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TV Legends: Was Elmo On Sesame Street For Years Before Elmo Debuted?

TV URBAN LEGEND: Elmo had existed in other forms for years on Sesame Street before becoming the version of Elmo that became so famous.

Years ago, I did a legend about whether there were ever any black people in Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Obviously, there were a couple of African-American guest stars on the show over the years (even more so on the followup series, Mayberry RFD), but the most notable examples of black people on the series were extras. Extras, of course, are the actors who appear in the background of shots to give verisimilitude to a scene. Like if you're doing a classroom scene, Ron Howard can't be the only kid in the class, ya know? So you would have other kids in desks in the background to fill up the class.

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As it turned out, this idea was not confined to the world of live action television. On Sesame Street, as well, there are Muppets who serve basically as extras.

One of these Muppets was designed by Caroly Wilcox and debuted in the late 1970s. Here's Wilcox's sketch for the monster, who was dubbed as "short red"...

Different puppeteers operated this Muppet, including Jerry Nelson, as seen in this photo...

Here is the song, "We Are All Monsters," that goes with that behind-the-scenes photo...

Notice how Elmo sure doesn't sound like Elmo, right?

Here's "Short red" (perhaps also called "Baby Monster" at the time) in another sketch with a completely different voice...

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In 1980, the character was officially dubbed Elmo, but with Brian Muehl performing him, the shtick was that he communicated entirely without dialogue. That approach did not work.

So Richard Hunt took over the character and made him a sort of caveman character. That did not work, either. Frustrated with the character, Hunt gave the character to young puppeteer Kevin Clash to take his shot with the character (Clash once said that Hunt literally threw the puppet at him). Clash decided that the character would be all about love and he used a falsetto voice for the character and, well, obviously it worked out very well.

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Elmo even had his own show at the end of Sesame Street episodes for years called Elmo's World!

Clash, though, left the character in 2012 after over two decades working on Elmo due to two men coming forward with allegations of sexual impropriety by Clash when the men were underage. Ryan Dillon has voiced the character ever since.

The legend is...

STATUS: True

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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