In 1971, Big Bird made friends with a creature called Mr. Snuffleupagus. But the adults of Sesame Street never saw Snuffy, and thought he was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. That went on for 14 years!
Norman Stiles (Writer/Head Writer, 1971-1995): The character was kind of a collaboration between [executive producer] Jon Stone and Jim Henson. I think the initial idea was really to be ambiguous in the sense that, well, Big Bird says he’s real and the audience sees him and yet he always manages to not be there when the other people were there—so is he real or isn’t he real? The whole idea was to not really answer that, but to leave it as an open question.
Emilio Delgado (“Luis,” 1971-Present): It was going with the whole thing of a child’s imaginary playmate, which a lot of kids have. Big Bird was the only one who could see him. When adults came around, he would be talking about Snuffy this, and Snuffy that. We’d just say, "Yeah, sure, OK." We didn’t believe him.
Carol-Lynn Parente (Executive Producer, 2005-Present): There was a lot of humor to be mined from the issue. We never explained whether he was imaginary or not. Kids were able to see him, but adults couldn’t. You never really knew—was he imaginary? Playing with that question was a lot of fun; kind of a healthy ambiguity.
Stiles: You really had to believe that it was just terrible coincidences and quirks of Snuffy’s own personality that made it so that he just wasn’t there when Big Bird wanted him to be there to introduce him to his friends.
Then in 1985, the Sesame Street adults all found out that Big Bird had been telling the truth all along! For 14 years. The entire 1984-85 season was used to lay the groundwork for the “big reveal.” The writers, Muppeteers, and producers explain why Snuffy came out, and how they went about doing it the way they did, in a conversation at mental_floss. You can also watch a video of the big moment.
(Image credit: Sesame Street via Facebook)