- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 19 September 2018, 2:23PM
A former writer for Sesame Street is revealing that the characters of Bert and Ernie were gay - at least for the two decades he was writing for the children's program - but Sesame Street has shot down his claims.
In an interview with Queerty, Mark Saltzman was asked the question that many have wondered for years, and in a touching response shared for the very first time that Bert and Ernie were an analog for his own relationship with his late partner, Arnold Glassman.
He also said in the interview that Mr. Snuffleupagus was written like a 'closeted' homosexual, and expressed his remorse about never being able to write the iconic show's first gay storyline.
"I can remember pitching to the education department, the gatekeepers of the curriculum, gay content, just to get it off my conscience. And I can remember being stonewalled in a way that it made me think it was a lost cause," said Saltzman.
"My activism isn't a hit the streets variety, and what Sesame Street was doing racially, you certainly don't want to denounce it. I would have liked to have been the first writer to do the 'two mommy' episode."
Saltzman said in the interview that he first came to realize the sexuality of Bert and Ernie after a child pointed out the close bond between the two men, the MailOnline reported.
"I remember one time that a column from San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mum 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," said Saltzman.
"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.'"
He then revealed that the personalities of the two perfectly mirrored his relationship with Glassman.
"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," explained Saltzman.
"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."
He also revealed that another popular character on the show also had a bit of a gay backstory.
"But those two, Snuffalupagus, because he's the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…you had characters that appealed to a gay audience," said Saltzman.
"And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that's sort of Kafka! It's sort of gay closeted too."
And Saltzman also confirmed the woman that was the basis for perhaps the most iconic Sesame Street character among members of the gay community at the time - the Sublime Miss M.
"I created her based on Bette Midler. I mean, what could be gayer? That's the gayest Sesame Street ever got," said Saltzman.
After the interview surfaced on Tuesday, Sesame Street re-released a statement they have used before denying that duo are gay.
"Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves," reads the statement from the Workshop.
"Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."
The nature of Bert and Ernie's relationship has been the source of much speculation for years.
The two characters sleep in separate beds but share a bedroom in their basement apartment at 123 Sesame Street, where they have lived since 1969 when the show first premiered on television.
Many have long viewed that the two men as a couple, and in July 2013 The New Yorker opted to use an illustration of the pair watching television together on the couch as the cover of their issue in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.
Two years prior to that however a petition calling for Bert and Ernie to be married was struck down by Sesame Street Workshop, who released the same statement firmly stating that the two were not gay - or straight - but rather just asexual puppets.
That move seemed to disappoint Saltzman, though he does admit seeing the two characters as the face of marriage equality was a monumental moment.
"The cover was kind of vindication, but there's not a Bert & Ernie float in the Pride Parade," he stated at one point in the interview.
Bert and Ernie were initially the creation of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, with the puppets said to have been analogs for the relationship between those two men, who were both heterosexual.
Oz wrote on Tuesday: "It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert & Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course. But why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness."
This prompted a number of people to lash out at Oz, who for his part answered a number of his detractors in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
Saltzman meanwhile lost his Bert back in 2003 when Glassman a film editor, suddenly passed away.
He refers to him in the interview as "the love of my life."
This article was first published on dailymail.co.uk and is republished here with permission.
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