The Untold Truth Of Mr. Snuffleupagus

Snuffleupagus. Can you pronounce it? Can you even spell it? Aloysius Snuffleupagus became Big Bird's BFF in Season 3 of "Sesame Street," and the interspecies friendship has only grown stronger since (via The Muppet Mindset). He started out as a quasi-imaginary friend (since he was real and tangible but only to Big Bird) who was too huge to miss but somehow always overlooked until his mammoth reveal in 1985. From then, he was there to stay.

Snuffleupagus is both the name and species of this creature. Eternally 6 years old (at least in human years), Snuffy is not only a TV star but also a movie star, spaghetti fiend, aerobics fanatic, former opera singer, and someone George Stephanopoulos will forever be confused with. It takes two people to animate this ginormous Muppet. Since 1980, his front end has been played by master Muppeteer Martin Robinson, who can magically manipulate his feet, eyes, mouth, and "snuffle" — that's his trunk — all at once (per The Muppet Mindset). That explains why Snuffy can put on the dance moves.

If you ever wondered what made the adults on "Sesame Street" finally believe Snuffy existed, how he ended up shuffling his enormous feet onto "Good Morning America," or why he got lost in a museum, the answers are just under all that fur.

He used to look scary, but had a glow up

Snuffleupagus looked nothing like the furry friend we know now when he first shuffled onto "Sesame Street" in 1971. As revealed by a Muppet fan site, Snuffy used to have narrower eyes in ghastly shades of yellow and green that were unsettlingly out of focus, and his almost skeletal body wasn't exactly huggable. He had already started to morph three episodes in, as you can see above. His eyes were focused, the eyelashes went from being nearly invisible to long and black, and a technical upgrade inside his head let him blink with his lower lids.

Producers were still concerned this creature was Muppet nightmare fuel. Later in 1972, Snuffy got a total makeover, from his fur to his voice (which was thought to be too gloomy). His eyes were brought closer together and redesigned to be wide and round with a fringe of black lashes, and further upgrades made them able to move from side to side. He ended up with a much more padded figure covered in brown fur with random patches of orange. His disposition is also brighter. This is how he looked until 1999, though not much changed after that. Fast-forward two decades and the only visible differences are more orange fur and a few more lashes.

The New York Times credits costume designer Kermit Love for bringing Snuffy (and his bestie Big Bird) to life, based on sketches by Jim Henson.

This enormous Muppet is a hybrid of a puppet and a fur suit

He's half puppet, half costume. According to The Seattle Times, Snuffy is so huge that he hangs out on the rafters of the "Sesame Street" set during his time off. It takes two people to operate him. Puppeteer Martin Robinson, who currently plays the front end of Snuffy, told Wired the costume needs to be unzipped in the back so his feet can wriggle into the front feet. He works the eyes, mouth, and trunk with his hands as he speaks in Snuffleupagus. "You climb inside, there's a zipper in his midsection — sorry if I'm destroying any illusions," Robinson said.

Behind Robinson is performer Bryant Young, the back end of Snuffy. Robinson and Young have to coordinate movements so the behemoth can get around. The Snuffy suit is designed to put most of the weight on their legs, and to avoid any awkwardness, Robinson will lean forward just enough while Young leans the opposite way to balance tension out as they shuffle around. Robinson's left hand manipulates the mouth as the right hand keeps the eyes blinking and shifting to look in every direction.

But what about the snuffle? It's actually made of PVC attached to a bike handle (via Concerning Reality). By grabbing onto the handle, Robinson can raise and lower it. Now you know how he does the Snuffle Shuffle.

Being Snuffleupagus is physically demanding

When Martin Robinson applied to "Sesame Street" in 1980, he had no idea he would be auditioning for Snuffleupagus, as he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He was a young puppeteer seeking out a job — but he qualified. Working this enormous mashup of a costume and a puppet required someone who was at least 6 feet tall and could pull off the deep, gravelly voice that late Snuffy actor Jerry Nelson had given the character. The audition process was grueling. Robinson had to go through at least seven auditions before he could actually get inside the body of Snuffy, and he told The Muppet Mindset what it's actually like inside that suit. "It's big and heavy and dark," he said. "And dangerous to a certain extent, when I started it Jerry Nelson had hurt his back doing it. I knew this and didn't want to hurt my back doing it, so I readjusted the weight so that it was on my hips and legs."

What you don't see is the harness inside the suit, and Robinson somehow figured out how to make his shoulders and back carry only the minimum amount of weight required to walk the thing around and move its head. He also makes sure to keep himself warm the entire time he's in and out of the creature so that he doesn't risk pulling any muscles. The longest he spent in the suit was five and a half hours while filming "Follow That Bird."

No one but Big Bird believed Snuffy existed for over a decade

While Snuffy first appeared on "Sesame Street" in 1971, the only one who knew he existed was Big Bird. None of the (human) adults believed this huge furry thing was more than an imaginary friend, according to Smithsonian Magazine. This kept going on for years. Either Snuffy was never onscreen when Big Bird talked about him, or — like he does in this clip — he would see the adults from a distance but not get himself over to them soon enough. This continued until something disturbing pushed the reveal of the fabled Snuffleupagus.

After a string of child abuse cases in the '80s, "Sesame Street" producers started to worry that seeing adults deny the existence of Snuffy could translate to young viewers as a refusal to believe them if they were abused themselves. This could lead to frustration with parents. With the help of some experts in child psychology, it took two years to build up to the literally huge reveal. The adults started to acknowledge that Big Bird understood the difference between what was real and imaginary, which led some of them to believe him when he mentioned Snuffy, who was finally revealed in 1985. "We finally had to conclude that what was once a funny situation — adults somehow always missing this very obvious huge creature — had been carried too far," producer Dulcy Singer told Jim Henson's Red Book. "It was time to make a change."

Snuffy's little sister, Alice, is played by a former ice dancer

Alice is really played by former ice dancer Judy Sladky — formerly Judy Schwomeyer. She and her partner Jim Sladky were five-time world champions and also the first pair to ever perform on Olympic ice at the 1968 Grenoble games, as The Indianapolis Star says. They still could not compete. Back then, ice dancing was only for demonstration. It would not be an official Olympic sport until 1976. However, Sladky's career was far from over.

Post-ice dancing, Sladky played Snuffy's little sister Alice in a costume that only needs one actor who crawls around on all fours, according to The Muppet Mindset. That doesn't make it any easier. Sladky needs to buckle herself to the costume once inside, and while she can manipulate the mouth while speaking in Alice's voice, the eyes need to be operated by a remote control. Unlike big brother Snuffy, the Alice suit has no room for a camera, so she can see how her movements appear on the outside. (As Jim Henson's Red Book says, Alice is not the only "Sesame Street" character played by Sladky — she also played Ernie on ice.)

Alice Snuffleupagus is one of the youngest creatures (human or otherwise) on "Sesame Street." Forever 2 years old, she first appeared in 1987 and didn't leave her brother's side. She tries to get into everything Snuffy does — such as dancing and roller skating — but hasn't been seen on the show since 2008.

His parents are supposed to be divorced, but that episode never aired

The "Sesame Street' episode "Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce" (like all of the show's efforts to help kids deal with real issues) was intended to teach kids about divorce during a time when the divorce rate was on the rise, according to Time. The 1992 episode received input from top researchers and was edited over and over again to make sure it would get through to impressionable viewers.

Snuffy supposedly tells Big Bird that his dad is moving out of their cave to another cave because of the specter of divorce, which leads to a human explanation from Gordon. It was supposed to assure kids that this could be for the best and that they would always be loved, no matter what. Unfortunately, that didn't go over too well with actual children. When producers had a group of preschoolers watch it, they were confused and even terrified for Snuffy, and some started to believe their own parents would split just because divorce exists.

"It was really the first time we'd produced something, put all this money into it, tested it, and it just didn't work," "Sesame Street" researcher Susan Scheiner told Time. "We thought we had it. We thought this was really revolutionary, and then it was just bad." There was another problem, too, if you ask pop culture writer Nathan Rabin. As noted by Rabin, Daddy Snuffle wasn't really on the show much to begin with, so that was even more confounding.

He has quite a discography, including his own version of the Hokey Pokey

"Doin' the Snuffleupagus" is the Snuffle version of the Hokey Pokey — in which you have to put your snuffle in and take your snuffle out — but the Snuffle-fied songs don't stop there. "On Top of Spaghetti" is a cautionary tale about sneezing on a meatball to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey." Snuffy bumbles toward a heaping plate of spaghetti with one gargantuan meatball and remembers the catastrophe that happened the last time he ordered this meal — the sneeze that came out of his snuffle sent it rolling across the floor and through the garden until it doubled as fertilizer for a tree that grew more meatballs.

According to The Muppet Mindset, Snuffy doesn't just do his own takes on popular kids' songs, and "Nobody" is an example of that. The creature that is ironically too huge to go unseen all the time sings a lament about nobody catching sight of him when Big Bird isn't around. "One Little Star" from "Follow That Bird" has Snuffy, Big Bird, and Olivia (Alaina Reed) musically wishing they could be reunited. Snuffy can also change it up, from exercise videos to vaudeville and even opera. Notably, he teams up with Big Bird for a vaudeville performance that involves two pairs of outsized shoes, and in a duet with Judy Collins, he sings an operatic version of the alphabet. Elsewhere, "The Snuffle Shuffle" runs with the aerobics obsession of the '80s, leg warmers included.

Snuffy did a video for Vanity Fair that will blow your mind

Stars are always featured in Vanity Fair, so why not Snuffy, a celebrity in his own right? In 2017, he did a Vanity Fair special called "Mr. Snuffleupagus Reads Mind-Blowing Facts About the Universe." It's exactly what it sounds like.

Snuffy's protruding eyeballs constantly look around as if they're searching the cosmos. To the tune of rather serious piano music that could be the soundtrack of an existential crisis, his echoing voice reads mind-blowing facts from a distance as he reacts in the present. Sometimes, he outright laughs, like he does after finding out that an ostrich's eye is larger than its brain. Other things he learns confound and even shock him. He tries to close his eyes and see through is own eyelids as snakes can do before admitting it doesn't exactly work for snuffleupagi like himself, and he shudders when he finds out how many quarts of saliva the human mouth can produce in a year. It goes on and on until he says, "Stop the madness." Then it keeps going.

What seems to blow Snuffy's mind most isn't even that — it's when he hears that today is the oldest and youngest you'll ever be. Vanity Fair did several videos featuring "Sesame Street" characters, perhaps most infamously the one with Big Bird taking a lie detector test. In the segment, interviewers ask him questions such as whether he thinks he could ever beat Larry Bird at basketball.

With a name like Snuffleupagus, he taught us how to pronounce Stephanopoulos

Snuffy was on ABC's "Good Morning America" in 2014 as part of the "Sesame Street Takeover" and met some of the crew when he was supposedly waiting for a ride on the streets of New York because he couldn't fit on the subway. So what can fit him? The Snuffleupa-bus.

On set, Snuffy declares that George Stephanopoulos is his hero the moment he lumbers onstage. Right away, he starts comparing Snuffleupagus to Stephanopoulos, enunciating each name very clearly, and wondering whether they could be related (you never know). Is there a family resemblance? Stephanopoulos' co-anchors agreed it was the lashes. In a subsequent tweet about the meetup, "Good Morning America" writes, "Mr. Snuffleupagus & Mr. Stephanopoulos (try saying that five times fast)."

ABC hasn't been the only news outlet to compare Snuffleupagus to his human-name doppelganger. NPR gave him a pop quiz on the furry creature that is almost, but not quite, his namesake. About halfway through the interview, Stephanopoulos is told that he has been invited to play a game called "Mr. Stephanopoulos, meet Mr. Snuffleupagus." The confusion between Snuffleupagus and Stephanopoulos is also riffed on in a 1994 episode of "Friends" where Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe order a pizza, and the delivery guy realizes he screwed up the order, bringing them the pizza that was supposed to be going to George Stephanopoulos. Rachel then asks Phoebe, "Who's George Snuffleupagus?"

He's been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art — and met an ancient Egyptian prince

In the hour-long 1982 special "Don't Eat the Pictures," which is like "Night at the Museum" meets "Sesame Street," Big Bird loses his way searching for Snuffy. He finds him in the Egyptian wing while the rest of the gang runs all over the museum searching for them.

It is there that they come upon the earthbound ghost of an ancient Egyptian prince, Prince Sahu, who can't get the reference to Rome being built in a day because Rome wasn't even around during his era. Sahu has been trying to answer an unanswerable question for over 4,000 years: "Where does today meet yesterday?" Every night at midnight, the disembodied head of a demon asks him the same thing, and unless he figures it out, he will never pass into the afterlife and turn into a star shining in the heavens like his mother and father. They eventually realize the answer is all around them, right there in the museum.

The idea for this episode was for the Muppets of "Sesame Street" to embark on what the Met's film and television consultant Karl Katz called (via Jim Henson's Red Book) "an archaeological ethnological expedition to discover their roots." "Don't Eat the Pictures" was supposed to hinge on another project that Henson was then working on, which involved Muppet parodies of famous pieces of art.

Snuffy is a legit movie star, but the movie might have been too intense

Snuffleupagus starred in the 1985 "Sesame Street" movie "Follow That Bird." Snuffy watches over Big Bird's nest back home and appears to him as a hazy vision that he imagines while wandering through an open field. But wait — how did Big Bird end up there in the first place?

The answer might also be the reason why this movie may have been way too deep for kids young enough to tune in to "Sesame Street," according to "Everything '80s Podcast." Big Bird gets hunted down by the evil-ish Miss Finch — a member of a board that believes birds should only associate with other birds — who wants to place him with a feathered family. He ends up with the Dodos, who don't get him at all. No wonder he runs away. This could have been shocking to younger kids who thought there was no way you could take Big Bird out of "Sesame Street" (or the "Sesame Street" out of Big Bird). Maybe emotions ran too high for a gang of Muppets.

Snuffy sees a reasonable amount of screen time, from saying goodbye to Big Bird to that weird mirage and the song "One Little Star," but the movie itself didn't do that well at the box office and fared much better on VHS. By the way, the movie reveals Snuffy's mailbox that says "Mr. Snuffleupagus" — just in case anyone was wondering how to spell it.