Over the weekend, I watched Being Elmo, A Puppeteer’s Journey, a documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer responsible for Elmo. A great documentary. You should definitely check it out.
A couple of things struck me about Kevin.
First of all, he always always knew he wanted to be a puppeteer. He was fascinated with puppets from a very early age and he immersed himself in it. He knew all the great puppeteers by heart, like most boys learn basketball or baseball players. He continued to pursue his love of it even in high school, when you know it had to be tough. A young black man in the 70s playing with puppets. Course, he was also voted most likely to be a millionaire by his graduating class. That has to say something about both his drive and his likability.
His parents were so supportive. You have to think that a lot of a kid being able to pursue his or her dreams is related to how much the parents not only allow but encourage the kid. I mean, his parents let him shelve his extra puppets in their bedroom.
And then he went on to work with the god of puppetry, Jim Hensen, who died very suddenly at the young age of 53. But it wasn’t a smooth trip. He actually turned down Jim Hensen when Hensen first asked him to work for him (on Dark Crystal) because he had two series going and he didn’t want to let those people down. Talk about your integrity. Sure, you could argue that he was afraid to lose it all, but I think it was more than that.
And then when he created the character for Elmo, he’d gone back to his parents’ house in Baltimore and watched the kids they had in the daycare they ran. That’s when he came up with the idea that Elmo is all about love. Nothing but love and hug and unqualified acceptance. He tapped into something basic not only in kids but in us all. We want to be the center of love, of others’ worlds. There’s always this little kid inside us wanting nothing but pure love.
Of course, you wonder if the documentary left any dark bits out. Kevin worked so much that he didn’t have much time for his wife and daughter. But nothing darker is hinted at. And from what I saw of Kevin on the screen I’m fully prepared to believe he is such a great guy.
It’s like Nora Ephron ~ the New York Times reported that she was just this really nice, generous person.
I get a little choked up when I hear things like that, that there are people at the top of their creative game, pinnacles in their field, who are also nice people. When I was a kid ~ and still now ~ I wish the world was a place where everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and all there is is love. And isn’t it great when some little piece of that is affirmed?