Who is Ernie? It's Ernie of Bert & Ernie of PBS' Sesame Street. The Muppet duo of the long-running, revolutionary educational children's show was breakout characters, instantly popular with viewers. The voice of Ernie was Muppets creator Jim Henson, the voice of Bert was his partner Frank Oz, who later was the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars movies. Henson was also the voice of another Sesame Street favorite, Kermit the Frog.
Born James Muary Henson on September 24, 1936, in Greenville, MS, Henson was infatuated with such people/puppet TV shows as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and puppeteers Bil and Cora Baird. As a high school senior, Henson hosted a local TV show on a Maryland station. While at the University of Maryland, he met his future wife, Jane Nebel, while working on the kids show Sam and Friends for Washington's WRC-TV. During the late '50s through the early '60s, Henson's Muppets (a contraction of the words marionettes and puppets) were featured in TV commercials (Maxwell House coffee), The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show, The Jimmy Dean Show, and The Tonight Show, and The Jack Parr Show. In 1965, Henson produced an Oscar-nominated short film, Time Piece.
Around 1967, Henson became involved with The Children's Television Workshop (CTW). In the fall of 1969, the CTW production of Sesame Street premiered on PBS. A dazzling combination of sight and sound that entertained as well as educated, a huge part of the success of the show were Henson's Muppet characters: Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert & Ernie, Grover, and Oscar the Grouch. The show was a merchandising bonanza with the Muppets appearing on just about any product imaginable.
One of the show's skits involved one little Muppet in a bathtub serenading his prized toy Rubber Duckie. The popularity of the song led to its being released as a Columbia Records single. Written by Jeffrey Moss, "Rubbie Duckie" was a number 12 pop hit on Billboard's charts in September 1970. On the flip side was the theme song from Sesame Street.
On May 16, 1990, Jim Henson passed away of complications from streptococcus pneumonia in a New York hospital at the age of 53. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi