This past week, it was revealed by Mark Saltzman, (the Emmy award winning writer on the iconic Sesame Street television program for children) in an interview with the LGBTQ lifestyle website Queerty that the world’s most beloved roommates, “Bert and Ernie” who starred on Sesame Street as part of the Muppets were actually gay. Saltzman said that the Bert and Ernie characters were reflections of himself and his longtime partner, Arnold Glassman. Glassman was a renowned editor and had worked on films such as “Raising Arizona” with Nicholas Cage as well as a gay documentary about homosexuality’s relationship to Hollywood known as “The Celluloid Closet.” Glassman died in 2003.
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ That coming from a preschooler was fun, and that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it,” Saltzman told the outlet.
Saltzman compared his own relationship with Glassman to the characters. “I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them. The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie and I as ‘Bert and Ernie,’ ” Saltzman recalled.
In the interview Saltzman discussed his experience of coming out as a gay man and coming of age in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, according to Vox.com. But Queerty ran the article with a headline announcing an “answer” to the question, “Are Bert and Ernie a couple?” And the age-old debate about Bert and Ernie became the story.
The “answer” Saltzman gave went viral on the internet and social media platforms on Tuesday, prompting a massive outpouring of debate and controversy over the two Muppets.
People Magazine reported that Sesame Workshop tweeted a statement denying Saltzman’s assertion hours later.
“As we have always said, 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,” the tweet reads. “Even though they are identified as male characters and posess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”
Vox.com reported that puppetmaster Frank Oz, who originally performed Bert opposite Jim Henson as Ernie, and who stated on Twitter that “They’re not gay, of course.” Yet Oz went on to admit, when challenged by fans who wondered why he seemed to be assigning Bert a heterosexual orientation by default, “I have not had to think about my own sexual orientation as something that needs to be validated.”