Clifford with Emily Elizabeth.


Original medium: Children's picture books
Published by: Scholastic Books
First Appeared: 1963
Creator: Norman Bridwell
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Clifford the Big Red Dog, a popular example of public television's animated fare for very young viewers, owes his existence to the fact that children's book editors of …

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… the early 1960s were short-sighted enough to think his creator, Norman Bridwell, wasn't a good enough illustrator for their established authors. Amazingly enough, publisher after publisher rejected his application to draw for them, until one editor, looking over his samples, suggested that while he couldn't get any assignments from them, it wouldn't hurt to write a story of his own to go along with some of his pictures. One in particular, of a little girl with a dog big enough to ride like a pony, might be worth doing.

Less than a month later, Scholastic Books agreed to publish Clifford the Big Red Dog, which Bridwell had both written and illustrated. It was the first of more than 40 books in a series that has been read and loved by generations.

Clifford, who, as it turned out after some thought on Bridwell's part, was actually much larger than a pony (about 20 feet, to be exact), was named after an imaginary friend the author's wife had as a child. The little girl, Emily Elizabeth Howard, was even easier to name — his own daughter was named Emily Elizabeth. The first of the books came out in 1963.

In crafting the Clifford books, Bridwell adheres to a principle highly recommended by many of the best science fiction and fantasy writers — do just one fantastic thing. If a story is about an invention that will relieve world hunger, throwing in Martians will only clutter it up. The fantastic thing in these stories is Clifford. He doesn't travel through time, deal with supernatural creatures or walk upright like a man. He does dog-like things, such as romp through the neighborhood and visit the beach with his family, but he does them in his big, galumphing, Clifford-like way (chasing cars and picking them up in his mouth, or swamping the family by splashing in the surf).

After a quarter of a century, with millions of book sales under his belt, Clifford branched out into animation. Nelvana Ltd. (Eek! the Cat, The Get Along Gang) produced a half-hour version with Alyson Court (Jubilee in X-Men, Lydia in Beetlejuice) doing Emily Elizabeth's voice and Brent Titcomb (Sleazy in Rock & Rule, various voices in The Care Bears Movie) doing Clifford's. But the real break in animation came in 2000, when PBS, whose other animated programming includes The Berenstain Bears, Dragon Tales and Curious George, began broadcasting him as a series. There, production was done by Mike Young Productions (The Critic, He-Man). Grey Delisle (Vicky in Fairly OddParents, various voices in Rugrats) voiced Emily Elizabeth and John Ritter (Inspector Gill in Fish Police, as well as many, many face acting roles) did Clifford, with other voices by Cree Summer (Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures), Kath Souci (Daisy in Quack Pack) and Frank Welker (Goddard in Jimmy Neutron).

In 2003, Clifford was spun off into a second PBS series, Clifford's Puppy Days; and on Feb. 20, 2004, Warner Bros. released Clifford's Really Big Movie. He's also starred in interactive educational games, which get high marks from both children and parents, and that's just the beginning of his licensed merchandise.

For a guy who was once told he wasn't good enough to illustrate books, Norman Bridwell seems to have done pretty well with his creation.


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Text ©2005-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Scholastic Entertainment Inc.