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 , , , , , , , ,

4/2/1979 – ‘The Tonight Show – hosted by The Muppets – guests Vincent Price – Bernadette Peters – Leo Sayer and a Vet’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

By the time he stepped behind Johnny Carson’s desk to guest host The Tonight Show in 1979, Kermit was a seasoned veteran of late night and had lots of experience as the host of his own show. It was an honor to be tapped for the job and a nice opportunity to showcase some of the stars who had appeared on The Muppet Show.

Vincent Price appeared in the first season of The Muppet Show and was a perfect foil for the many monsters that hung around the theater, especially Uncle Deadly who debuted on that episode. Price was not just a versatile actor (best known for his horror movies) but also an art collector, gourmet cook, and denizen of Hollywood Squares. He and Kermit had a lot to discuss. Bernadette Peters, the Broadway star, had developed a special friendship with Kermit’s nephew Robin and was clearly delighted to have the chance to reprise their duet “Just One Person”. When he was on The Muppet Show, Leo Sayer, a pop singer known for his easy stage presence and sense of humor but perhaps better remembered for his impressive hair style, sang his disco classic “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and, with various woodland animals, his hit song “When I Need You”. Miss Piggy, who was feuding with Annie Sue at the time, finally got her chance to perform with him on The Tonight Show, adding her vocal talents to another version of “When I Need You.” The veterinarian who rounded out the guest list was Dr. Charles Fox, and Kermit finished the evening with a soulful rendition of “Bein’ Green”.

The reaction to the show was favorable and reviewers took the opportunity to discuss it in the context of Johnny Carson’s contract negotiations. TIME magazine asked, “…with NBC President Fred Silverman urging Carson to spruce up the show for ratings’ sake and speculation that Carson might decide to leave it instead, could “The Mighty Kermit Players” be waiting in the wings?” The Daily Intelligencer’s Joan Bastel went further saying, “It has become obvious that one of Carson’s guest hosts about a month ago was so delightful, so well received and so accommodating to the network officials and crew of the talk show that Carson felt he was shown up.” She goes on to say, “Long-time Kermit fans are not surprised by this golden opportunity our little friend has before him. His world-wide popularity is without question.” Bastel felt the late-night format was ideal for Miss Piggy as she, “…would not be forced to stifle her sensuousness any longer.” Perhaps jumping the gun a little, she said “When Kermit comes to The Tonight Show, his sidekicks will no doubt accompany him. And it will be good for all of them.” She concluded, “Miss Piggy will kiss her frog and turn him into the prince of late-night television.”

To learn more about earlier appearances on The Tonight Show, see January 13, 1966.

Production chart of The Muppet Show season 1 guest stars, 1976.

Welcome letter for The Muppet Show season 1 guest stars, 1976.

Bernadette Peters in a Muppet Show publicity still, 1977.

Vincent Price and Kermit in a Muppet Show publicity still, 1976.

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

Topics: 04-April '79, 1979, Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

3/30/1976 – ‘VTR Goro Special then Kyoto.’

Having never traveled to Japan, Jim was delighted to have an opportunity to perform on a television special there. The Muppets were invited by Nippon Television to appear on a program starring the Tokyo-based pop star Goro Noguchi. The contract stipulated that the characters would perform for about twenty minutes in sketches and songs sprinkled throughout the ninety-minute special. Jim left New York on March 20th with Jane and his daughters Cheryl and Lisa, stopping first in Albuquerque to see his dad, then on to Hawaii, and finally to Tokyo. There, they met up with Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt. The Henson family members also served as performers for the show.

Leading up to the trip, Jim’s in-house producer, Diana Birkenfield, had communicated with the Japanese production team. She read the script and counseled Jim that he should delay his trip until they received something funnier. She was concerned that the material just wasn’t going to work and didn’t want to put Jim and his team in a difficult position. Jim, however, was eager to see Japan and wanted to go despite the script.

When the taping session started on March 20th, it became immediately clear that humor is cultural. Because of the language barrier, much of what was scripted was physical, slapstick comedy – and it turned out to work well for Japanese audiences. When they watched the playback, the Japanese crew practically fell out of their chairs laughing. Sensing an opportunity to rib his producer, Jim snapped some pictures to show her in New York. The rest of the trip lived up to Jim’s expectations; he and the family spent a terrific time visiting the temples in Kyoto and staying in a traditional Japanese inn while the other performers headed south for some relaxation in the hot springs.

The Electric Mayhem jam with Goro Noguchi, Japanese pop star, 1976.

Jerry Nelson performs Crazy Harry on the Goro television special, 1976.

Jim’s photo of the Goro production crew enjoying the playback, 1976.

Jim and Kermit with some Japanese fans, 1976.

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

Topics: 03-March '76, 1976, Muppet Specials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3/29/1982 – ‘Oscars in LA’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Going to the Academy Awards ceremony is exciting, even if you are a Hollywood regular like Jim Henson. It is thrilling to be part of the entertainment community at such a high level and gain recognition for your work on a telecast that goes into homes across the country. In tribute to the success of The Muppet Movie and its nominations in the best score and best song categories, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy were asked to appear on the award show in 1980 to explain the rules. Miss Piggy was miffed, of course, because she was not nominated for best actress, but that’s another story.

In 1982, Jim once again donned his tuxedo and flew out to LA for the awards. While the second Muppet feature The Great Muppet Caper had been deservedly considered in the special effects area, it was the music that was nominated. Jim was delighted and gratified to get this public acknowledgement of one of his most important professional collaborations – his work with lyricist and composer Joe Raposo. Jim met Joe in the late 1960s through Jon Stone when they were developing the television special Hey Cinderella! Joe wrote the music for the show and then joined the team as musical director on the first season of Sesame Street. Kermit’s anthem on racial tolerance, Bein’ Green, is considered to be the song most closely connected with him and was written by Joe for Jim. Joe wrote hundreds of songs for Sesame Street but the work on The Great Muppet Caper, the first film that Jim directed, was a true joy for both men. Jim set his sights high and had his characters ride bikes, perform Busby Berkeley style musical numbers, climb up sides of buildings, and catch jewel thieves. Joe was equally ambitious and his songs demonstrated his abilities with a range of musical genres, and his lyrics gave voice to the characters’ thoughts and feelings and expertly moved the action along.

Although “The First Time It Happens”, the nominated song that Miss Piggy (Frank Oz) had so expressively performed, did not win the Oscar, the whole experience was clearly a creative high point for both men. After the movie, Joe wrote Jim a heartfelt letter describing his pleasure in their work together. Jim responded with a telegram echoing the sentiments. The two continued working together throughout the 1980s until Joe’s untimely passing in 1989.

A young Joe Raposo creating music for an IBM meeting film, 1968.

Joe Raposo and his Sesame Street album Gold Record award, 1970.

Joe Raposo’s letter to Jim about his work on The Great Muppet Caper, 1981.

Joe Raposo’s letter to Jim about his work on The Great Muppet Caper, 1981.

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

Topics: 03-March '82, 1982, Appearances, Great Muppet Caper | Tagged , , ,