Current Weather
The Spy FM

‘Clifford The Big Red Dog’ Turns 50 (In Human Years)

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
September 22, 2012

A big dog celebrates a big birthday this year: Clifford the beloved “Big Red Dog” first appeared on the literary scene 50 years ago, along with Emily Elizabeth, the little girl who loves him.

It was 1962, and Norman Bridwell was a “struggling, not very successful artist in New York,” he says. His wife, Norma, suggested that he try his hand at illustrating children’s books. So Norman did 10 kid-oriented paintings and took them to publishers. He was rejected everywhere, except at one publisher, where a young woman told him he wasn’t a very good illustrator, so if he wanted to illustrate a book, he’d need to write one on his own.

Bridwell recalls: “She pointed to a sample painting I’d done, of a little girl with a gigantic red dog, and she said, ‘Maybe that’s a story.’ And I went home, and over that weekend I wrote the story Clifford the Big Red Dog and was shocked when it was accepted for publication, because I’d never written anything before.”

His wife was also in shock. “I couldn’t believe it at first,” Norma says. “When I did realize it wasn’t a dream, I said to Norman, ‘You could write another book! Maybe you could write two or three books, who knows!’ And his reaction was, ‘Oh, no. This is just a fluke.’ “

That “fluke” turned into close to 90 Clifford books that have sold more than 126 million copies in 13 languages. Clifford’s animated series on PBS is seen in 65 countries around the world. In September, Clifford’s publisher, Scholastic Press, reissued the original stories under the title Clifford Collection. Norman Bridwell talks with NPR’s Scott Simon on the occasion of his dog’s 50th birthday.

Interview Highlights

On Clifford before he was “Clifford”

“I started off calling him Tiny. And Norma said, ‘Well, that’s a stupid name for a dog like that.’ And she went back to her childhood and took the name of an imaginary friend, Clifford, and gave it to the dog.”

On keeping up the Clifford series for five decades

“It has gotten more difficult over the years. Every time I think of an idea, I think, ‘Well, that’s kind of like the idea that I did a couple of times before.’ And I’m running out of situations.”

On trying not to take advantage of Clifford’s popularity

“My first editor said: ‘I’m not going to take Clifford soup. You can’t throw him into a plot and stir him around and expect me to buy it. It’s got to be something that is interesting and entertaining for children.’ “

On the advice he gives to young people who want to write a book

“I often tell young people who write … ‘It’s not easy.’ … I was extremely fortunate. It’s a very discouraging business sometimes, but the rewards are marvelous, especially emotionally.”

On replying to all the letters that children send to him or to Clifford

“We make a real effort to answer every letter. It’s sometimes difficult, but I think if they care enough to sit down and write, I should give them an answer.” [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

11PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 6AM The Splendid Table

The Splendid Table

Hosted by award-winning Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table is a culinary, culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone.

View the program guide!

6AM to 7AM Travel with Rick Steves

Travel with Rick Steves

"Travel with Rick Steves" is a fun, hour-long, and practical talk show with guest experts and calls and questions from travelers. This weekly program is a lively conversation between travelers and the experts as we learn to explore our world smartly, smoothly, and thoughtfully.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center