12/1/1985 – ‘Back to UK – re-shoot Hoggle’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

By December 1985, most of the work on Jim’s second fantasy film Labyrinth was complete. The major filming started that April and wrapped September 6th. In October and November, co-producer George Lucas gave his comments and worked with Jim on some of the editing. Jim flew back and forth between Lucas’s office in San Francisco, the Fraggle set and taping of The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years in Toronto, and the post-production for Labyrinth in London. The December Hoggle re-shoot was just a small fix related to some portion of the editing process.

Hoggle, Sarah’s hostile guide through the Labyrinth, is one of the most important characters in the film both thematically and technically. The animatronics used to perform him were ground-breaking and opened up tremendous possibilities for expressive performances. Jim explained that, “Hoggle is certainly the most complicated puppet creature we’ve ever built. It’s the most technically elaborate face because we’ve put about eighteen motors in there, to control all the different portions of the face, and four people operating that from outside by radio control. It creates enormous problems in just trying to figure out how to make that into an expression.” Brian Henson was one of those performers and also provided the voice. Actor Shari Weiser was inside the costume performing the body movements. Having five puppeteers perform one puppet was an extremely difficult collaborative process. As Brian Henson described it, “Shari’s inside the costume. She does all the body movement and her head is inside the head. However, the jaw is not connected to her jaw. Nothing that the face is doing has any connection with what she’s doing with her face.” And to make things more difficult, there was no video monitor inside the puppet; Shari’s only view was intermittent, through the flapping mouth.

Watch a clip from Inside the Labyrinth 1996 behind the scenes documentary.

Hoggle from Labyrinth.

Set design by Elliot Scott showing Hoggle meeting Jareth in the hedge maze.

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

Topics: 12-December '85, 1985, Labyrinth | Tagged , , , , ,

11/27/1975 – ‘Thanksgiving Float.’

The 1975 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marked the second appearance of a Sesame Street float as part of this much beloved New York tradition. The Muppets from Sesame Street continue to join the spectacle each year on a float joined by the human cast and often in the form of giant balloons. Read about Jim’s enthusiastic participation in Macy’s annual parade here and here.

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

Advertisement for the 1978 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The Kermit balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Topics: 11-November '75, 1975, Appearances | Tagged ,

11/26/1986 – ‘Heather and I go to Germany – Promote Labyrinth’

Labyrinth opened in the US on June 27th, 1986. It would be almost six months before the film appeared in theaters across the Atlantic. After some production work and development on IN-TV, the precursor to what would become The Jim Henson Hour, Jim headed to Germany in late November to promote the release of Labyrinth. As was often the case, Jim traveled with one of his five children, in this case the youngest, the almost-sixteen-year-old Heather. After press appearances there, they headed to London for the royal premiere. By the week before Christmas, they were back at home, and the family headed up to Stratton Mountain in Vermont for a few days of skiing.

Jim and Heather Henson, 1980s.

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

Topics: 11-November '86, 1986, Labyrinth | Tagged , , , , , ,

11/18/1965 – ‘Dean Show in Carnegie Hall’

As a television and country music personality from Washington, DC, Jimmy Dean was well aware of Jim and his Muppets when he premiered his ABC prime time variety show in September, 1963. He invited Jim to be part of his second episode which was taped that August 29th. Jim (with Jerry Juhl and his new recruit Frank Oz) started with his piece “Cool Jazz,” an abstract bit featuring gloved hands dancing to music. Afterwards, Dean shook each of the four hands and then introduced his “Old Buddy” Rowlf for the first time. Bantering and making bad dog puns, the two introduced the Willis Sisters who sang “Moon River” with Rowlf to thunderous applause. Rowlf was not meant to be a regular, but appearing again, Dean told his audience, “Last week, we had an old hound dog buddy of mine with us…and he turned out to be the hit of the show. We’ve had all kinds of people asking us to have him back again…so what else can I say except…here’s Rowlf!”

Through the spring of 1966, Rowlf made weekly appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show and that summer, he toured with Dean to live appearances at various locations around the country. Over those three years, Jim had the opportunity to fully develop a character and create a believable relationship between a puppet and a real person. He also established his most important performing partnership with Frank Oz who performed Rowlf’s right paw while Jim performed the head, left paw and voice. They learned each others rhythms and performing styles, laying the groundwork for such seamless collaborations as Ernie and Bert, Kermit and Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef. It was educational for all — Jerry Juhl sat in with the seasoned comedy writers on the show, and by the end of the run, was contributing much of Rowlf’s material and had a good understanding of writing for network television.

The show that Jim taped on November 18th, 1965 was one of several recorded outside the studio. Together, Dean and Rowlf played the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana State Fair and did a show in Miami. Playing Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra, however, was a big deal and required some sophistication. Wearing white tie, Rowlf joined Dean on stage, carrying his violin and offering up his rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” (actually played by the orchestra’s violin soloist). Rowlf’s enthusiastic fiddling to Dean’s frantic conducting reached a furious pace and ended in a dramatic upsweep, with Rowlf launching the bow into the air. It was a triumphant moment among many – Rowlf’s popularity with Dean opened doors to the first Muppet toys (plush Rowlf and Kermit puppets in 1966), a spokes-dog job at IBM, and a hosting job on a 1967 summer variety show, Our Place.

Jimmy Dean and his old hound dog buddy Rowlf.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Rowlf with Frank Oz and Jim.

Jim and Rowlf get top billing in this Jimmy Dean Show press clipping.

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

Topics: Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11/8-11/1971 – ‘Go to Chicago to Silvestri. See flocking’

In the 1960s, Jim’s innovative use of fleece-covered foam for his puppets captured light well, enhancing the way they looked on television. His discovery, in the early 1970s, of the effectiveness of flocked foam on the screen started his builders (Don Sahlin, Bonnie Erickson, Caroly Wilcox and John Lovelady) in a new direction. Now Jim’s puppets could be fleece covered, fur covered or flocked, providing greater variety in their appearance. The flocked surface worked for a wide range of expressive faces and is largely responsible for the soft, glamorous love affair between the flock-covered Miss Piggy and the camera.

In the spring of 1971, Jim took his team up to Middletown, NY to see Otto Heinbach at his DeKor Flocking Company. Jim acquired a flocking machine, and they started experimenting with it, covering pieces of carved foam with flocking glue and sending an electric charge through them to attract the tiny fibers that would create a soft surface. The first flocked puppet was a drummer/maestro character created by Erickson for Jim’s live appearance with Nancy Sinatra in Las Vegas that summer. Continuing his research into the method, Jim flew out to Chicago that November to look at the flocked figures created by the Silvestri Art Company, known for extravagant holiday displays in department stores and other public places. By the start of the new year, Jim’s team was making flocked heads for his Muppet Musicians of Bremen special and in the fall, the Country Trio (caricature puppets of Jim, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson) all appeared with flocked faces. As John Lovelady wrote in a letter to Otto Heinbach in 1973, “We have had a delightful time with your machine!”

Jim’s sketch of the flocked drummer puppet for the Nancy Sinatra stage show in Las Vegas, 1971.

Bonnie Erickson and Caroly Wilcox flocking hands for The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, 1972. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Erickson

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

Topics: 11-November '71, 1971 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,