The age-old question that most LGBTQ people have largely already answered is: Are Bert & Ernie from Sesame Street gay? The loveable characters have long been icons for the LGBTQ community, but now, at last, the definitive answer is out, and so, officially, are Bert & Ernie.
— UPROXX (@UPROXX) September 18, 2018
Mark Saltzman, who had a 15-year tenure with The Muppets and wrote scripts and songs for Sesame Street, just revealed in an exclusive for Queerty that indeed, he had written the characters as a sort of reflection of himself and his long-time partner, film editor Arnold “Arnie” Glassman.
Bert & Ernie shared a basement apartment together on 123 Sesame Street, sleeping in separate beds. Saltzman and Glassman shared their own apartment a few years after Saltzman began working at Sesame Street in 1984. They were together for 20 years before Glassman’s death in 2003.
“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. 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.”
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Saltzman said he didn’t have any sort of “gay agenda.” He was writing about what he knew: his own relationship, although he wouldn’t have minded being the first writer to do the “two mommy” episode.
“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. 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 relationship between the two puppets mirrored the writer’s relationship at home, although the inspiration wasn’t known to everyone. It was still the 80s, when HIV was just becoming an epidemic and equality was just a distant dream.
“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.’”
NEWSFLASH: It wasn’t just Bert & Ernie that Saltzman saw as appealing to gay audiences. He says he believes Snuffalupagus appealed to the gay community as well because he was a secret friend who often seemed depressed. Another character made for “the gayest Sesame Street” ever: Sublime Miss M, based on the icon, Bette Midler.
After all these years, we can finally say for sure that yes, Bert & Ernie were inspired by the real-life relationship of a loving gay couple.
This doesn’t change the official statement on the matter from Sesame Street from 2011 when New York began legally recognizing same-sex marriages:
“The characters were “best friends” and were ‘created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.'”
“Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
The Legendary Muppets master, Frank Oz, gave his own thoughts on the subject:
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
See more from Wochit Entertainment below:
See Bert & Ernie’s “Friendship Test” below:
Featured image via YouTube: