I’ve always loved the Muppets. Like many of you, I grew up with them. I saw them on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and all the Muppet movies. One of my favorite rituals during trips home from college was to rent the first three Muppet movies (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan), get into my pajamas, and spend a whole day glued to the television. How can you not love a world where rats are bellhops, frogs and pigs fall in love, vegetables sing from a pushcart, and penguins surf in the shower?
I appreciate the man behind the Muppets as much as I admire the furry creatures themselves. Here’s a list of some of the things I treasure most about Jim Henson:
- His patience, kindness, and optimism
- His endorsement of creative anarchy
- His inclusive style of leadership - he collaborated well in creative partnerships and teams
- The theme in all his movies of going after your dreams, supporting your friends to do the same, and being true to yourself
- The way he saw no limits on what he could achieve on artistic and technological fronts The way he created work that was playful and kind in its tone while still having an edge
- His dedication to promoting laughter in front of and behind the screen
WHO WAS JIM HENSON?
In 1993, I went to The Museum of Television and Radio to check out an exhibit featuring Jim Henson. At this exhibit, which featured mostly screenings, I learned that Jim was about much more than the Muppets. A technical and conceptual wizard, he was a pioneer in the worlds of television and puppetry. Here are some interesting bits from his personal and professional history which I found in the new book It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider.
1936 – Jim Henson is born in Mississippi.
1947 – Jim moves to Maryland with his family and forms strong interest in the new visual medium of television.
1954 – Still in high school, Jim launches career in television by performing puppets on a Saturday morning program. Soon after, he is given his own show, Sam and Friends, which he produced with fellow student Jane Nebel.
1959 – Jim and Jane marry and have five children together.
1964 -1969 – Jim produces several experimental films, including award-winning Time Piece, Youth ’68, and the The Cube.
1966 – Joan Ganz Cooney begins work on Sesame Street and asks Jim to create a family of characters for it.
1975(ish) – The world is introduced to the Muppets through The Muppet Show.
1980s – Jim and friends make Muppet movies. In addition, they make fantasy films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, both of which feature three-dimensional characters “with advanced movement abilities”. The staff of the later two films form basis for what is now known as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
1990 – Jim dies in New York City after a brief illness. The world mourns his passing and celebrated the joy, humanity, and artistic vision that he brought to this world. His memorial services take place at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where Big Bird sang It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green. His family, friends and colleagues continue and expand his vision through the Jim Henson Company, Sesame Workshop, and The Muppets Holding Company, and The Jim Henson Foundation.
It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider also features quotations by and about Jim Henson. Here are some of my favorites:
“I feel that almost everyone maintains a childlike quality throughout their adulthood. One of the nice things about the puppet form is that it has the ability to communicate with this childlike side of the audience. The personalities of the Muppet characters are really quite innocent and everyone, in some way or another, seems to be able to relate to this innocence.”
-- Jim Henson
"From Kermit the Frog, literally an extension of Jim, comes a life-affirming decency, a passionate belief that there are stories to tell which don’t exclude children and don’t insult adults, which don’t exclude adults but which don’t insult children, which can be outrageous and innovative without being arch or misanthropic. There’s anarchy here, but it’s anarchy that celebrates rather than destroys.”
-- Anthony Minghella, Writer of “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller”
“Jim inspired people to be better than they thought they could be. To be more creative, more daring, more outrageous, and ultimately more successful. And he did it all without raising his voice.”
-- Bernie Brillstein, Jim’s friend and agent since 1961
"I don’t know exactly where ideas come from, but when I’m working well, ideas just appear. I’ve heard other people say similar things – so it’s one of the ways I know there’s help and guidance out there. It’s just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.”
-- Jim Henson
RESOURCES FOR FANS OF JIM AND THE MUPPETS
http://www.jimhensonlegacy.org/ – good place to order books and DVDs
http://www.henson.com/ – the website of the company has lots of good insider info, esp. about the 50th Anniversary of the company
http://www.toughpigs.com/ – for Muppet fans who are now adults
http://www.hensonfoundation.org/ – is dedicated to keeping the art of puppetry alive
http://www.sesameworkshop.org/ – self-explanatory!
http://www.muppetcentral.com/ – inside scoop on all that is happening with the Muppets
http://www.kermitage.com/ – great spot to reminisce about The Muppet Show
http://www.mtr.org/ – site of the Museum of Television and Radio.
Note: New York’s Museum of Television and Radio is the premier spot for viewing works by and about Jim Henson. By making a reservation to use the library, you are privy to the many program titles which appear under “Jim Henson’s World of Television,” including special episodes of Sesame Street like “Maria and Luis’ Wedding”.
You can also find these titles in the museum’s screening library:
The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years
The Jim Henson Hour: The Secrets of the Muppets
The Muppet Show, Featuring Paul Simon
Other Cool Stuff
* 50th Anniversary Commemorative Stamps, starring – who else! – the Muppets, are now available at the US Post Office.
* A book I recommend is Jim Henson: The Works - The Art, the Magic, the Imagination by Christopher Finch