Hello Muppet fans, and welcome to part 2 (technically part 3, but we won’t count Katy Perry’s article) of my series of articles.
You may recall a little while ago I questioned why Oscar the Grouch is always drawn with a garbage can lid on his head, when he is never seen like this on the show. I asked for theories and boy oh boy, did I get a hundred e-mails in one night!
…Of course none of them were from you. I totally forgot that putting your e-mail on the internet results in spammers getting ahold of it. Although, on the bright side, I did inherit $250 million from a Nigerian Prince I didn’t even know, so, hey… Every cloud…
But that’s cool, perhaps “?” won’t be much of an audience participation segment.
I did get one e-mail from Beauregard from the Muppet Central Forums, who gave a bit of a theory which makes a fair bit of sense… Here it is, in all its copied and pasted form:
“Hello there. Beauregard here from the old Muppet Central boards. Wanted to weigh in on the scandal that is going down over at The Muppet Mindset. Oh, wait, that’s a whole other e-mail… *ahem* I just wanted to send a clue regarding the dustbin-hat-wearing-Oscar. Have you noticed that the Grouchketeers all wear dustbin lids as hats? Surely they must have taken this fashion cue from somewhere, adding weight to the idea that Oscar himself may have at one time worn said lid-based item as a millinery accompaniment?
Love ya! – Beau”
Awww, thanks Beau, we love you too. Because you’re the only one who e-mailed me. You’re now my favorite… My favorite behind Joe Hennes from ToughPigs, because that’s where this thing really got going. I managed to get Joe’s e-mail and shot him a note asking if he could talk to Joe Mathieu, the illustrator I mentioned countless times in the article. And the next day, well wasn’t I surprised to see an e-mail from one Mr. Mathieu, with a full on explanation, which totally made sense! So, here, please enjoy it in its copied and pasted form:
I love your question about Oscar the Grouch’s can lid; I hope I can shed some light.
I think we started drawing the lid as a “hat” for several reasons. You seem to be upset that we drew it this way even though it didn’t exist this way in the puppet world. There were a number of things that we drew different from the actual puppets because they simply worked better in the illustration world. I can remember conversations about this with Jim Henson in the early days. He would show me one of the Muppets, say Bert, and he would tell me not to draw him literally from a certain angle because it wouldn’t look good, but the puppet had to be built that way for mechanical reasons. So we took some liberties because there was no reason to limit the artwork because of a physical, mechanical limitation of a puppet. I think this point of view is not as prevalent today because Jim isn’t here to say it’s OK.
Don’t forget, in the early 70’s we had not seen most of the puppets legs because most of them didn’t have any; Kermit and Grover had legs, Big Bird too, but Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster and most of the rest didn’t. We had to make the legs up and the early style books didn’t help at all. By the way, the ‘73 style book didn’t show Oscar’s lid as a hat; I looked at the book after you asked.
In the case of Oscar, let’s try to remember that garbage can lids are not usually hinged to the base. Oscar’s was built that way so that the performer could throw the lid open and it wouldn’t fall on the floor! When I tried to draw it in its open, upright position, it looked like a halo from an iconic religious painting! So we placed it on his head, and by angling it this way and that, we could intensify his attitude and emotion. And it could fly up in the air if he were really upset and it could land perfectly back on his head.
As for who pictured it this way first, I am not really sure, but I don’t think it was me. I have two possibilities. One is that Michael Frith, who was an early illustrator but also the art director at Random House, might have suggested it to one of the illustrators. Or two, maybe it was Mel Crawford. Crawford was one of the early illustrators who seemed to disappear after a couple of books. He drew the lid as a hat in the Sesame St. 1-2-3 Storybook (1973) on page 24, and that’s the earliest one I can find. I just thought of another possibility; see if you can find a copy of the Oscar Book by Jeff Moss, illustrated by Michael Gross. This might have been the first Oscar book, but I don’t know where my copy is; maybe he tried it, I don’t know.
I hope this has been some help. And thanks for the kind words in your article. Cheers!
So there we go, Oscar has a hat because otherwise he’d look too religious!
I hope that’s answered some questions for you, and be sure my friends that I shall be back very shortly with more questions, because asking questions is a good way to find out things!
Cheers Muppet fans,
UPDATE – WRITTEN A WEEK AFTER THIS ARTICLE
Hello Muppet fans.
I am an honorable man, willing to admit defeat when it is necessary. And today, it is so.
Tuesday this week, I was sitting at home, actually reading over my Katy Perry article from the other day, being arrogant and admiring my own work. At midday here in Australia, ABC2 plays Sesame Street. This means I don’t have to be up at some ridiculous hour to watch it on ABC1. Okay, so 8:30am isn’t a ridiculous time, but I like to sleep in. So I notice its 12:03, and I turn over to get myself a bit of a Sesame fix. They’re playing a season 36 episode, all about the Grouchketeers and Telly learning a cheer. Episode 4094, for those of you playing at home.
Now, unfortunately I can’t get a screen-cap of this, so with any luck the awesome Mr. Picture Getter himself, Ryan Dosier, may be able to rummage one up. If not, I apologize. But Oscar was wearing a garbage can lid… As a hat… I was shocked, and I audibly laughed, and tried, but failed, to find a picture of it.
So it turns out Beauregard was right! And we love him for it.
I’ll see you soon, Muppet fans. I’m trying to come up with my next question as we speak…
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier