11/3/1963 – ‘Brian is born’

Brian Henson, the third of Jim and Jane’s children, was born at a momentous time in Jim’s career. The Hensons had moved to New York at the start of the year to accommodate a schedule of weekly Today Show appearances. That September, Rowlf made his debut on The Jimmy Dean Show, appearing regularly into 1966. Jim’s advertising work was in high demand, and the Muppets were popular on the variety show circuit. Within a couple months of Brian’s birth, the family of five (plus pets) moved out of Manhattan to Greenwich, CT.

Jim mixed his work and play, having his children to the set where he was shooting, bringing them to puppetry festivals and get togethers with others in the industry, or casting them in some small part. In 1969, Jim had five year old Brian act surprised when being presented with three green peas in the course of a lesson for Sesame Street about the number 3. Brian later appeared in a short film with another boy that depicted them mimicking construction vehicles as they ate ice cream. By the time he was 17, Brian had watched his father at work and spent time with his colleagues. Given real performing responsibility by his father for The Muppets Take Manhattan, Brian discovered a talent for operating a marionette rig, helping Scooter to ride a bicycle.

Within a couple years, Brian became indispensable on the sets of his father’s productions. He served as puppet captain for Labyrinth in 1985 while also performing Hoggle with Shari Weiser. He and Kevin Clash held audition workshops to gather puppeteers for The Storyteller, and Brian performed the expressive and curious dog. As a first time director, Brian shaped the Mother Goose Stories television series, and his reputation as a performer led to work on the films Return to Oz, The Witches, Little Shop of Horrors, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Having started discussions with Jim before his untimely passing, Brian took the lead on the television series Dinosaurs.

Taking the helm of The Jim Henson Company in 1990, Brian directed and/or produced a wide range of projects including The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, Farscape, Bear in The Big Blue House, Gulliver’s Travels, Muppets Tonight, and “Battleground,” an Emmy Award-winning episode of the Nightmares & Dreamscapes anthology for TBS. Currently, Brian oversees the groundbreaking work at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and was part of the team that first created and utilized the Henson Performance Control System, which won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Scientific and Engineering Award in 1992. That technology has led to the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio used to create animation in real time. Brian serves as Chairman of The Jim Henson Company and is an executive producer of the PBS KIDS series Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid. With an interest in live theater, he created and launched the improv stage show Puppet Up!Uncensored which is currently touring. He also executive produced and served as a judge for the Syfy Channel’s Creature Shop Challenge and is gearing up for the third season of No, You Shut Up! on the Fusion Channel.

See Brian Henson in the Sesame Street classic Baker Film #3.

Brian Henson in the #3 Baker film for Sesame Street, 1969.

Jim’s storyboard for #3, 1969.

Marketing brochure for Labyrinth. Brian was Puppet Captain, and he performed Hoggle with Shari Weiser.

Brian featured in promotional stills for The Muppet Christmas Carol, his feature film directorial debut.

Brian performing in the improvisational stage show he created, Stuffed and Unstrung, 2011.

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

Topics: 11-November '63, 1963, Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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10/30/1975 – ‘Shoot test Mirinda’

With Sesame Street’s production underway in 1969, Jim Henson decided to stop using his Muppet characters to advertise commercial products, instead choosing to have them focus on educating his young Sesame Street viewers. However, throughout the years of Sesame Street’s production, Jim occasionally allowed his Muppets to make appearances in commercials where he felt the situation and product was particularly appropriate. One such product was a soft drink called Mirinda, which was distributed internationally by PepsiCo and, at the time, not available in the United States. Jim agreed to produce commercials for Mirinda because the commercial viewing market was outside of the US. He felt that his young American viewers would not be confused in thinking that a furry monster-like Muppet was trying to sell them soft drinks.

Mirinda commercials featured a large green creature with a bright orange nose known as the “Mirinda Craver,” who would do almost anything to drink a Mirinda soda. Four different puppeteers operated the “Craver:” Louise Gold, a British Muppet Show cast member; Bob Payne, principal performer in the commercials who had appeared with Jim as far back as Sam and Friends; Dave Holman, a producer; and Faz Fazakas, known best for rigging mechanical devices to manipulate smaller puppets or puppet parts such as eyes. According to a 1975 production schedule, on October 30th, these puppeteers worked with the production staff to “Pre-light and shoot test for color and Muppet mobility” of the Craven puppet. Shooting tests were very important when working with Muppets because the color and texture of the puppets could look quite different on film as compared to how they looked in real life. In later shoots, the Craven puppet’s green fur deepened in order to more fully capture the color on film.

Between 1975 and 1978, Henson Associates, in collaboration with BBDO, a Madison Avenue advertising powerhouse representing the PepsiCo brand, produced over 20 commercials for Mirinda. Shooting took place in New York City, Madrid and Malaga in Spain, and Frankfurt, Germany. The Henson Associates’ Mirinda commercials aired in several countries, including Spain, Mexico, and West Germany.

See the Mirinda Craver in action.

1975 Storyboard for “Grocer” Commercial.

Don Sahlin’s early sketch for the Craver, 1975.

Dave Goelz’s Craver sketch, 1975.

Craver sketch by Jim Henson, likely mid-1975.

Shoot for “Beach” commercial, 1978.

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

Topics: 10-October '75, 1975, Commercials | Tagged , , , ,
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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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