My husband has many talents, and one of them is picking the most obscure crap imaginable to put on our Netflix queue. Usually this irritates me, because I’m just not that into World War I movies, John Wayne, or subtitled foreign films about Soviet occupations. But then he goes and finds stuff like Doc Martin, or last Friday night’s feature, Being Elmo. I was completely unprepared for how much we could all learn about alternative legal careers and risk-taking from the story of a puppeteer.
Kevin Clash and Elmo may have been destined to meet, but neither of them knew that. They were just doing the work.
Kevin Clash, the man you never see while watching Elmo on Sesame Street, grew up in what was locally known as Chocolate Town near Baltimore. He was 9 when Sesame Street debuted in 1969. He was immediately transfixed.
When he was 10, he noticed the black furry lining of his dad’s raincoat and was seized by an irresistible impulse to use the lining to make a puppet. So he made his first puppet, a monkey with a Muppet-like face, and put it on his parents’ dresser.
After he’d finished the puppet, it hit Kevin that he might could get in some trouble for cutting up his dad’s coat. He was already hiding when he heard his dad call him downstairs. His dad looked at him, and simply said, “Next time, just ask, OK?” Remember, this was the 1970s, in a black family kind of scraping by.
I imagine today most parents would lecture their kids about valuing money, not destroying property, and all other kinds of things related to money and material goods. Kevin’s mom said her reaction was, “Oh, I’m not worried about that coat. Kevin’s going to be able to buy lots of coats for us.” Perceptive lady.
No Firm Plan
Fast-forward, and at 17 Kevin is working at a local TV station as a puppeteer on a popular kids’ show. He watches everything he can about Jim Henson and the Muppets, trying to pick up techniques for his own puppet-making. He sees a special about some of the large Muppets, and it features Kermit Love, who engineers many of those special Muppets.
Kevin really wants to meet Love, and to his utter amazement, his mom calls Love. On a senior trip to New York, Kevin goes to meet Kermit Love, who, as Kevin recalls, “looks like Santa Claus.” Love seems to take an instant liking to Kevin, showing him around the workshop, working on the construction of the puppets Kevin had brought. Not long after graduating high school, Kevin starts working for Love, and finds work in 2 series. Things are going well, but Kevin still longs to work directly with Jim Henson on Sesame Street.
I’m going to stop the summary there Continue reading