Bridwell Created A Big Red Dog That Grew With Readers' Love
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There might be a big - a very big - red dog roaming the neighborhood this weekend looking just a little sad. Norman Bridwell died last week. He wrote more than 90 "Clifford The Big Red Dog" stories which sold more than 126 million copies in 13 languages and became an animated series on PBS that's seen around the world. We spoke with Norman Bridwell in 2012, just as the Scholastic Press reissued the original "Clifford" stories under the title the "Clifford Collection." Norman Bridwell and his wife joined us from the studios of WCAI in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SIMON: You both have a hand in this. How did Clifford get born?
NORMAN BRIDWELL: It was 1962. I was a struggling, not very successful artist in New York. Norma said, well, you always wanted to illustrate children's books, why don't you try that? I did about 10 paintings that I thought would appeal to children and took them to publishers and was rejected every place except that one publisher, a young woman, said well, you're not very good. She said if you want to illustrate a book, you'll probably have to write one of your own. 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.
SIMON: Norma Bridwell?
NORMA BRIDWELL: Yes.
SIMON: What did you think about all this?
NORMA BRIDWELL: I couldn't believe it at first. 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. (Laughter).
SIMON: Now, Clifford was big because he's loved so much?
NORMAN BRIDWELL: Yeah. After I did, I think, four books of the "Big Dog," I got letters from kids asking what was he like when he was born? Was he a giant puppy? Was his mother and father big dogs?
We thought it would be fun to make him a very small puppy and he grew because Emily loved him.
NORMA BRIDWELL: Yes, he was the runt of the litter and the man who was giving her a dog, a puppy, said, oh don't take him - I don't think he'll even live he's so small. Then love came in there and, you know, did the trick.
SIMON: Is it hard to top yourself book after book with "Clifford?"
NORMAN BRIDWELL: 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 times before. And I'm running out of situations.
SIMON: I have also read, Mr. and Mrs. Bridwell, that any kid in the world who writes you or writes Clifford a letter probably gets a reply.
NORMAN BRIDWELL: 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.
SIMON: If Clifford grew so big because he was loved so much, after 126 million books shouldn't he be just about as big as Brazil right now?
NORMAN BRIDWELL: (Laughter).
NORMA BRIDWELL: That's a nice compliment. (Laughter).
NORMAN BRIDWELL: I think he's reached his non-threatening limit. (Laughter).
SIMON: Well, happy birthday to Clifford and thank you very much. Fifty years of making children laugh. That's wonderful.
NORMA BRIDWELL: Thank you.
NORMAN BRIDWELL: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: Norman Bridwell and Norma Bridwell, speaking a couple of years ago on the 50th anniversary of "Clifford The Big Red Dog." Mr. Bridwell died last week at the age of 86. Clifford is still around.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG")
JOHN RITTER: (Singing) Clifford's so much fun. He's a friend to us all. I love Clifford the Big Red Dog. (Children laughing and dog barking). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.