Tuesday, November 22, 2011
BITTEN BY THE MUPPET BUG!
The Muppets comes out this week, and it looks and feels very much like the Muppets that I grew up with; fresh, fun and humorous. I'm going to see it with my daughter around the holiday and it should be pretty entertaining. I'm glad in that respect, but it bothers me that Jim Henson's name is not in bold, above the title. It may be called Disney's The Muppets, but even though they own the property, it's still not Disney to me.
Jim Henson was the heart and soul of The Muppets.
Many moons ago when I was just about 11 or twelve, I was a big Muppet Fan and very much into puppets for that reason. Henson was involved with creating delightfully bizarre sketches for The Ed Sullivan Show, For Commercials, for Sesame Street and was creating hour long specials for CBS and for syndication. Each of these projects were a whole lot of fun and I got caught up into it. In fact, I was so bitten by it that I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to work for Jim Henson!
My father saw that interest and nurtured it by enrolling me in some puppetry classes at The Museum Of New York with a professional puppeteer named Rod Young. For a number of weeks, we built puppets, wrote a show, recorded it and then performed it on a beautiful stage at the Museum. I took the experience and ran with it by performing my own little shows on a giant stage that my father had built me. I even entered a puppetry competition and won three 2nd place prizes. Professional puppeteers attended this and made a point to tell my father that I was a natural for the medium.
For a time there, I would write to Jim Henson in NYC, and he would actually answer these little letters personally. These letters would be typed up on Henson Associates stationery and signed by Mr. Henson in green pen. To say I was thrilled when I received these would be a major understatement. I even got the number to Jim Hensons' workshop on East 67th Street in NYC, and called him a few times on the weekends...he always picked up the phone. I knew what I wanted to say to him, but sometimes the words were slow to come out. Somehow I managed to stumble through a question or two...and I'm sure it sounded like some stuttering dumbbell kid on the other side of the phone, but he never rushed me off. Sometimes, I wondered if it was really Mr Henson answering that phone on a Saturday morning. Years later, I did find out that he did go into the workshop on Saturdays, often always by himself.
The letters that I received from Jim Henson weren't very long; basically simple answers to simple questions but I cherished having them. Unfortunately somehow over time, due to my carelessness or whatever, they got misplaced and lost.
By the time, I had hit thirteen years old, the animation bug got me and I redirected myself toward a career in animated cartoons. My father had a problem with my new direction because he had felt that I was giving up something where I had a unique ability. He eventually saw why I wanted to go into animation and supported my efforts. While I gave up puppets as a career choice, I never lost my love for them. I've remained a Jim Henson fan ever since. Recently, I went to see The Jim Henson Exhibit at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens (runs through January 2012). The show features Jim's original character sketches as well as original muppets from some of the early commercials and specials. It was a thrilling experience for me. I think I've been bitten by the Muppet bug yet again.