Every year around this time, we Mogulfolk write up an article or two on who we are thankful for in the land of make believe. This year… I have to give it up for Jim Henson.
It would have been absolutely impossible for me to have the childhood I did without Jim Henson. From The Muppet Show, to Sesame Street… from consulting on the Yoda puppet in The Empire Strikes Back… to Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal…Jim Henson has made an incredibly huge mark on the childhood of almost everyone I know.
His irreverent humor with a heart of gold has been the model for which I’ve tried to build almost all of my creative pursuits.
Jim had some small gigs early on with the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jimmy Dean Show… but in 1969 when Joan Ganz Cooney and the team at Children’s Television workshop were putting together a little show called Sesame Street, they caught his full body puppet work on the popular LaChoy commercials.
The original idea was just to have a few short segments here and there with puppets, but due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback from kids, they decided to integrate the puppets in with the humans as well.
What came from that creative relationship is over 40 years of education with some of the most famous characters in history.
After the success of Sesame Street, Henson began to think that he was pigeonholed as just a ‘children’s entertainer.’ He sought to create a program that could be enjoyed by young and old. In the late 70’s he created the off kilter Muppet Show. Each one of the episodes also featured a human guest star. After the program became a HUGE hit, many celebrities were eager to perform with the Muppets on television and in film: by the end of its run over one hundred guest stars had appeared.
Over the years his production company has created some of the world’s most recognizable characters, such as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster… and hundreds more… take a look at this video…
It is very easy to dismiss Henson as just being a “kids entertainer” but he also did some very dark movies as well, including The Dark Crystal in which he collaborated with Franz Oz and fantasy artist Brian Froud.
Let’s not forget the amazing collaboration with George Lucas and Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.
Here is probably the most important thing about Jim Henson;
The world NEEDS Jim Hensons.
We cannot possibly live on this COMPLETELY SCREWED UP planet without the idea that there are actually genuinely good…talented and sweet people on it. People that actually love the idea of being a kid.
We could spend the rest of the year talking about all of his accomplishments, but more importantly, the guy was total class act.
Quoting the book Sesame Street: A Celebration of 40 Years…
“Jim was tall, slightly stooped and always appeared relaxed and clam, nothing fazed him. And he never seemed to get angry. In meetings, if he didn’t like an idea, all he would do is sit back and say “Hmmmm,” in his quizzical tone. On TV and movie sets, visitors who knew how tense production could be were amazed that he never, ever, raised his voice. In fact, he was a lot like Kermit-except that Kermit occasionally got angry.”
He was a great family man, his daughter Cheryl was once quoted as saying
“He was always making things or doing art projects with us. He didn’t really bring the work home… it’s more like he brought the spirit of home back to work.
In May of 1990, he passed away of severe pneumonia, and his memorial was televised. Some of the most touching moments were Big Bird singing, and his friend Frank Oz, giving an incredible speech.
This video is so amazingly touching to me, because it’s a lot like hearing Fozzie talk about Kermit, or Bert talk about Ernie.
21 years after his passing, it has been a good year for Jim Henson, with the release of the new Muppet movie that is getting great reviews (Rotten Tomatoes positive critical meter for the film is currently rolling at 100%. Cinema Blend’s Josh Tyler has given The Muppets a whopping five star review), along with the announcement of a new NBC show, The New Nabors, described as; “a single-camera comedy project that centers on a family that lives in Palm Springs and is aghast with their new neighbors — a gang of puppets.”
Between Sesame Street, The Muppets, his hundreds of other amazing creations, and just being one of the biggest class acts that ever lived in Hollywood… Jim Henson we love you.
“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there. ”
― Jim Henson
God bless you, Jim. You did indeed, and today we give thanks.
Just some of Jim Henson’s Legacy: The Muppets, Muppet Babies, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Dinosaur Train, Bear in the Big Blue House, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and Where the Wild Things Are movie.