For decades, the relationship between Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie has been heavily argued. Are they an item or not?
Now, Mark Saltzman, veteran former writer on the show, is sharing how he conceptualized their 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?' And that, coming from a preschooler was fun,” he tells Queerty, an LGBTQ news outlet. “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 contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as ‘Bert & Ernie.’”
The “Arnie” that Saltzman was referring to was Arnold Glassman, the “love of his life.” Glassman was an acclaimed film editor whose work included Frailty and The Celluloid Closet. He died in 2003.
Saltzman went to explain that exchanges he wrote for the Muppet couple were definitely drawn from his own relationship with Glassman.
“Yeah, I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish,” he says. “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. 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.”
The Emmy Award-winning writer added that Bert and Ernie weren’t the only Muppets that he interpreted as gay.
“That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not? I will say that I would never have said to the head writer, 'Oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.,'" he says. "But those two, Snuffleupagus, because he’s the sort of clinically depressed Muppet…you had characters that appealed to a gay audience. And Snuffy, this depressed person nobody can see, that’s sort of Kafka! It’s sort of gay closeted too.”
However, Sesame Street itself is pushing back against Saltzman's comments with a statement of their own:
"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with whose who are very different from themselves. 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 sexual orientation."
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