The late Jim Henson, American inventor and puppeteer, would turn 78 on September 24, 2014.
Jim was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1936 and spent his early childhood days in Leland, Mississippi, before moving with his family to Hyattsville, Maryland, in the 1940s. Growing up, Jim would listen to radio shows and recalled television being “the greatest event of his adolescence.” The two forms of media provided key influencers to his entertainment interests, namely ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and television puppeteer Burr Trillstrom (Kukla, Fran, and Ollie).
While attending high school, Jim began working for WTOP-TV, creating puppets for a Saturday morning children’s show called The Junior Morning Show. Jim continued to develop his creations throughout college, where, in his freshman year at the University of Maryland, College Park, he created a five-minute sketch-comedy puppet show called Sam and Friends, which aired on WRC-TV for 6 years. The show featured forerunners of his infamous Muppets, including a prototype of Kermit the Frog. Production of Sam and Friends allowed Henson to experiment with new puppeteering techniques. His fabric-covered foam rubber puppets were much more appealing than their wooden predecessors and allowed more flexibility in movement and more realistic speaking motions. Jim also revolutionized puppeteering by utilizing wooden rods to move the puppets instead of strings like marionettes. This allowed the artists controlling the characters to work unseen and helped give the puppets a life of their own.
Upon graduating college with a degree in home economics, Jim worked in advertisement and experimental films, but he was still drawn to a more creative outlet, and so founded Muppets, Inc., now known as The Jim Henson Company, in 1958. Henson became famous in the 1970s when he joined the children’s educational television program, Sesame Street, developing characters for the series and performing several major roles, such as Ernie, game-show host Guy Smiley, and roving reporter Kermit the Frog.
Henson was also involved in the creation of Saturday Night Live. Yes, SNL! Concerned that his creations would be confined to a children-only audience, Jim Henson and his creative partners worked with Lorne Michaels during SNL’s first season. Unfortunately, SNL writers were uncomfortable writing for puppets and the partnership did not last long. That did not stop Henson, though, as he pushed forward with ideas of his own for a Muppet Broadway show and weekly television series. No American networks would pick up the proposed series, because they feared it would appeal only to kids, but one wise British mogul did. British impresario Lew Grade financed the show, which was filmed in the United Kingdom and syndicated worldwide. With that success, Henson scrapped plans for his Broadway show and moved his creative team to England. The Muppet Show began taping, featuring Kermit as host of a comedic variety show that brought to life many of our now-endearing characters, like Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear. Some of Henson’s other successful television series include Fraggle Rock, Dinosaurs, and Bear in the Big Blue House, a show that aired on the Disney Channel in the 1990s.
During Henson’s later years, he founded the Jim Henson Foundation and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. He also won two Emmy Awards for his work on The Storyteller and The Jim Henson Hour. On May 16, 1990, Henson died from complications from a bacterial infection. The Walt Disney Company had attempted a merger with the Jim Henson Company in 1989, but the deal fell through after his untimely death. The Jim Henson Company is currently run by Henson’s children, Brian, Lisa, Cheryl, and Heather (son John passed away earlier this year), with Brian serving as Chairman and Lisa CEO. Jim was posthumously inducted into Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and was awarded the Disney Legends Award in 2011.
It’s time to play the music and light the lights by putting on a Muppet—or puppet—show at home.
The Muppets are friendly monster/puppets who “live” in the human world. Today, make a pop up puppet by following this tutorial at Disney’s Spoonful.com.
Get creative and tell a story. Plan ahead what the story is, then put together a script while gathering your props. Invite friends and family to see your production. Put on the best show you can come up with and most importantly…have fun!
You will need:
Tights without heels
12-inch length of 1/2 inch dowel
1 1/2 inch diameter woode doll head or bead with 1/2 inch hole
1 liter plastic soda bottle
Black and tan felt
Pop Up Puppet template
Click here to view complete assembly instructions.
*Note: Photos of Jim Henson via Google Images.