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Elmo’s distinct voice comes to film festival
Written by Lu Stitt   
Saturday, 25 February 2012 00:00

Kevin Clash has had a hand in one of the most beloved “Sesame Street” Muppets for 28 years.

He is the voice — and hand — of Elmo, the furry red, laughing member of the popular children’s show cast. Elmo is one of the regulars, along with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Grover and Oscar the Grouch.

“Elmo was born on Sesame Street in 1983. They didn’t have a red monster, so they made one,” Clash said. “I got him in 1985. Richard [Hunt] asked me to come up with a voice. I used my falsetto, and the producer loved it.”

“Sesame Street’s” Elmo is the creation of Kevin Clash, a puppeteer from Baltimore, who worked with Muppet masters Jim Henson, Kermit Love and Frank Oz. “Being Elmo,” a documentary depicting Clash’s career, Elmo’s creation and the Muppet’s rise in popularity, screens Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6:10 p.m. in Harkins Theatres Sedona Six as part of the Sedona International Film Festival.Clash will be in the Verde Valley for the documentary feature film, “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” during the 18th annual Sedona International Film Festival. He will be available after the film to answer questions from the audience. Yes, Elmo will be with him.

Clash has enjoyed a lifetime with puppets — “Sesame Street” and “Captain Kangaroo” were childhood television favorites. He sat in front of the television along with the children his mother took care of in their home and saw how fascinated the children were with the puppets.

His mother, Gladys, taught her son how to sew and his father, George, taught him how to use scraps of material to make puppets. Clash started building his own puppets at a time when his peers would tease him. However, he gained their respect in junior high school when he used puppets to explain current world events.

Clash gained local interest and started performing on television in Baltimore, and during his college years he made some guest appearances on “Captain Kangaroo” as Kevin the College Student. He also played the puppet character Artie. Other puppets on the show included Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Dancing Bear and Grandfather Clock.

“I built puppets for the show. I loved working with Bob Keeshan and Hugh Brannum, Mr. Green Jeans,” Clash said. Keeshan portrayed Captain Kangaroo.

In 1979, Clash began working with Kermit Love, a costume designer and creator of the “Sesame Street” characters Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus. After a visit to Love’s workshop, Clash earned the role of Cookie Monster in the 1979 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a meeting with Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. Clash started working as a puppeteer on “Sesame Street” in 1983.

Like Elmo, Clash is an optimist and lives his life filled with hope and possibilities.

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world, and that’s one of Elmo’s signatures. When Elmo laughs, so does everyone else,” Clash said and laughed. “Sometimes when he laughs, so do I, and Kevin comes through a little.”

In 2007, Clash received a promotion to senior creative adviser. He also serves as the show’s Muppet captain and co-executive producer. Clash makes several appearances around the world with “Sesame Street” as well as scouts for new puppeteers.

“There could be a kid like me out there,” he said.

As Elmo, Clash performs as a 3½-year-old character. Elmo’s been 3½ since his birth.

“I have Peter Pan Syndrome. I never grow up,” Clash said.

When Clash makes personal appearances with Elmo, children usually talk to the puppet, almost forgetting Clash. Perhaps the reason is that Clash is never seen on television, only Elmo is in the camera’s view. Even on the telephone with his daughter, Shannon, who is now 19 years old, Clash performs as Elmo.

“My daughter grew up with Elmo around. She’d call my office and ask to talk to Elmo, so I’d change my voice to Elmo. She’d talk to him a little bit and then ask to talk to dad again. It was really sweet,” Clash said.


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