Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jim Henson

Jim Henson would have turned 72 today. He died at age 53 on May 16, 1990.

Like millions of others, I was stunned to hear of the death of such a creative genius. I've loved the Muppet's for most of my life. I've been madly in love with Rowlf since I was a kid and have always had a soft spot for Kermit! I have VHS copies of almost every Muppet movie and The Muppet's Tonight. Someday I hope to get the whole collection on DVD and also find stuffed/puppet versions of Rowlf and Kermit.

While I was researching this post I came across this quote;"When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here." -Jim Henson

I think it is safe to say his dream and ambition was fulfilled beyond expectations! Jim Henson has left us an incredible legacy of characters and film that will keep millions enthralled and entertained for generations to come!

James Maury Henson was born September 24, 1936 in Mississippi. He was the second of six children. His family moved to Maryland in the late 1940's. Growing up, he was heavily influenced by radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and the early television puppets of Burr Tillstrom (on Kukla, Fran and Ollie) and Bil and Cora Baird. He even got a job working with puppets on a local Saturday morning children's TV show. He pursued a degree in Studio Arts at UofM, College Park. Along the way he took a puppetry class in the applied sciences department, which introduced him to the craft and to textiles. He switched majors and graduated in 1960 with a BS in Home Economics.

As a freshman, he worked on a creating a 5 minute puppet show for WRC-TV. He was instrumental in creating new forms of puppeteering that allowed for far more movement of the characters than the traditional wooden puppets of the day. He had doubts of making a career of this art form, but after travelling around Europe for a few months, he realized that it was really an art form and that he wanted to pursue it.

In the 1960's he did countless commercials and also made regular appearances with various Muppet's on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and with Rowlf the Dog "The Jimmy Dean Show". In the late 1960's he began working with the creators of Sesame Street and helped introduce many new characters. He worked on the first season of Saturday Night Live with puppet sketches geared to adults but the match never seemed to gel and he left the show.

Major networks in the USA, rejected his idea of a weekly TV variety series starring The Muppet's. After securing British funding, he moved his family to England in 1976 and began filming "The Muppet Show". It aired first in England and became such a hit that it was syndicated around the world in more than 100 countries! This led him to a number of feature movies starring the Muppet characters.
The first of those feature movies, "The Muppet Movie" began with Kermit (voiced by Henson), playing the banjo and singing what was to become one of his most famous (and one of my favourite) songs; "The Rainbow Connection"

"Henson's role in Muppet productions was often compared by his co-workers to Kermit's role on The Muppet Show: a shy, gentle boss with "a whim of steel" who "ran things as firmly as it is possible to run an explosion in a mattress factory" - Wikipedia

Jim Henson also created the 1980's children's series, "Fraggle Rock" and the more darkly adult fantasy movies "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth". In late 1989 and 1990 he negotiated the sale of his company to the Walt Disney Company. He hoped that by selling it, Disney would be able to focus on the business side and he would be free to work on the creative side.

In early May, 1990, he began experiencing flu like symptoms, but assumed they would go away. He was visiting his father and stepmother in North Carolina and saw a doctor on May 12, who found no evidence of pneumonia, but prescribed aspirin. Henson returned to New York, but cancelled a recording session for May 14. By early on the 15th, he was having trouble breathing and was finally convinced to go to the hospital. By then it was too late to treat him as his system was going into septic shock and his organs were gradually shutting down. Less than twenty four hours later, on May 16, 1990, at 12:58AM EDT, Henson died from organ failure at the age of 53

Remembering Jim Henson;

"I don't know who Jim Henson is, but I've heard he has his hand in a lot of things around here."- Kermit the Frog

“I think what he was probably most known for was the silly and funny, clean and innocent and childlike and naive and pure and that’s not all Jim was.” -Jane Nebel Henson.

Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden - dedicated Sept 24, 2003 Campus Drive and Union Lane, College Park, MD

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