By the time Weston Long was five years old, he had watched so many Sesame Street television episodes and video specials that he knew how to count in multiple languages -- Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish included. A big reason for Weston’s loyalty to Sesame was his love for a particular character on the show. “He was enamored with Big Bird,” shared Weston’s mom, Jill.
When Weston was five, he started writing letters to Big Bird. He wrote up to two letters a day, and his mom confessed that she mailed a few but put most of them in the garbage. After all, she didn’t want to inundate Big Bird - aka Caroll Spinney – with mail.
But unbeknownst to Mom, her son was salvaging those letters and putting them into the mailbox himself. When Weston was six, he received a personal invitation from Mr. Spinney to come visit him on the set of Sesame Street. That visit was followed by subsequent ones and was interspersed with a few visits to Caroll’s home. “Caroll also sends him old photographs and other publicity materials from the early days of Big Bird,” said Jill.
Weston, who is now 12, has been mentored by Mr. Spinney for six years. “Caroll said that he saw a lot of himself in Weston,” said Jill. Caroll, like Weston, took an interest in puppets and theater at a very early age. Caroll confirmed this fact when he approached me, Weston, and Jill after completing his first shoot of the day on the set of Sesame out in Astoria, Queens. Caroll, totally fit and energized at the age of 75, told me that he was five then he first started doing puppet shows. His mom, an artist, sewed the puppets he used.
It was obvious that Weston knew Caroll well. As Caroll proceeded to talk about his history as a performer, Weston would sometimes complete Caroll’s sentences. Both Weston and his mom were obviously happy to have Caroll as a mentor. Jill let me know that Weston came from a family of athletes, including herself, her husband, and her three other children. Weston, however, had always been interested in puppetry, theater, and dancing. Bringing her son to the set of Sesame and supporting his friendship with Caroll is one of the ways she had figured out to nurture Weston’s interests.
Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, is one of television’s biggest stars. He has reached hundreds of millions of adults and children over these past 40 years. I like the fact that he has taken time out over these last six years to nurture the dreams of a single young person who shares his love of performing. With Caroll’s support, Weston has a good shot at sustaining and realizing his dream of a career in theater.
It was just another day on Sesame Street and I'm glad I got to drop by.