''Shut up! Shut your little damn mouth!'' yelled Big Bird at an 8-year-old raising hell on the Sesame Street set a few years back. ''And I'm going, 'Omigod! I've got Big Bird yelling at the kid,''' recounts a laughing Caroll Spinney, the silver-haired puppeteer who has donned the suit and provided the voice for both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since Sesame Street first aired in 1969.
That particular story is not among those recounted in Spinney's new instructional memoir, The Wisdom of Big Bird. But the book does include the scoop on how Spinney operates the bird suit (two words: electronic bra), how a Sesame Street guest rapper punched off Big Bird's head, and how Elmo became the show's new star (''...let's face it -- Elmo is unbelievably cute'').
Does the book spell retirement for the 69-year-old Bird man? ''I can't imagine walking away from something like this,'' he says. ''I only want to stop if nature says it's time to go.''