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A Father's Day Find for Dear Old Dad

June 12, 1997|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeff Moss, one of "Sesame Street's" original creators and the man responsible for such signature songs as Ernie's bath time anthem, "Rubber Duckie," has been entertaining children and appreciative adults for decades with his work on the show.

The Oscar nominee (for his music and lyrics in "The Muppets Take Manhattan") and 14-time Emmy winner is also the author of several books of poetic whimsy rich with emotional resonance for all ages. His latest is a Father's Day find: "The Dad of the Dad of the Dad of Your Dad (Stories About Kids and Their Fathers)," illustrated by Chris Demarest and available this month from Ballantine Books.

This affectionate, fantasy odyssey through history and beyond--a caveman and his son share a special moment, a knight and his daughter have a dragon adventure, a futuristic family learns a lesson in tradition and change--also reflects a personal odyssey for Moss, 53, who didn't become a dad until 1991.

"The experience of fatherhood is very different from anything that I've lived before," Moss said from his New York home base. "I wouldn't have been able to imagine what it would bring out in me.

"It isn't that [being a father] has changed my basic sensibility--in this book and in different ways, others before it ["The Butterfly Jar," "The Other Side of the Door," "Bob and Jack: A Boy and His Yak," "Hieronymus White"] all have to do with generational stuff and passing things on."

The inspiration for Moss' new book can be found in the caveman-and-son poem, "Stones in a Stream," the result of an experience Moss had when his son was 2 and "not very verbal. There was this little bridge across a stream and we threw stones and sticks off of it together and watched the sticks float from one side to the other. For me, there was something primal in that moment.

"I thought, probably, there was the time that the first fathers and the first kids did that."

Moss, a Princeton grad, began his career as a production assistant for "Captain Kangaroo" in 1965. He left for a short Army stint, then returned to the show for three years as a writer before quitting to "write serious stuff for adults."

That lofty plan lasted less than a year, when he was asked to join the late Muppet genius Jim Henson, musical director Joe Raposo, director John Stone and others in Children's Television Workshop's groundbreaking "Sesame Street."

Moss helped develop Muppet icons Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch, and his songs--"I Love Trash," "Five People in My Family" and "People in Your Neighborhood," to name a few--along with those of the late Raposo, helped shape the show.

After serving as head writer for many years, Moss pursued other creative endeavors, Muppet-related and not, but he is still involved with the show.

"I still do 'Sesame Street' a couple of months a year," he said. "They are generous enough to allow a few of us to do pretty much as we want, when we want, so each year I do a number of scripts, a number of songs."

His guiding principle is to respect children as people and "in no way sell them short."

It's obvious that Moss still keenly misses Henson, who died suddenly of pneumonia seven years ago. Moss finds it difficult to describe his feelings upon hearing of Henson's death.

"It was the only time I couldn't get up. I just felt so horrible. I haven't figured it out yet. It was so tragic and so needless. You look at Kermit, you look at Ernie, and that was Jim's spirit."

Moss, who says his own self-proclaimed Oscar the Grouch side has mellowed with age and fatherhood, mixes the whimsical humor in his poems with a comfortable tenderness: A cowboy's son grows up to literally fill his proud dad's boots, a famous explorer lovingly makes time for his offspring and an attentive papa even keeps Little Red Riding Hood's life wolf-free.

"I think the tender side is there in most people," Moss said, "and certain things happen that make it easier to show. Parenthood is one. Getting older is another."

* "The Dad of the Dad of the Dad of Your Dad," Jeff Moss, Ballantine Books, hardcover, $18.

*

Radio Romp: The 24-hour kids' radio network, Radio AAHS, will celebrate seven years of family programming at Santa Ana River Lakes on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., hosted by KPLS-AM (830) AAHS World Radio, the station that covers L.A., Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The free "AAHS World Radio Birthday Bash" will feature an on-site broadcast of "Live From Universal Studios Hollywood," with the "Jurassic Park Monster Truck" serving as the day's studio for host Bruce Barker and surprise guests. Stage entertainment includes the Happy Crowd, Erock for Kids, A Class Act and other musical groups. There will also be a Velcro wall, a dunk tank, an obstacle challenge and other entertainment.

* "AAHS World Radio Birthday Bash," Santa Ana River Lakes, 4060 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free. (714) 780-8077.

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