4/14/1980 – ‘Academy Awards. Lisa comes out and goes with me. Kerm and Piggy do the rules – Kerm sings “Rainbow Connection” but we don’t win the Oscar.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

When The Muppet Movie was released in the June 1979, it was a critical and box office hit, catapulting Kermit and Miss Piggy into the realm of super-stardom. The Hollywood awards community, however, didn’t quite know how to define the picture in terms of what areas deserved nominations. The performers were much more than voice artists but since you couldn’t see them, should they get nominations as actors? Clearly it had spectacular effects (and did win a Saturn Award for best fantasy film), but there didn’t seem to be an obvious Oscar category that would appropriately celebrate the work in the film. The only area that seemed straight forward was the music, and Paul Williams’ score and his song with Kenny Ascher, “The Rainbow Connection”, were both nominated.

The Academy didn’t even consider the stars of the film, and while Kermit took it in stride, Miss Piggy was predictably upset – especially because her fans were so eager to see her suitably rewarded for her talent and hard work. Months before the movie opened, two Cincinnati marketing executives, Bruce E. Collins and James C. Hall, started a grass-roots campaign called The Committee to Award Miss Piggy the Oscar (CAMPO). With their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, they put out a press release describing their organization and their quest on behalf of Miss Piggy. They urged fans to write in to their P.O. Box or to the Academy’s public relations firm, and explained, “First it was Mae West, then it was Marilyn Monroe. Never before had actresses captivated the nation’s attention with as much charm, dignity, and suaveness as did these two radiating individuals. Now in 1979 a new motion picture starlet is born, whose great talent and qualifications are unique in the movie field – and who rightfully deserves an Oscar in her bedroom in 1980. Miss Piggy is a legend in her own time (and definitively in her own mind).” Collins and Hall went on to describe Miss Piggy’s television work and their confidence that the upcoming feature film would be, “…Miss Piggy’s masterpiece…we do not even have to see the film to know who deserves the leading lady award.”

CAMPO got front page treatment in Ohio, and the UPI story got picked up around the country. Hundreds of letters of support poured in and journalists from as far away as London and Sydney did interviews. Collins and Hall contacted Henson Associates and explained their activities and asked to be allowed to sell t-shirts and buttons to promote their cause. Everyone at the company was fittingly amused and permission was granted. Michael Frith even created artwork for CAMPO to use and connected them with HA!’s apparel licensing partner. Momentum built, but the Academy Award committee held firm, insisting that the existing rules precluded Miss Piggy’s nomination. As a consolation (and to enhance ratings), she and Kermit were invited to appear on the telecast, explaining the very rules that kept them from being nominated. As least Miss Piggy got a new evening gown.

Miss Piggy in The Muppet Movie, 1979.

Congratulations ad from Consolidated Film Industries, a major LA film processing company, 1980.

CAMPO featured in The Muppet Show Fan Club Newsletter, 1979.

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

Topics: 04-April '80, 1980, Appearances, Social | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4/-/1988 – ‘Working w/Kirk Thatcher on computer generated character – Later Waldo’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

The multi-talented Kirk Thatcher got his start at a very early age designing, building, painting and performing for George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. Working for himself with David Fincher, he did concept and design work on several rock videos, was then hired by Leonard Nimoy to associate produce (and perform a cameo in) Star Trek IV and landed at Walt Disney Imagineering, working on character design and theme park ride development. While doing similar work on his own in the mid-1980s, a mutual friend introduced him to Jim Henson who asked him to collaborate on a number of projects starting in 1987. Kirk did some designs for an unrealized project called Muppet Voyager, but was really recruited to work on the characters for The Jim Henson Hour. Kirk’s substantial design work for the show included the characters Clifford, Vicky and Leon, as well as the overall set design. He collaborated with Jim on the storyboards for the opening sequence and provided designs for other characters throughout the series. Perhaps most important was his work on Jim’s first digital character, Waldo C. Graphic.

Around 1986, when Jim discovered that it would be possible to adapt his radio-controlled animatronic puppetry system that he had used so effectively for the fur and foam characters in Fraggle Rock to a computer-generated character, he was eager to try it. Development for The Jim Henson Hour moved forward over the next two years, and it seemed appropriate to include a digital puppet in an hour devoted to exploring a variety of stories and styles. According to the press kit, “The computer animated character [was] the result of an elaborate process developed at Pacific Data Images after much research, experimentation and head-scratching.” Both the software and hardware, developed with PDI, was combined with Henson puppetry to create the final footage. Steve Whitmire, performing Waldo C. Graphic, operated an elaborate armature rigged with electronic sensors to capture his motion. The data was sent to the Silicon Graphics Iris 4D/70GT where Waldo’s shape data resided. It was animated in real time and composited into the live shot that included actual puppets being performed at the same time. Both Steve and the other puppeteers used monitors to locate their characters in the scene and in relationship to each other. Additional rendering added Waldo’s color and costume changes to create the final images. Waldo was immortalized in 1990 as part of Jim’s Muppet*Vision 3D which continues to entertain delighted audiences at Walt Disney World and at Disney’s California Adventure. Advancements to this technology in recent years gave birth to the Henson Company’s Sid the Science Kid which features a whole community of digital characters performed in real time.

Hear from Kirk Thatcher about his experience on the Henson.com Podcast.

Jim Henson, with Rex Grignon from PDI, explains how Waldo works on The Jim Henson Hour episode “The Secrets of The Muppets”, 1989.

Kirk Thatcher in the late 1980s.

Kirk Thatcher’s design for Waldo C. Graphic for The Jim Henson Hour, 1988.

Kirk Thatcher’s design for Waldo C. Graphic for The Jim Henson Hour, 1988.

PDI’s cartoon showing one puppeteer performing the digital character while another performs a real puppet.

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

Topics: 04-April '88, 1988, Jim Henson Hour | Tagged , , , , , ,

4/10/1986 – ‘Kennedy Center – award’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

When Jim was honored at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on April 19, 1986 with the Frances Holleman Breathitt Award for Excellence in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the arts and to young people, it was just one of the many times Jim’s lifetime achievement was recognized over the years. As early as 1975, when he was just 39 years old, Jim received the coveted Sons of the Desert Award, an appreciation from The Worldwide Laurel and Hardy Society. As The Muppet Show hit the airwaves, the accolades started to pile up – everyone from the Advertising Club of Washington and the Electronic Industries Association to The National Council for Children and Television and The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wanted to honor Jim.

Along with the usual Emmy, Grammy, Peabody, and BAFTA awards related to specific productions, Jim was ultimately rewarded with one of the highest honors in his industry: induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. As successful as he had become, this was truly the ultimate honor, and Jim was genuinely gratified to be placed among his idols in the pantheon of television greats. While film and other types of projects were a passion for him, Jim knew that his work in the television medium was groundbreaking and was where he had made the largest impact.

Unfortunately, Jim did not live to accept many of his biggest honors. In the years following his passing, Jim’s friends arranged for him to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Various groups in the entertainment industry lauded him along with such diverse organizations as UNICEF, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Wildlife Federation. TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential artists of the 20th Century and Entertainment Weekly counted him among the 100 greatest entertainers from 1950-2000. Clearly, Jim’s legacy lives on – not just in the recognition of his past triumphs but in the new works being created with his characters and within the creative community he inspired.

Watch Jim’s induction into the TV Academy Hall of Fame.

Jim with Bob Payne and Jane Nebel holding his first Emmy Award for Sam and Friends, 1958. Photo by Reni.

Banner on Hollywood Blvd. celebrating Jim’s star on the Walk of Fame, 2010.

A display case with some of Jim’s awards watched over by a Doozer from Fraggle Rock.

Jim with family and friends at the Television Academy Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 1987.

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

Topics: 04-April '86, 1986, Honors | Tagged , , , ,

4/6/1973 – ‘Frank and I go to Kennedy Child Center. Meet with Mike Eisner ABC – go ahead.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Around 1968, along with making commercials and live-action film and television experiments, Jim started to seriously pitch his idea for a regular variety show hosted by the Muppets. Building on ideas from his guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and the like, Jim created numerous proposals illustrating his concepts which he circulated to the networks, producers, and via his agent Bernie Brillstein. There seemed to be little interest in a full scale series, so Jim switched gears and started trying to sell Muppet variety specials themed around holidays. This idea, along with well received appearances in the early 1970s on a Goldie Hawn special, This is Tom Jones, Perry Como’s show, Dick Cavett, etc., finally got the attention of the people at the networks. Jim flew to Los Angeles in late 1972 with his producer, Diana Birkenfield, to take a series of meetings and kindled some interest at ABC.

In the meantime, Sesame Street had hit its stride, winning a third Emmy, and Jim was helping to produce not just the show but also record albums, books, toys, and was making appearances with the characters. Early in the day on April 6, 1973, he and Frank Oz stopped by the Kennedy Child Center, most likely with Ernie and Bert in tow. But the second meeting of the day, with then senior network programming executive (and future Disney Company CEO) Michael Eisner, was the main event. Jim had pitched a Valentine’s Day special to ABC, and Eisner was in a position to green light it – which is exactly what he did. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the two men, leading, over time, to Jim’s Muppet 3-D movie at Walt Disney World in 1990 and the eventual sale of the Muppets to the Disney Company more than a decade later.

The Muppet Valentine Show featured Mia Farrow as its star, establishing a model for how celebrities would eventually work with the characters on The Muppet Show. All of the sketches and songs related to love and romance, and the obviously pregnant Farrow (a rare sight on television at the time) further underlined the theme. Farrow sang a duet with the oversized Thog, and a certain froggy went a courtin’ a giant mouse. Audiences were introduced by reporter Kermit to the Planet Koozebane and the rituals of romance in that alien world. Taped in early December 1973, the special aired on ABC January 30, 1974.

Thog in The Muppet Valentine Show, 1973.

Jim’s design for the Big Mouse in The Muppet Valentine Show, 1973.

Koozebanians from Jim’s pitch for The Muppet Valentine Show, 1973.

Jim and Mia Farrow on the set of The Muppet Valentine Show, 1973.

TIME Magazine’s preview of The Muppet Valentine Show, December 24, 1972.

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

Topics: 04-April '73, 1973, Muppet Specials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4/3/1965 – ‘Film for Pak-Nit’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Jim and Jerry Juhl tried several uses for the fairytale puppets originally created for The Tales Of The Tinkerdee pilot. In particular, Jerry had great affection for his Taminella Grinderfall witch character, the only one that he alone voiced. While she had been dressed as a man and used in a few commercials, her true witchy-ness had not been on display on the air. In early 1965, Muppets Inc. was hired by the Mogul Williams Saylor advertising agency in New York to make three commercials for the Compax Corporation’s product Pak-Nit RX, a revolutionary knit fabric that would neither shrink nor stretch when put in the dryer. Ruth Branchor, the agency’s copy writer, had the idea to parody fairytales for the spots, and Jim and Jerry Juhl had just the characters for the job.

At last, Taminella got her starring role as the witch in a send-up of Hansel and Gretel. In the service of the Compax Corporation, the children were called Shrinkel and Stretchel, and encountered Taminella in her forest home designed and painted by Jim. After being pushed in the oven by Taminella, Shrinkel and Stretchel emerged as good as new, revealing their true identity as the Pak-Nit RX twins who could withstand the heat of a dryer (or in this case, the witch’s oven). A second commercial, “Rumple Wrinkle Shrinkel Stretchelstiltzkin”, also relied on a familiarity with fairy tales to make the joke and provided work for a favorite of Jim’s, King Goshposh, working under the assumed name of King Impossible the Third. The last commercial “Shrinkenstein” played off of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and was a vehicle for Big V, the monster who routinely ate Kermit on various variety shows.

See Taminella in action with Shrinkel and Stretchel.

Shrinkel, Stretchel, and Taminella on the Pak-Nit RX set created by Jim, 1965.

Opening storyboard panel for “Shrinkenstein” drawn by Jim, 1965.

Opening storyboard panel for “Rumple Wrinkle Shrinkel Stretchelstiltzkin” drawn by Jim, 1965.

Jerry Juhl and Don Sahlin (and Big V) on the set of “Shrinkenstein”, 1965.

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

Topics: 04-April '65, 1965, Commercials | Tagged , , , , , , , ,