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Marlee Matlin and Linda Bove

Linda Bove (right) in Children of a Lesser God with Marlee Matlin


Linda Bove and Henry Winkler on Happy Days

Linda Bove

Linda Bove (b. November 30, 1945) is a deaf actress who played Linda on Sesame Street from 1972 to 2002.

Born in Garfield, New Jersey, Bove graduated from the New Jersey School for the Deaf, and, in 1968, she received her bachelor's degree in library science from Gallaudet University, the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She soon detoured into the acting profession, however, as she was recruited by the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). She performed with the troupe in Songs from Milkwood and Moliere's Sganarelle, and made her Broadway debut with the two shows in 1970. That same year, she married fellow deaf performer Ed Waterstreet.

Bove also accompanied the National Theatre of the Deaf in their visits to Sesame Street, as a member of the troupe. She subsequently made her debut as a character in her own right, a librarian named Linda, in Episode 0326, which aired in January 1972. She appeared sporadically in the early seasons, with Children's Television Workshop describing her as a "frequent guest," until 1979, when she was featured "on a more regular basis."[1]

As the only non-hearing performer on the series, Linda Bove found that the staff writers were initially unsure of how to write for her:

β€œWhen I joined the cast I found the writers would write about 'How would a deaf person do this?' 'How does a deaf person do that?' And it was just related to my deafness and it didn't feel like they were treating me as a person. I found my character one-dimensional and kind of boring. It showed how brave a deaf person was to do this and that in everday life. I said it was no big deal. I have a sense of humor; why don't you show that? I can be angry over something. Show that I can have a relationship with another person. Maybe a love relationship with Bob. It's not perfect, but... We do have misunderstandings over sign language, make fun of it, and show the funny side of it. It's OK.[2]”

In addition to demonstrating to viewers that deaf people were much like everyone else, Bove used American Sign Language to communicate with others, teaching it to children at home. She carried the latter over into several Sesame Street books, teaching how to sign words and letters in Sesame Street Sign Language ABC with Linda Bove, Sign Language Fun, and a series of sign language pages for The Sesame Street Treasury, developed with the NTD. Remaining with Sesame Street through 2003, Bove holds the honor of the longest recurring role in television history for a disabled person.

Bove's other TV credits include a recurring role on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow in 1973, as Melissa Hayley Weldon, and a guest spot on Happy Days, playing the title character in the 1980 episode "Allison," a deaf woman with whom Fonzie falls in love. That same year, she understudied the leading role of Sarah Norman in the Broadway play Children of a Lesser God, the acclaimed story of a speech teacher who romances an independent deaf woman. Bove starred in the role at the National Theater in 1981, and appeared in the 1986 film version, in a small role as successful economist Marion Loesser. Other projects have varied from children's videos (translating the Land Before Time series into sign language) to the CD-Rom series Paws Signs Stories, as the costumed character Paws the Dog.

In recent decades, Bove has been actively involved in the Non-Traditional Casting Project, a non-profit organization encouraging the integration of different ethnicities and people with disabilities in theatre, film, and television. In 1991, with husband Ed Waterstreet, she co-founded DeafWest Theater, a Los Angeles based sign language theatre. In 2003, DeafWest Theatre produced their adaptation of the Huckleberry Finn musical Big River, combining sign language and deaf actors with hearing performers acting as on-stage "voices." Bove served as American Sign Language master, seeing that the signing maintained the flavor of Mark Twain's words, and played Miss Watson and others in the 2005 tour. The same year, she starred in the stage debut of the drama Open Window.


  1. ↑ Children's Television Workshop. 1979 Corporate Review.
  2. ↑ Harrington, Barbara. "Non-Traditional Casting Update: Interview with Linda Bove." TDR. Vol. 35, No. 2. (Summer, 1991), pp. 13-17.

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