“Would You Like to buy and O” is a classic Sesame Street song that debuted in the third season of the show. It is available as one of the Season 3 Highlights on the new “Sesame Street Old School” DVD. Grab your own copy of the DVD to get a good look at the puppetry techniques for yourself.
Jim Henson plays Ernie, who is minding his own business when he’s suddenly approached by another character. This character played by Frank Oz, wears and trench coat and hat and acts very secretive about trying to sell Ernie a letter O. Henson and Oz were a fantastic team. This particular piece is a great example of how Henson knew when to just sit back and let Oz run with it.
Check out the way that Oz completely sells you on the idea of his character being a somewhat shifty guy. Where did this guy get this letter O he’s selling? We don’t know, and by the way he’s acting, we probably don’t want to know. When he first speaks to Ernie, “Hey bud,” he leans in with the bottom half of the puppets head. It’s like he’s trying to talk out of the corner of his mouth.
Oz takes advantage of little breaks in the music to add little touches that make you wonder if this guy is legit or what. When there’s a break in the lyrics, the character will often look off behind himself, or behind Ernie, to make sure the fuzz isn’t on to him yet. It’s also interesting to note that Oz is only manipulating one of the puppet’s arms, the one holding the O. The other one is attached to the puppet’s side. It kind of looks like he’s got his hand in his pocket, which totally fits the character. What’s he hiding in his other pocket, whatever it is it can’t be good. Maybe a Q or something dangerous like that. It’s important for puppeteers to learn how to do an effective job of manipulating two arm-rods, but it’s also important to realize when you don’t need to use both arm-rods. The subtle movements are part of what sells this character; so having two arms flapping around all the time wasn’t necessary.