A former writer on children’s television favourite Sesame Street has cleared up years of speculation by claiming that the show’s iconic duo Bert and Ernie were written as a gay couple.
Mark Saltzman, who joined the show in 1984, told Queerty the two iconic characters reflected his own relationship with his partner at the time, film editor Arnie Glassman.
Saltzman explained that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a loving couple, and he didn’t have any other way to portray them.
“I remember one time a preschooler turned to her mum and asked ‘Are Bert and Ernie lovers?’ and that, coming from a preschooler, was fun,” he said.
“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 and Ernie, they were. I didn’t have any other way to contextualise them.”
He said people he knew compared he and his partner to the two characters.
“Yeah, I was Ernie. I look more Bert-ish,” he said.
“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 paperclips and organisation?
“And I was the jokester. So, it was the Bert and 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 and Ernie dynamic.”
But the show disagrees. In 2011, in response to a petition by fans of the show calling for Bert and Ernie get married on screen, Sesame Street said in a statement the characters were only “best friends”.
The show re-released the same statement this week, explaining Bert and Ernie “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.”
In 2013, to mark a landmark court victory for marriage equality in California at the time, the New Yorker magazine published a cover depicting Bert and Ernie in a loving embrace in front of the television watching the verdict.
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) September 18, 2018