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  • I had been meaning to bring this up for a while. I've noticed there are several conflicting sources concerning when Elmo first appeared. Caroll Spinney has said that he performed Elmo as "Baby Monster" in "one of the first seasons [of Sesame Street]"; although he might be thinking of a different baby monster he performed at that time. On the other hand, Sesame Street Unpaved and Imagination Illustrated cite 1979 as the year he was created. To me, this would make the most sense considering that, at least on the Wiki, his earliest appearances (We Are All Monsters, Me Lost Me Cookie, etc.) date back to Season 11 and no earlier. With that in mind, I'm wondering if there's a better, more accurate way to describe this on Elmo's page. Thoughts?

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    • I agree. The current page says "The puppet, designed by Caroly Wilcox, that would eventually become Elmo had been used on Sesame Street since the early 1970s," but 1979 is the date Karen Falk gives for the "Short Red" monster design.

      So I agree, Spinney's recollection is either confusing two puppets (I don't think we have any actual sketch evidence of him performing the Elmo puppet) *or* simply incorrect as far as date (and since by 2004 he had been on the show for 25 years, it seems understandable that you might let things run together think of anything in the first decade or so as "early.") I'd say be more precise, use 1979 and Imagination Illustrated as the citation (since it has the design sketch already on the page).

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    • Here are two sources where Caroll talks about Baby Monster which he specifically says is the Elmo puppet before he became Elmo.

      A couple things:

      1) There's a possibility that the song he's talking about is "Five Monsters in My Family" which was recorded in 1975, and could have been filmed later (we source the puppet's construction as 1979 via Karen Falk). There are examples where songs weer recorded first and filmed later; I'm sure I'll think of one.

      2) If we're not going to have that information on the Elmo page, we should explain why we're omitting it in the article text somewhere. People are going to be reading those books and hearing Caroll talking about performing a proto-Elmo and wondering why Muppet Wiki is not covering it.

      So, thoughts on how we might word that?

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    • Song? Is that in the Street Gang audio interview? Can you transcribe that? Right now, we have nothing to indicate a film version of "Five Monsters" airing.

      The Wisdom of Big Bird passage really reads like a mistaken memory: "He debuted in one of the first seasons as Baby Monster" (we know that timeline is wrong, for one). "When the writers stopped writing scenes around the Monster Family, Baby Monster went into a storage drawer and waited for his next script." He then adds "in the late seventies" as when the new character named Elmo was created, and that Caroly Wilcox simply pulled an old puppet out of the drawer. (That may have been partly accurate, but the puppet hadn't been in storage that long).

      So for this passage at least, at most, we handle it as a note or errata, that Spinney recalled Elmo as existing earlier than he had and as being the same as an earlier Baby Monster character, but the actual evidence we have suggests a slip of the memory. Maybe we can find a more tactful wording, but that's where it stands. The alternative might be to set up a rumor page (which would leave room to go into fuller detail, citing what Spinney or others have said, and the evidence which contradicts those recollections). It's still possible and even likely that Spinney puppeteered the Elmo puppet at some time, and just conflated it with Baby Monster, but clearly the way in which it's described in Wisdom of Big Bird at least isn't accurate (and I'm not sure we have anyone but Spinney as a source for Elmo being called Baby Monster). If we decide it belongs on the Elmo page, it would really need to be a note since Spinney's memory is the only source, and it's clearly mistaken at least in thinking Elmo was the same as an early seasons puppet.

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    • Scarecroe wrote:

      1) There's a possibility that the song he's talking about is "Five Monsters in My Family" which was recorded in 1975, and could have been filmed later (we source the puppet's construction as 1979 via Karen Falk). There are examples where songs weer recorded first and filmed later; I'm sure I'll think of one.


      I haven't heard the recording of that song. Was Spinney's voice heard as one of those monsters? There are a few sources that indicate he stopped performing characters other than Big Bird and Oscar (with a few exceptions) after the second season, long before 1975 and 1979.

      I've seen a couple of season two pages that describe a sketch as "Baby Monster learns what 'Is" is". I used to think that seeing that sketch would be the end-all be-all answer to this mystery, but recently I've realized that even if we do find that sketch in question and see that it's a different monster that wouldn't mean Elmo wasn't used then (of course there's stronger evidence that he wasn't there that early). 

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    • Here's a May 2015 interview, where Caroll Spinney repeats much the same story as in Wisdom, only with even more details, which further show it couldn't have happened in that time frame. Spinney: "About the second or third year of the show, we had a series of little things we were doing called the Monster Family and I played Baby Monster, that was Elmo." Then a paraphrase from the ABC writer: "Spinney said Baby Monster was put away and then years later, they pulled him out and thought to rename him."

      Spinney again: "They said, 'This is a cute little puppet, maybe we should make a character out of it?' and they did."

      Now, that second/third season time frame makes sense for the Baby Monster we know about, and for when they were using monsters as more of a general group in skits. During this time, the Anything Muppets were often called "The Anything Family," so it's likely a similar "Monster Family" designation existed even if it wasn't used in actual dialogue or whatever. But Elmo is clearly not a second or third season puppet, and was not in a drawer for years, so if this is when Spinney thinks he played Elmo as Baby Monster, then Elmo can't be Baby Monster.

      Unless we find some indication that later Spinney filled in and, because Elmo was supposed to be young, later misremembered him as being the same puppet. Everything indicates that in all likelihood, the puppet we know as Elmo likely didn't have an official name before.

      This isn't an uncommon situation, by the way. Mel Blanc spent years on talk shows or on lecture circuit telling stories which would later be proven false (or in same cases, proven so even then just by actually watching the cartoons).

      In Caroll Spinney's case, it's either a) a memory trick period, which given the time elapsed and that it was a small role (whichever puppet it was) is understandable or b) he played Baby Monster and several years later filled in as the pre-Elmo and misremembered them as being the same. But it can't have happened the way he recalls it simply because the Elmo puppet isn't that old and wasn't waiting for years (at most, two years passed between the puppet's creation and Elmo as a personality, and it seems like he wasn't in storage for very long).

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    • Yeah, that all makes sense given what we currently know. There's so much material from that era we still don't have.

      So, we've got multiple occurrences of Spinney telling that story. I'll think of a way to work that into the Elmo article as that's where people would most likely look for it.

      For the record, here's the transcript of the Michael Davis/Caroll Spinney interview:

      • Davis: What did Picklepuss sound like?
      • Spinney: [does a gravelly voice] "Well, I sounded like sumpin' like this. Little kinda voice." I even used the same voice -- puppeteers generally only have a certain amount of voices. Otherwise they start sounding like... similar. For instance Yoda sounds a lot like Grover. And, uh, not my characters. So, Picklepuss, I used that voice for, uh, when Elmo, the puppet that's used for Elmo, first appeared... I was running it. He was called Baby Monster, part of a family of little monsters. "We Are Family" we'd sing. And, uh, I played him and he talked with Picklepuss's voice. [does the voice again] "Hi, I'm a baby Muppet" ... Baby Monster. But, uh, that was short-lived. You know, eventually it certainly became Kevin Clash who does wonderful things with Elmo.
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    • Depending on how in depth you want to be, we could also try a "Did Caroll Spinney play an early Elmo?" rumor page, and then you could just set that up briefly with a link in the Elmo article (we've done that a few times for major rumors/misconceptions, especially some like the names where accounts vary).

      Also, a shame we don't know how to contact Caroly Wilcox (or anyone who might still be in touch with her). She seems like the best person to clarify, since (per the photo on her page) she actually puppeteered opposite Spinney as the confirmed Baby Monster (although she may or may not recall that) and built Elmo, and the Muppet workshop folks were often more likely than performers to keep notes and files. Also since Spinney's story in at least one version specifies her. She may not remember whether or not Spinney ever played the Elmo puppet, but could probably answer whether the pre-Elmo was ever in any Monster Family skits (doubtful) or called Baby Monster, perhaps just by the Muppet crew (possible).

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    • The rumor page is a good idea, especially since there are several references to Spinney telling the story. I hadn't thought of that.

      Where does the Baby Monster name come from? I'm guessing that's what he's called on-screen either on Ed Sullivan or a Sesame sketch.

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    • That's a good question (I think we missed that page during our long ago name sourcing discussion). I think yes to Sullivan (would need to pull it up again). As for Sesame, I'm not sure what season 2 listings for "Baby Monster" sketches Michael was referring to (googling, I can't find anything, but it may have been from scanned documents parked somewhere, and the info hadn't migrated to pages yet).

      Of the confirmed sketches, the most likely candidate would be Here and There (the others clearly just have the puppet as part of the crowd, so nobody would be addressing him), but the image on that page originally came from a German airing. So I'm not sure the original skit circulates.

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    • I'll see what I've got at home and check the Sullivan sketch.

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    • Aleal wrote:
      That's a good question (I think we missed that page during our long ago name sourcing discussion). I think yes to Sullivan (would need to pull it up again). As for Sesame, I'm not sure what season 2 listings for "Baby Monster" sketches Michael was referring to (googling, I can't find anything, but it may have been from scanned documents parked somewhere, and the info hadn't migrated to pages yet).


      The Baby Monster segment I mentioned was listed as appearing in the Wiki's pages for episodes 0143 and 0269. Part of me wonders if Caroll Spinney performed a red monster called Baby Monster and thought it was Elmo. I've seen sources that said that Elmo was created because they didn't have a red monster, but I thought I saw a red monster in the original "C is for Cookie", and Stuie Monster looks red. 


      And Baby Monster is not referred to by any name in the Ed Sullivan sketch. I wonder if design sketches for them have shown up anywhere (like Designs and Doodles). 

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    • Three Monsters

      The monster in "C is for Cookie" that Michael is referring to is Billy, who appeared in segments during that time-frame of seasons 2 and 3. Don't want to speculate, but he looks similar enough to Elmo for Spinney to mistake as the same puppet and probably was used for the "Baby Monster" segments he's remembering.

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    • That's a pretty good theory, Jon.

      Pending a rumor page, I went ahead and made changes to the current Baby Monster page. For now, since it's all anecdotal, I moved it behind Cookie's cousin being called "Baby Monster" on screen, but we can shift it if desired. Instead of a flat statement, I made it clear we're reporting Spinney's memory, and for the same puppet as Elmo bit, just said it was something he's repeated in anecdotes. Since right now the exact facts aren't confirmable, but the fact of Spinney's anecdote is confirmable. If we have to refer to this on any other pages beyond linking to a rumor page, I think that's the best way to handle it.

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    • Looks good to me. I'm very close to renaming that page. I just watched his appearance on Sullivan, and three Sesame skits, and there's no source for Baby Monster (doubtful it's in one of the others I can't find as none of them are referring to each other by name).

      I'm thinking "Baby Monster" might become the rumor page with reference to Cookie's various family members. Right now the best title I can think of for the purple horned character is "Fred's son", but I'm open to other possibilities.

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    • Yay. I like it when we clean up old loose ends.

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    • Me too. It gives me a warm Fuzzyface.

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    • I remembered this Tough Pigs article covering the BAM event from 2004, where Caroll talks about Baby Monster (it was the first I heard that he performed the character, something I'm surprised he didn't mention when talking about the characters origins in his book,saying that it was either 1970 or 1971 (not sure if that part was his words or if Danny Horn couldn't remember which year he said). I don't think there's any info here that's not on the Baby Monster page, but it is something else to look at.

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    • Thanks for that, Michael! I'm becoming more and more fascinated with collecting all the times Caroll has repeated this story because he's either 1) mis-remembering, or 2) the dates on the "first Elmo sketch" are wrong, or some mix of (1) and (2) that will someday be revealed either by more material showing up from those early years (of which we still know so little) or someone asking him to clarify his memory based on the available evidence.

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    • Elmo debuting earlier (at least early enough to match the anecdote) is unlikely. The date is actually on the sketch (11/79), not just a Karen Falk identification. If it were a mistake, it would be Caroly Wilcox's and we'd have to check with her, but I'm pretty dubious on that point.

      So either his dates are completely wrong and the brief spate of monster family skits was in that period when Elmo was mostly a background character, or he's conflating Elmo with an earlier character. Polite prompting with evidence is a good idea. (June Foray for years said her earliest cartoon voice work was in 1950, Cinderella.... until she was presented with articles about her work in specific 1940s shorts, which then jogged her memory enough to remember further details.)

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    • Yeah, I'm guessing he's remembering Fred's son as red or there's a sketch we haven't found yet with a little red monster puppet that he performed.

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    • All of this is really why there should have been a grant for Muppet scholarship and document preservation long ago.

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    • Now that I think of it, Elmo is kind of big to be a baby. 

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    • Kevin Clash's book briefly mentions Elmo being called Baby Monster. The quote, on pages 45-46, goes

      Elmo - who got that name early on, though he was more commonly referred to on the set as "Baby Monster"

      That quote implies that Elmo might have been called both names during the same early period. Of course, Kevin Clash wasn't a full-time performer on the show at the time, though he did perform in at least a few segments in season 12, the year Elmo got his name (and his book mentions that he got to visit the set a number of times before becoming an official performer on the show), so it's likely he was going by what he'd been told. 

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    • Oh, yeah, duh. I didn't even think to check Clash's book. I just did a search in the e-book and that is indeed the only reference. It reads to me like a description rather than a name, but worthy of noting on our rumor page. Makes it all the more interesting to think about what was going on all those years ago.

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    • Could Caroll have been thinking about the Elmo puppet after all, but getting the years wrong? Was he doing background characters still by 1979?

      Could the Wilcox sketch be dated wrong?

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    • Or maybe Caroll performed a Baby Monster character around the second season but Elmo was also alternatively called Baby Monster on the set. 

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    • I don't get from Clash's book that he was ever called Baby Monster by name. He puts it in quotes and uses lowercase to describe the character. My takeaway from that is the performers on set might say, "Hey, hand me the red, baby monster over there. I'll do him this time."

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    • I still really doubt that the Wilcox sketch is dated wrong. The "First Sketch for Elmo" in marker was clearly added after the fact, but the 11/79 next to "Short Red" means that if it is a mistake, it would have to have been a "Oh, I completely forgot what year it is while dating this for our records shortly after creation" situation, which I really find unlikely for the NY Muppet Workshop supervisor at the time. Even if it was mistaken, there's absolutely no way it could fit Spinney's timeline.

      While personally I think confusion between Elmo and an earlier puppet is most likely, that Spinney briefly came back to play Baby Monster around 79 or 80 and we just don't have those sketches is still a possible, and more likely than that Wilcox made a mistake in her note on the sketch (compared to a mistake in memory years later).

      I do still wish we could contact Caroly Wilcox (she's still around, although not sure of her health or memory). I'm trying to see if we have contact info anywhere for someone (Ed Christie maybe) who might conceivably be in touch with her.

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    • I doubt it too, but I agree with your point about the notes in marker having been added after the fact. Unfortunately we don't know how long after the fact the note was made.

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    • Well, the thick marker "Elmo" note and signature clearly had to have been after Elmo was a named character (possibly after he'd become a featured character). But that's not the same tool used for the "Short Red" date (which also differs from the penciled "Short Red," I agree). The formal SS label date format (also briefly glimpsed on the "SS Tall" character next to him) would most likely have been either added not long afterwards or when this was filed. Which is why we'd need to hear from Wilcox or just someone who worked in the workshop at the time and knew how things worked.

      I'm just not sure it's likely that the one artifact we have with a date could be wrong or bent in such a way as to verify years later memories (if it was a mistake, it would be more likely to be off by months than years, and even then, I don't see how 1979 can be bent to fit 1970 or 1971). I can understand our reluctance to doubt Caroll Spinney (since this the only significant instance where his memory doesn't seem to match evidence and probability), but I think we may be trying too hard there. If we want verification, I'd much rather we try our contact lists (which may be limited in this case, I know) to see who we know who worked in the NY Workshop or who knows people who did and send out some feelers. In the (to my mind unlikely) event there was some dating error and Elmo really existed years earlier and spent the inbetween time in a drawer per Spinney's story, then that's the best way to trace it.

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    • I agree. I'm not advocating for anything in particular, just noting that there's a lot we don't know. I like your idea of reaching out to Wilcox, but I don't know how we'd do that.

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    • Ed Christie used to post here, and a couple of folks I think have said they've e-mailed him. I can't find an e-mail address but he is on Facebook. Doesn't mean he'll answer of course, but he's both a likely person to be in touch with her and he would have been in the Workshop long enough to, if nothing else, settle when sketches were dated. I'm going to work on that end, but if anyone knows anyone else who would have been working in the NY workshop in the 70s/80s, they may either be able to pass a message along or possibly have saved some documentation themselves. I'm also going to try Richard Termine via his website (he joined in 1980, but worked with Wilcox, so might still be in touch, and could probably settle the whole "could the date be wrong" thing, which I just don't see as a profitable avenue of speculation).

      That or wait until Columbia finally gives in and starts an Institute for Muppet Studies. (Forget those daydreaming of a Muppet land at Disneyland, that's *my* fantasy.)

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    • I wonder if Michael Earl or Brian Meehl would remember Caroll Spinney performing Elmo, as they were on the show in 1979 and, along with Caroll Spinney, were the only performers active on a regular schedule. Michael Earl has posted here and at Muppet Central (I do feel hesitant about suggesting asking him, though, since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, not sure how his current state of health is but I'm sure he's got more important things to think about than whether Caroll Spinney performed the Elmo puppet), and Brian Meehl has an official website and an e-mail address (he responded to an e-mail from somebody here who asked about Telly's original performer, and he responded to an e-mail I had sent him, though in that e-mail he said that he didn't remember many of his performances as Elmo, so he might not remember if Spinney ever performed Elmo when Meehl was on the show). 

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    • Aleal
      Aleal removed this reply because:
      speculation and side comments, not helping the research issue
      18:24, November 13, 2015
      This reply has been removed
    • Aleal
      Aleal removed this reply because:
      once again, removing speculation
      18:58, November 16, 2015
      This reply has been removed
    • Aleal
      Aleal removed this reply because:
      speculation again
      22:20, November 20, 2015
      This reply has been removed
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