Dragon with a Handicap

In the first season, Dudley sauntered around the woods with his right arm constantly resting on his chest.

Likewise, the same thing had happened with Big Bird on Sesame Street.

“When we first started, the first few months, his right arm was pinned to his side, so that it looked like Big Bird had a broken wing,” recalled puppeteer Caroll Spinney.  “A couple of years ago there was a show called Dudley the Dragon on PBS. I remember someone said to us, ‘It’s nice that they have this handicapped dragon (because his right arm was motionless).’ I said, ‘No. They haven’t discovered how to move the arm like we did.’ ”

The solution, Spinney pointed out, was attaching a line to the otherwise-useless arm.  “It does move, thanks to that monofilament, which is fishing line.  It shows once in a while—the light will glimmer on it.  Of course, we don’t like that to happen.  That way when I move my left arm (because that’s the only free arm I have left) it merely seesaws on the string.  But at least that way it’s not totally inert.”

According to Spinney, Jim Rankin’s team applied the same solution and he observed, “And sure enough, about a month later [Dudley’s] right arm was moving.”

The modification occurred for Dudley‘s second season.  In addition, the eyelids became flexible, giving the dragon a greater degree of expression and less of a constant bug-eyed look.  But it wasn’t until “The Living Doll” that Dudley’s eyelids could move at will.  They could blink.

In later episodes, further modifications added some bulk to the front, but also eliminated the gashes in the neck through which the puppeteer could see.  How the puppeteer could see through the costume is no longer apparent.

The end result: Dudley looked a little less like a puppet and more like a creature.  For the audience, it became easier to focus on the character and not what he was made of.

Source:  Robert Hatch and William Hatch, The Hero Project, McGraw-Hill, 2006, p. 112.

Trivia:  Dudley, at eight feet in height, is two inches shorter than Big Bird.