10/29/1968 – ‘Tonight Show – “Beautiful Day”.’

“Beautiful Day” was the name of both a short comedy piece and later the monster that was featured in it. The bit represents a recurring theme in Jim’s work where the meek (yet smart) and/or good prevails, a product of the optimistic world view that Jim shared with his colleague and writing partner Jerry Juhl. Starting in 1962, an innocent little girl was often used to foil the nefarious plans of a monster, witch or generally annoying person. For a series of traffic safety test films created for the National Council of Churches, a pointy-nosed monster named Sneegle tried to corrupt two innocent children (Billy and Sue). In each situation, however, Sneegle was the one that was hurt in an accident. While those films went unused, Jim and Jerry saw the comic potential for the contrasting personalities of the sweet little girl and the monster and wrote what would become a classic for a March 26, 1963 appearance on The Today Show.

In the “Beautiful Day” bit, Sue is enjoying the lovely weather. When Sneegle arrives, so does a rain storm, but that doesn’t dampen Sue’s enjoyment of the day. She explains that the rain makes flowers grow, and when Sneegle eats the flower, she enjoys the beauty of the pot. When Sneegle breaks the pot, she scolds him, calling him evil, but then changes tack and tells him, “You’re so evil that it’s beautiful…you are beautifully evil.” This reduces Sneegle to tears, giving Sue the upper hand. The bit ends with her telling the audience, “If you can’t fight him on equal terms, you gotta use psychological warfare.” About a year and a half later, for a Pak-Nit sales film, Billy and Sue (as Shrinkel and Stretchel) outsmart the witch Taminella, surviving the oven with their wits and positive attitude.

In 1966, Jim and Muppet builder Don Sahlin made some new monsters for a test commercial for General Foods Canada’s snack products, Wheels, Flutes and Crowns. A flat-headed blue monster, the Crown Grabber, would become the monster of choice for “Beautiful Day” and take the title for his name. That summer, Jim did a week of Mike Douglas Shows and pulled out everything in his repertoire, including “Beautiful Day”. He and Jerry added some business and rewrote the last line, having the girl say at the end, “You’ve got to talk your troubles down to a size where you can handle them.” That was followed by an October 26, 1968 Tonight Show appearance which featured a little girl, now blond, and the Crown Grabber. This time, when she talked her troubles down to size, the monster shrank and a mini version was used to end the bit. Jim performed the piece again the following year on The Ed Sullivan Show and then Beautiful Day became a utility player on the early seasons of Sesame Street and then The Muppet Show. The monster still appears, most recently in The Muppets feature film, and the smart and efficient Prairie Dawn of Sesame Street is a direct descendent of that feisty little girl.

See the Crown Grabber in action and two sizes of Beautiful Day helping Kermit explain Big and Little on Sesame Street.

“Beautiful Day” script by Jim and Jerry Juhl for The Today Show, March 26, 1963.

“Beautiful Day” script by Jim and Jerry Juhl for The Today Show, March 26, 1963.

Beautiful Day sketch created by John Lovelady when rebuilding the monster for The Muppet Show, 1970s.

Jim’s idea for a situation in which a little girls bests a monster, late 1960s.

Jim’s idea for a situation in which a little girls bests a monster, late 1960s.

Beautiful Day and other Muppet monsters (and one witch), c. 1969.

The Beautiful Day monster and his little girl nemesis (a.k.a. Susie), 1960s.

The Beautiful Day monster and his little girl nemesis (a.k.a. Susie), 1960s.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 10-October '68, 1968, Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , ,
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10/26/1985 – ‘Geo. L. in UK editing.’

Jim became acquainted with George Lucas in England where he was making his Star Wars movies near to the studio where Jim taped The Muppet Show. They had obvious interests in common, and as development ramped up on The Dark Crystal in 1978, Jim’s team collaborated with Lucas’s on the creation of Yoda. They continued to stay in touch, and Jim attended the Return of The Jedi premiere in 1983. Jim was beginning to think about his next fantasy film at that point, but was also occupied with shooting The Muppets Take Manhattan, launching Fraggle Rock, and trying to sell his idea for a show called Starboppers. By the beginning of 1984, serious work began on the screenplay for Labyrinth. Jim met with David Bowie that summer, and creatures started to emerge from the London workshop. In August, Jim met with Lucas who agreed to serve as executive producer on the film. Lucas began attending script meetings and giving notes.

The following year, The New York Times featured their collaboration in an article by Aljean Harmetz. Lucas explained why he wanted to work with Jim: ”We both have merchandising operations and make children’s films and deal with fantasy. I’ve respected his work for a long time. Puppetry is an ancient and completely wonderful skill that doesn’t get the respect it should. Jim’s kind of like me – very quiet, kind of simple. And he’s kind, which comes through in everything he does.” Further into the article, Jim and Lucas discussed how they worked together: ”I’m strong with script and editing,” said Lucas. ”One of the reasons I got involved was that this picture doesn’t talk down to kids. I’ve been involved in one way or another in every story made in this genre for the last five years – ‘E.T.,’ ‘Return to Oz,’ ‘Dragonslayer’ and my own films. One contribution I could make to ‘Labyrinth’ was to keep the script focused. It’s a real trick to keep a script focused, to keep it from going for the amusing incident. Jim is receptive to ideas. I like to throw out a lot of ideas and not have anybody be threatened or get his feelings hurt.” Jim explained, ”George clarified the story lines. He cleaned up the structure so every scene has a function.”

Just before the shoot started in May 1985, Jim was asked, “How is that partnership working out? Here you’re two creative geniuses.” Jim responded, “Very nicely. We’re working on the story at this point together, and then…I’ll be directing the film and George will be doing a lot of the editing afterwards.” The film wrapped in September, and Jim showed the rough cut of his film to Lucas in San Francisco. Lucas came over to London to work on the editing and then met up with Jim again in New York to continue. By April, Labyrinth was ready for some test screenings, and on June 27, 1986, the film premiered.

Learn more about the development of Yoda.

Jim, David Bowie and George Lucas, 1986.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 10-October '85, 1985 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
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10/22/1965 – ‘Tape Cinderella pilot’

When Jon Stone, who would go on to co-create Sesame Street, left his job with Captain Kangaroo in 1963, it was to develop scripts with his writing partner Tom Whedon in hopes of selling a hit television show. In the summer of 1965, Stone and Whedon sold an idea to CBS for a half-hour Saturday morning show based on Snow White. CBS commissioned a script but then passed on producing the show. Stone and Whedon then went to ABC who liked the overall concept, but wanted them to change the story to Cinderella’s. That did the trick and pre-production was underway. The overall concept, remembered Stone thirty years later, was that, “…you’d tell a little of the Cinderella story, and end each week with something [happening] that couldn’t possibly happen if you knew the story” – like the prince accidentally crushing the glass slipper instead of finding it. The episode would end with a cliffhanger, picking up with a little more of the story’s action the following week. Once Cinderella’s exploits were exhausted, other fairytale characters would be integrated into the storyline.

Stone and Whedon had seen the Muppets on The Tonight Show and other variety shows and knew Jim’s work. Stone called up Jim and arranged a meeting. “We hit it off right away,” Stone remembered, and Jim signed on to create the characters and perform in the show. The pilot was videotaped in black and white at the ABC studios in New York. Bob Schwarz directed, and the characters designed by Jim, including the oversized Splurge, were performed by Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, and a puppeteer from Ohio named George Latshaw. A young Harvard grad, Joe Raposo, provided the music, making this the first time he collaborated with Jim and Jon Stone.

ABC passed on the series, but Jim kept the idea in mind as he tried to sell his ideas for television specials. In 1968, he made Hey Cinderella! which combined ideas from his collaboration with Stone and Whedon with those from his earlier work on Tales of the Tinkerdee. Jon Stone stayed involved, performing as one of the humans in the special, but was not a producer or writer on the show. That year, Jon also collaborated on Jim’s NBC Experiment in Television Youth ’68, serving as director, and introduced Jim to the team developing Sesame Street.

The King designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

The Black Duke designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

General Babbit designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

A quick bite during Youth ’68 production. The bearded men are, left to right, Jerry Juhl, Jon Stone, and Jim Henson, 1968.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 10-October '65, 1965, Hey Cinderella, Tales of The Tinkerdee | Tagged , , , , , , , ,
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10/–/1983 – ‘Begin Judy McKie on dining room table.’

When Jim bought his apartment at the Sherry-Netherland building on Fifth Avenue, he took great care in choosing the furnishings. In many cases, he commissioned craft artisans to create unique pieces. One of these was an enchanting dining room table by Judy McKie with carved vines for legs. The hand-carved chairs to go with it featured animals crawling up the legs or peeking over the backs. Her use of animal life appealed to Jim, and in an interview for Metropolitan Home magazine, he remarked, “I love her sense of humor.”

Learn more about Jim’s apartment at the Sherry-Netherland.

Jim’s apartment in the Sherry-Netherland. The Judy McKie table can be seen to the right. Photo by Thomas Hooper.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 10-October '83, 1983 | Tagged
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10/14-15/1970 – ‘Shoot #8′

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Jim’s second series of counting films for Sesame Street, made mostly in 1970, used a variety of film and animation techniques. For The Queen of 6, The King of 8 and the Number 12 Rocks films, the characters (and rocks) were brought to life through stop-motion animation. Puppet builder Don Sahlin had worked with George Pal and others on stop-motion projects and was able to bring his in-depth knowledge of the process to these productions.

Jim designed the Queen, the King and the related characters which Don transformed into three-dimensions. Using a variety of materials (the eight Princesses were made from small toy bowling pins and balls), Don interpreted Jim’s quick sketches and created a mini royal community to tell their brief stories. For both The Queen of 6 and The King of 8, Jim wrote humorous rap-like songs – the Queen’s spoken by a narrator, and the King (voiced by Jim) telling most of his tale himself. Elaborate sets were built, and Jim hand-painted the large castle with windows that opened to reveal the eight Princesses. He was building doll houses for his daughters at that time so his miniature abode-building skills were sharp. While the Queen’s story ended with her six kittens tucked neatly into bed, the King’s ending had a twist – much to his chagrin, the King of 8 became the father of a ninth Princess. Clearly, Jim wanted a comic ending and created storyboards for several versions. He must have chosen the right one – the film holds up today and still elicits a big laugh.

See The Queen of 6 and The King of 8 come to life.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim on set of The King of 8, 1970.

A Princess of 8 being prepared for an exhibit.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 10-October '70, 1970, Sesame Street | Tagged
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