It’s clear that Spinney views Big Bird as an extension of himself. In one of the film’s more poignant scenes, he recalls an instance in which the costume was vandalized by a group of teens. Lying disheveled in a pile of dirt, a big patch of feathers had been ripped off the bird’s chest and an eye was hanging off.
"It was like seeing my little boy wrecked," Spinney said, his voice heavy with emotion. "I didn’t have a great time at school. I was teased because of my name, my size, my big ears — and shame on them. I was a good kid who just wanted everybody to like me. That’s the way Big Bird is. I’m reliving a better childhood through that bird who is a child, and I think I’m awfully lucky to have that child."
Still, playing Big Bird is demanding. After he pulls the character’s orange legs on like a pair of pants, the bird’s yellow body is placed over his torso. To control Big Bird’s head, he uses his left arm, which he has to hold in the air constantly. He’s also not able to see through the costume, so he interacts with the other puppets by watching a monitor that is strapped to his chest via what he refers to as an “electronic bra.” Oh, and the lines: Since he’s hidden from view, he doesn’t have to memorize them — instead, he cuts up his script and tapes it to his monitor. It’s a lot to juggle.
But Spinney looks beyond the mechanics of the puppeteering and finds something more fulfilling in the role. “I’ve always said that of all the characters, Big Bird is more human than anyone on the show — even the humans. He has human foibles and emotions,” he said.
Caroll Spinney’s proudly worn Big Bird’s yellow feathers for 45 years (via LA Times)