Swamp Mushy Muddy, and here I am."
Oscar's first line on Sesame Street, in episode 0001, was "Don't bang on my can! Go away." This sums up his personality as it would remain for over 40 years.
During the first season of Sesame Street, the street set was arranged in such a way that Caroll Spinney, who was right-handed, was forced to operate Oscar's head with his left hand. A subsequent redesign of the set allowed Spinney to switch hands. For at least one episode that season (Episode 0084), Jim Henson performed the character.
During Caroll Spinney's tenure as the character, in scenes where Big Bird and Oscar (both performed by Spinney) interact with each other, the situation has varied depending on the amount of lines one or the other is given. Whenever Spinney performed Big Bird, a second puppeteer operated Oscar to Spinney's voice. These puppeteers have included Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Jim Martin. Paul McGinnis also puppeteered Oscar at the 2003 Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala. John Kennedy performed Oscar for an HBO promo in 2016.
In 2015, Spinney stopped physically puppeteering Oscar on the show, but continued to provide his voice for seasons 46 and 47. Spinney also continued to perform Oscar sporadically for live events. By this time, Eric Jacobson was understudying the role of Oscar; sometimes lip-syncing to Spinney's vocals, and performing the voice himself in other appearances and media. With Spinney's formal retirement in 2018, Jacobson became his official successor, performing Oscar full time. See also Caroll Spinney character transitions.
Oscar has many forms of transportation. He can move with his legs sticking out of his trash can, as seen in early 70s episodes of Sesame Street (portrayed by Hervé Villechaize), in the specials Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Don't Eat the Pictures and various stage shows. He also often has Bruno the Trashman carry his trash can around while he's inside. While the puppet Oscar frequently moves outside of the trash can on his own, his limbs are rarely shown. Rare moments where his full body was shown include Episode 3790 and Episode 4173. In a few episodes, he has also made out-of-his-trash-can appearances during which the top half of his body is shown. When he sings, "I'm Sad Because I'm Happy" we see his feet splash in the mud but his voice is off-screen.
Oscar has a car, the Sloppy Jalopy, which was used in Follow That Bird and various episodes of Sesame Street. The Sloppy Jalopy's New York license plate says "SCRAM." Oscar has also been seen driving a broken-down taxi cab.
- According to Caroll Spinney's book The Wisdom of Big Bird, Oscar's eyebrow has never changed in the entire run of Sesame Street. It is the same eyebrow that graced the Grouch's face when he was still the orange Oscar of Season 1.
- In the show's early years, enthusiastic young viewers frequently mailed gifts of trash to Oscar in care of the Children's Television Workshop, eliciting dismay from the mailroom staff. An Information Department staff member wrote in March 1971, "Aside from an unopened can of sardines, which are probably perfectly good, Oscar has been gifted with a box of old sneakers (not a box of Snickers), a ratty old bathing cap, some stale poppy seeds and some used Kleenexes. On the other side of the coin, an adult fan sent a $50 check to purchase a new trash can. We may soon need one for his fan mail!"
- Oscar temporarily turned white (and nice) in the Sesame Street Live show Elmo's Coloring Book in 1997.
- Although he doesn't have a nose visible to the TV audience, he insists he has one (as well as ears), as he did in Episode 2056, when Telly wants to draw Oscar and sees his small nose that the adults don't see (and says it's cute), and Episode 2721, when Ruby kept giving him a hard time about it. Years earlier, in Episode 0578, a Muppet witch cursed him with a human nose (until he could break the curse by doing something nice).
- Spinney was a golf fan and brought Oscar to the 2007 Irish Open at Adare Manor, where the puppet posed with Padraig "the Grouch" Harrington, the eventual tourney winner.
- When appearing on the game show 1 vs 100 Oscar revealed his age to Bob Saget claiming he's 43 years old and has always been 43. This claim had been made at least twice before, on The Phil Donahue Show and in a 1985 interview for Follow That Bird, where Spinney says "It took him that long to get so mean."
- In A Muppet Family Christmas, Oscar shares his trash can as a bed with Rizzo the Rat stating that he has never had a rat in his trash can before and that it might be nice. He also complains that he hates "Deck the Halls" when it is his turn to sing the line "Follow me in merry measure" and he states "I will not sing this song."
- Along with his girlfriend Grundgetta and the rest of his fellow Muppets, Oscar sang "Just One Person" at Jim Henson's Memorial.
- Oscar has become somewhat of a mascot for waste reduction and waste management, including Canada's Waste Reduction Week, the Japanese Eco Kids Project, and various unofficial uses.
- Oscar has made a total of six feature film appearances to date: besides having significant roles in Follow that Bird and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Oscar made a "very brief cameo" in The Great Muppet Caper, appeared in the final group scenes in both The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan (making him the only Sesame Street character to appear in all three of the Jim Henson-era Muppet films), and made another brief cameo in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
- On the show, the lid on Oscar's trash can opens by swinging up, with the back edge still attached. In illustrations, Oscar normally wears the lid like a hat. And whenever Bruno carries the trash can, the lid hangs from the side.
- Oscar claims to own a cell phone. He says of it, "but it weighs 7 pounds — it's an old one Jim Henson threw away."
- Oscar eats a lot of the same foods that people like. However, he prefers them mixed together in unusual combinations. Once he paid Ernie and Bert a visit and traded his ice cream cone for a banana with ice cubes and gravy on it. Another time, he invited Candice Bergen to join him for lunch, which would consist of clam tuna pie with chocolate sauce and anchovies.
- For Sesame Street's 40th season, Sesame Workshop created an online promotion spoofing Facebook called "Muppetbook." For his profile, Oscar said he likes Anchovy milkshakes, but dislikes that he likes anchovy milkshakes. Among his other dislikes were rainbows, candy, and chocolate. He lists his favorite songs as "I Love Trash," "All You Need Is Trash" and "I Wanna Hold Your Trash."
- In Episode 2089 of Sesame Street, Oscar tells the story of how he first moved to Sesame Street (though he later admits it was mostly fabricated).
- Oscar has mounted two, unsuccessful political runs in the show's history. In Episode 0249, he tries to run for Head of the Neighborhood Council, but loses. Later in Episode 1562, he sets his sights on a larger position - Mayor of New York City, but he drops out when he hears about the un-grouchy perks that come with the title.
- "He's happy being Big Bird", Ellen Simon, The Washington Times. June 19, 2008.
- a clip of this interview can be found in the "Bonus Behind-the-Street Scenes" feature on disc 2 of 40 Years of Sunny Days
- Caroll Spinney (as Oscar the Grouch) at a book signing appearance in Anderson Bookshop, Naperville, IL. May 13, 2003.
- "The Reflections of Oscar the Grouch", Oscar the Grouch, Guest editor, November 5, 2009. Life Magazine.
- Spinney, Caroll. "The view from inside Big Bird" TV Week, June 10-16, 1973.
- Episode 0577; per script documents provided by a trusted source
- Borgenicht, David. Sesame Street Unpaved, 1998, p.185
- Patricia Tornborgh, memo, "Summary of Fan Mail Processed from Feb. 1 to Mar. 6, 1971," Children's Television Workshop archive, series II, box 45, folder 48, National Archive of Public Broadcasting, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
- "When Grouches Meet," Irish Abroad, May 24, 2007.
- Stephen Ostick, "Big Bird in flap over first movie role", Toronto Star, July 25, 1985, H5.
- "South Euclid: City wins 'Oscar' for having most improved recycling rate in county", Piorkowski, Jeff The Plain Dealer. November 25, 2008. Web. Accessed November 25, 2009.
- "The Reflections of Oscar the Grouch", Oscar the Grouch, Guest editor, November 5, 2009. Life Magazine.