A former writer for the PBS children’s show Sesame Street said he scripted the beloved characters Bert and Ernie as a gay couple after himself and his male life partner.
Mark Saltzman, who is Jewish, said this in a Sept. 16 interview with Queery magazine. He had worked on Sesame Street with his late life partner, filmmaker Arnold Glassman, since 1984 – some 15 years after the two characters hit the screens in Sesame Street’s 1969 pilot program.
“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,” Saltzman said.
But Sesame Workshops, the company that produces the show, dismissed the assertion that the characters’ relationship reflects a homosexual one, saying they are merely best friends.
Over the years, many have speculated over the relationship of the iconic Sesame Street characters. Sesame Street was a pioneer among children’s shows in tackling social issues, often displaying progressive attitudes, including celebrating diversity.
Saltzman had never confirmed his intention to style Bert and Ernie as a homosexual couple.
Asked during the Queery interview whether “Bert & Ernie became analogs” for his relationship with Glassman, Saltzman said: “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?”
He added: “I would never have said to the head writer, ‘oh, I’m writing this, this is my partner and me.’”
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the Sesame Workshops company said in a statement following the interview. ”They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different form 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 a sexual orientation.”
Sesame Street has won 167 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards—more than any other children’s show.