Sesame Street viewers have long speculated popular characters Bert and Ernie were more than just roommates – and now a former writer for the children’s TV program has confirmed they are a gay couple.
Mark Saltzman, a former writer for the show, has outed the pair, saying he created them based on his own relationship.
“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?’” Saltzman said in an interview with the LGBTQ lifestyle and news website Queerty.
“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 contextualise them.
“The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as Bert & Ernie.”
The Arnie that Saltzman was referring to is Arnold Glassman, a film editor and Saltzman’s life partner until he passed away in 2003.
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Talking about their relationship, he continued, “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 organisation? 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.”
Bert and Ernie were originally performed by Muppets creator Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Oz told Today in March that the puppets were often reflections of their puppeteers’ personalities.
“We’d pick parts of ourselves and put them into the puppets,” Oz said.
While fans of the long-running TV show quickly took to Twitter to laud the development — this has been a long time in the making for the LGBTQ community icons, whose relationship status was featured in a 2013 New Yorker cover and the subject of an online marriage petition — it didn’t last long.
After Saltzman’s interview went viral, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organisation behind the show, issued a statement saying that Bert and Ernie “do not have a sexual orientation.” It was retweeted soon after that under the show’s Twitter handle.
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
Oz also weighed in on Bert and Ernie’s relationship on Twitter, saying, “There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”
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.
— Frank Oz (@TheFrankOzJam) September 18, 2018