Marc Brown reflects on the famous TV character Arthur after 25 years on air

After 25 years, Marc Brown closes a chapter in Arthur's story.

February 16, 2022, 5:25 AM

When Marc Brown came home to his son one night in 1976, fresh off losing his teaching job at a college in Boston, little did he know a bedtime story would turn into the biggest moment of his life.

That night, his 3-year-old son, Tolon Brown, asked for a story about an animal, and, going through the alphabet, aardvark was the first word that popped into Brown's mind.

The story he told about Arthur, an 8-year-old aardvark navigating the "mud puddles" of life with the help of family and friends, would provide the genesis for a franchise that has sold more than 70 million books. And now, after 25 years as a hit television show, the series is coming to a close, with the last episode airing Feb. 21.

"I thought the story is about an animal who is unhappy about something, and I'm unhappy," Brown told ABC News Live. "And so it's sort of like an inexpensive form of therapy I'm doing here. So Arthur was born that night."

PHOTO: Marc Brown shows off drawings of Arthur done by kids across the country, featured on his new book “Believe in Yourself.”
Marc Brown shows off drawings of Arthur done by kids across the country, featured on his new book “Believe in Yourself.”
Leda Alvim/ABC News

The inspiration behind Arthur's adventures came from Brown's own life experiences, incorporating his family members and friends into the stories.

"I went back to third grade," Brown said. "Unfortunately, I have a good memory, and I can just put myself right back at Lakewood Elementary School. There's a picture of me in third grade next to a picture of Arthur in third grade. There is a similarity."

Brown, however, never imagined himself as an author. When he was younger, he said he acquired the love for storytelling from his grandmother through her own bedtime stories. Those moments, he said, gave him the confidence years later to tell the story of Arthur.

As a 6-year-old growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Brown recalled seeing his father going to work on the railroad every day. The fact his dad hated his job made a big impression on Brown, he said, and it influenced him later on to find a profession he was truly passionate about.

"Every day I go out to my studio and I have a job that I love," Brown said. "I said to myself at 6, I want a job that I love, and if I could share a piece of advice with kids, it would be, 'Find something that you love to do and make that your job.'"

After the show's success, winning four Emmys and one Peabody Award over the course of 25 years, Brown is getting ready to say goodbye to Arthur later this year. The show will not be releasing new episodes, but the stories will continue to live on across generations.

PHOTO: Teacher Chris Huarte reads one of Arthur’s books to his 2nd grade students.
Teacher Chris Huarte reads one of Arthur’s books to his 2nd grade students.
Leda Alvim/ABC News

Chris Huarte is among many who have been impacted by Arthur. The 34-year-old teacher grew up reading Arthur's books, and now, he shares his love for the stories with his second grade class.

"I think the biggest thing that I learned from Arthur growing up is understanding or realizing that other people have the same questions and are going through the same things in their life as I am. That I'm not alone," Huarte told ABC News.

Through Arthur, children were introduced to important lessons to navigate in their own lives. From bullying, body shaming, same-sex marriage and even the death of a loved one, Brown said the biggest lesson he hopes to pass down to his younger audience is the power of truth.

"Kids are like a house in progress and they are building their foundation," Brown said. "The thing that ... Arthur has done best for kids all these years is to tell them the truth. We don't get enough of that in the media these days. And we're all hungry for the truth, no matter what age we are. And kids need that truth to build a solid foundation so that house is solid and it's not shaky."

"Art should reflect life, and there's no reason why we have to marginalize or not represent all of us," he continued. "We're all in this big, wonderful mess together."

Over the past year, Brown revisited the process of creating Arthur and his adventures in his new book, "Believe in Yourself." The book goes along with the show's end, and its name pays tribute to the famous theme song that captivated millions.

"When I wrote 'Believe in Yourself,' I thought, 'OK, this could be it, it's probably the closest I'll come to a memoir,' because I got to write about my life growing up and what it's like to do books and television and share that with the reader. But I guess I shouldn't close the door completely," Brown said.

PHOTO:  Marc with his son, Tolon Brown. “Arthur” was inspired by Tolon after he asked for a bedtime story when he was 3 years old.
Marc with his son, Tolon Brown. “Arthur” was inspired by Tolon after he asked for a bedtime story when he was 3 years old.
Leda Alvim/ABC News

"It was emotional [to write the book]. This was like reviewing your life and going back, rereading all those early books," he said. "And where did these 25 years go with television? They have just gone by at lightning speed. I think it's because I love what I do, and every day I am so lucky to do that. And it's just been an incredible adventure."

Tolon, who was the inspiration behind Arthur, considers the character his own sibling. The stories rapidly expanded from their own house to many kids across the world, and Tolon credits Arthur's success to its commitment to real-life values.

"[Arthur] was born out of personal stories and then I kind of started to evolve as the characters, you know, grew into themselves," Tolon Brown said. "Authenticity was always the focus. It had to be a story that rang true."

As the stories became popular and the show was released, Tolon Brown found himself working alongside his father in the production of each episode. The journey, Marc Brown said, brought them even closer together.

"It has been so much fun, and to be able to, as an artist, work together on a joint project as a team that's been special. A lot of families don't have that. I feel really lucky," Marc Brown said.

With the end of this chapter, Marc Brown finds himself embarking on other creative endeavors to reach new audiences. From the first bedtime story with Tolon to the hundreds of other adventures later, the role Arthur played in Brown's life will leave a lasting impact.

"I think of kids as my boss and I tell them that whenever I get a chance to speak with them," Brown said. "I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."

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