Bert and Ernie, happily ever after? (2013)

The New Yorker's new cover raised some unibrows for its implication that Bert and Ernie are more than friends.

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 6:52 PM
Updated: Sep 19, 2018 6:59 PM

Bert and Ernie are still just roommates.

In a statement, Sesame Workshop was prompted to address the famous puppets' relationship after a former writer for "Sesame Street" said his own relationship with another man inspired his writing of the characters.

"I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were [gay]," Mark Saltzman, who worked for the preschooler program for 15 years, told Queerty in an interview. "I didn't have any other way to contextualize them."

Saltzman added that he was already with his now-late partner of 20 years, Arnie, at the time he started with the show in 1984, "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 and Ernie dynamic," he said.

After the interview renewed the discussion about Bert and Ernie's relationship, Sesame Workshop issued a statement saying they were merely "best friends."

"They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves," the statement said. "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 a sexual orientation."

The company later deleted that statement and replaced it with a new one, emphasizing that "Sesame Street has always stood for inclusion and acceptance."

"It's a place where people of all cultures and backgrounds are welcome," the new statement read.

Frank Oz, a puppeteer and longtime collaborator of Muppets creator Jim Henson, who died in 1990, also chimed in on Twitter.

"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," he said. "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."

He added in one reply: "I created Bert. I know what and who he is."

His comments drew a mix of responses on Twitter, some from irate fans who shared their disappointment over what they perceived to be dismissive statements from Oz and the Sesame Workshop.

"I understand," Oz wrote to one fan. "It must make you feel very alone. But please read what I wrote: I'm very pleased people see themselves and others in a character I created, but that does not change the truth of who or what that character is."

The speculation about Bert and Ernie's relationship is not new.

In 2013, the New Yorker suggested the nature of their relationship might be romantic by using a silhouette of characters in their likeness on the cover about the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

Two years earlier, a petition was circulated urging the pair to marry. At the time, Sesame Street Workshop posted a statement on its Facebook page insisting, as they did Tuesday, that the characters were just "best friends."

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