Baltimorean helps write the Elmo story Puppeteer: Kevin Clash enjoys the success and 'must-have' status of the fuzzy red one.

December 24, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Seems like a lifetime ago, but it's only been 24 hours since the last Tickle Me Elmo newspaper story appeared. But suffer no longer, readers and shoppers.

These latest developments have developed in "The Elmo Story," which is destined to become a Christmas classic:

The $30 Tyco toy (selling for $3,000 on the Internet) sold at auction recently for $6.1 million. The money will go to someone to play "defense" for the needy Ravens.

This furry-red "Sesame Street" character (that giggles when you goose its tummy) was "instrumental" in securing the release of 225 hostages held in Peru, a State Department spokesman revealed yesterday.

"Tickle Me Elmo" will guest star on "Homicide" next season, announced producers for the Baltimore-based drama. Elmo will play a distraught puppet accused in the grisly murder of the Orioles' Bird mascot. Det. Frank Pembleton eventually clears "Tickle Me Elmo" before giving the doll to his kid.

Well, that all could have happened. "The Elmo Story" hasn't been completely written yet. Count on post-Christmas Elmo stories: Tickle Me Elmo delivering the State of the Union Address with President Clinton. Or maybe Tickle Me Elmo playing third with Cal come spring.

But we must stop and ask: Who is responsible for this Elmo earthquake? Rosie O'Donnell's very public love affair with Tickle Me Elmo? Her daytime talk show gave Tickle Me Elmo boffo exposure this year. Word got around Tyco couldn't ship Elmo fast enough from China. Then, the dreaded "must-have toy" label was quickly affixed to the giggling fluff ball. It's the ol' supply-and-demand song and dance.

But who is responsible for Elmo? Look no further than Baltimore's Turners Station, the birthplace of Kevin Clash: the voice and dancing limbs of Elmo.

Keep in mind, Elmo has been around for years. Talking Elmo dolls aren't new, either. Clash's voice was once used for an Elmo doll that sang the ABC song. The doll was cute and sold well, as usual. Elmo has been very, very good to Clash. But Elmo is just one of Clash's creative inventions.

So, when Clash ducked into a recording studio four months ago and spent five minutes giggling, he promptly went about his other business on "Sesame Street," in the movies, etc. Then, IT happened.

"It was overnight," Clash says, by phone from Manhattan. In the background, men are overheard consulting and clunking about. Clash, the 36-year-year Emmy winner, is renovating his apartment -- new wallpaper, sinks, bathroom, the works.

Clash, the unmistakable voice of Tickle Me Elmo, took five to talk about It:

Did you have to buy a doll on the Elmo black market?

Well, I was in a store that had "Tickle Me Elmo." It wasn't huge yet. I thought, 'This is cool.' So, I bought one for my daughter, for her room. Then, the toy just took off. It really all stemmed from Rosie [O'Donnell].

About three weeks ago, I got three or four cases of dolls sent to me by the toy company. I'm renovating my apartment and talking with contractors -- well, they find out I do Elmo and they trade me for some of this stuff ...

Cool. What kind of stuff?

A friend of mine is into toilet fixtures, knows the new stuff inside out. She called me and said, 'Listen, you give me two Tickle Me Elmos, and I'll give you a toilet free.' That kind of thing.

So, is this Elmo rush a rush?

It's really nice. I like the fact the doll makes people happy. Jim Henson [the late Muppet maker and Clash's friend and mentor] would be so happy. He loved the character.

But buying a $30 toy for $3,000, just because a kid really wants it?

To me, it's obvious these parents don't have their priorities in place. We have to say, 'Listen, we got this toy for you, although it's not what you wanted.' The child is going to be upset, but kids get over it.

What can Elmo do for an encore?

I'm going to let the toy companies figure that out.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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