Wednesday, September 24, 2014

K Is for the Kenner Gooney Bird

You know I'm always interested in the fate of Jim Henson's commercial characters. This week: the Kenner Gooney Bird.

The Gooney Bird was the logo of the Kenner toy company from 1962 to 1974. Mainly he appeared in trade ads and on packaging, but there was also a bendy doll and he appeared in Give-a-Show slides.

In 1968, Jim Henson was contracted to produce some commercials for the Easy-Bake Oven, so naturally he created a Muppet version of the character which I find very charming.

For whatever reason, Jim's work doing commercials for Kenner didn't proceed very far, and since he was working on puppets for Sesame Street, he basically recycled the puppet and moved him over to the new show, just as he had Arnold from the Munchos ads (who became Cookie Monster) or the walkaround concept of the La Choy Dragon (which led to Big Bird). On Sesame Street, the Kenner Gooney Bird became Little Bird.

Here, on a very early episode (Episode 0028), Little Bird (performed by Jim) meets Big Bird. The episode originally aired on December 17, 1969.

I just think that bit is so nice. Little Bird seems like a class act. Jim only performed Little Bird once more before the character got bounced around a bit to other performers. I know that Jerry Nelson once performed him.

But Little Bird's performer since 1970 has been Fran Brill.

Here she is with Little Bird (and with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch performer Caroll Spinney behind her). She was the first female puppeteer hired by Jim Henson, and primarily her work has been on Sesame Street. Currently, I believe her main character is Zoe, a character I don't know much about, but her main character throughout the 70s and early 80s was Prairie Dawn, one of my favorite Sesame Street characters who doesn't seem to get much regard anymore.

(You might also recognize her as Richard Dreyfuss' sister in Frank Oz's classic What About Bob? She was also in Being There and Midnight Run.)

On episode 0148 (December 2, 1970), Little Bird taught us (and an early Herry Monster) to play the Imagination Game.

Little Bird never appeared very much on the show, though he has made a lot of appearances in Sesame Street books. Interestingly, though, test audiences of children seemed to respond very well to the character, The Imagination Game in particular was noted as something children in one test audience really enjoyed and participated in.

In another signature Little Bird segment, from episode 0683 (November 27, 1974), Little Bird (and Cookie Monster) demonstrate the concept of "next to."

Incidentally, 1974 was the year Kenner, who had become much more interested in "action toys," stopped using the Kenner Gooney Bird as its logo. Little Bird is still flying around on Sesame Street. It's just always interesting to me how some of these long-running characters--even the somewhat underused ones--start off in places like commercials.

Keep flapping, Little Bird.

ABC Wednesday


Roger Owen Green said...

Yay! One I actually remember! When I went to college, I watched Sesame Street a lot. A case of arrested development?
AND I remember those easy Bake Oven ads too.


Reader Wil said...

We still have Sesame Street here in the Netherlands. It is very good!
Thanks for the videos.
Wil, ABCW Team

Lmkazmierczak said...

Fascinating post...My Grandson is 10 months so we'll soon be into Sesame Street so I'll be looking for Little Bird in particular♪