Bert & Ernie were written as a same-sex couple, says writer Mark Saltzman.
Saltzman joined the writing team behind Sesame Street back in 1984 and at that time he was in a long-term relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman and the couple were together until Glassman’s death in 2003.
With the introduction of two iconic characters, Bert & Ernie, many parents and children wondered about the sexual orientation of the two puppets and now Saltzman has revealed he didn’t have any other way to “contextualise” the characters as anything but a same-sex couple.
In an interview with Queerty, Saltzman said: “I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a pre-schooler in the city turned to mom and asked, ‘Are Bert & Ernie lovers?’
“And that, coming from a pre-schooler 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’.
“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. 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.”
Saltzman continues to say that the character’s relationship permeated into his own relationship with Glassman.
He added: “Yeah. Because how else? 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.”
“But those two, Snuffalupagus, 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.”