Almost everyone age two and older is familiar with the work of Kermit Love
. For many years, he worked with the Muppets and is largely responsible for the look of some of Sesame Street
's best-known characters. While Jim Henson designed the idea for Big Bird, it is Love who built much of the character and refined and improved the way it looks and works. He also built Mr. Snuffleupagus for Sesame Street
and created the Snuggle Fabric Softener Teddy Bear, as well as the characters for the TV series The Great Space Coaster
Born in 1916, Love had his earliest experience in costume design when he dressed marionettes as a child. In the summer of 1936, he served for 10 weeks as an apprentice to the designer George Federof at the Suffern County Theatre in New York, working with such directors as Bretaigne Windust and Joshua Logan, among others. As a result, Windust asked Love to design the costumes for Naughty Naught
in 1937, which led to later that same year designing the costumes and special effects for The Fireman's Flame
Love then began a succession of survival jobs assisting other designers and frequently found himself in the company of such greats as the Lunts and George Balanchine. He worked as an assistant to Rose Bogodonof and Kate Drain Lawson, associations which actively involved him in the production of plays designed by Robert Edmund Jones, Norman Bel Geddes and Orson Welles. For the next several years, Love designed costumes for up-and-coming modern theatre and dance groups struggling for recognition and survival below 14th Street.
By 1938, he was assisting Boris Aronson on Thornton Wilder's Merchant of Yonkers
, and he co-designed the costumes for Aronson's production of The Great American Goof
for the American Ballet Theatre's premiere season. In 1940, he assisted Richard Whorf in designing the scenery for the Lunts' production of There Shall Be No Night
. His work with designers earned Love a reputation as a very good "shopper," which led to his employment in the newly established workrooms of Madame Barbara Karinska. In 1942, he was declared ineligible for service in WWII for physical reasons, leaving him free to design the costumes for Agnes de Mille's Rodeo
. For this ballet, Karinska built the costumes designed by Love. This piece also marked the first of Love's collaborations with scenic designer Oliver Smith, which continued in 1943 with a zarzuela by Paul Bowles, based on the poetry of Lorca.
In quick succession, Love designed costumes for the dance and ballet sequences of such Broadway shows as One Touch of Venus
in 1943 and Suds In Your Eye
in 1944. Also in 1944, he teamed with Smith for Jerome Robbins' first ballet, Fancy Free
. Love's costume designs for the three principal women in Fancy Free
remain, after more than 60 years, the template for productions by the New York City Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Pennsylvania Ballet, not to mention continual revivals by the ABT. In late 1944, he also designed the costumes for the Broadway production of Dark Hammock
In 1946, he journeyed abroad to design a new production for the post-war Lido in Paris. By 1950, he was lured to Europe full-time, working on numerous films in France and England for the remainder of the decade. In 1962, he returned to New York and met up with a former colleague, Jim Henson, who suggested that Love join his Muppet organization, and a whole new chapter in his career began. Since joining the Henson team, Love went on to create characters for 22 foreign versions of Sesame Street
. Love has also been instrumental in nurturing and encouraging the talent of a great many puppeteers and puppet builders.
But Love never gave up designing for live performance. He worked with Twyla Tharp in 1970 on the costumes for The Fugue
and a year later costumed Tharp's Bix Pieces
for its Paris premiere. In 1973, Robert Joffrey asked him to recreate Picasso's constructions for the ballet Parade
, first performed in 1917. Love renewed his working relationship with George Balanchine in 1975 when he designed a new production of L'Enfant et Les Sortileges
for the Ravel Festival. The piece's success revived interest in the work, and Balanchine was asked to recreate it for Dance in America
. With Love as his collaborator again, the piece was developed further and expanded. Love worked with Balanchine once again in 1982 on Persephone
. Then, in 1984, Tharp asked Love to design sets and costumes for Sorrow Floats
. And in 1987, he co-designed the Joffrey's new The Nutcracker
with John David Ridge.
In addition to designing, Love taught at the Pratt Institute, Columbia University and the University of Hawaii.