6/19/1981 – ‘Call Larry Gelbart.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

In the early 1970s, Jim energetically pursued Muppet television projects, and, inspired by his live appearance in Las Vegas with Nancy Sinatra, Jim was developing a show for the Broadway stage. When he went out to Los Angeles with his producer Diana Birkenfield in October 1972, he met with Larry Gelbart, then known for both his television writing and his contributions to Broadway’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Within weeks of that meeting, Jim noted that he had made a deal to do a live show at Lincoln Center with Gelbart’s involvement. By February of the following year, however, Jim noted, “Gelbart out of B’way” and brought in screenwriter Marshall Brickman to continue work on the show. After several years of development, Jim moved away from the project in order to put his efforts into The Muppet Show. But the idea of a live show intrigued Jim, and he continued to think about it.

Almost ten years later, Jim called Larry Gelbart who had by then created the hit television show M.A.S.H. and was working on the feature film Tootsie. Jim had started on a project for the stage written by Hugh Wheeler called Bodo featuring medieval characters, some designed by Brian Froud. The day before his talk with Gelbart, he noted in his journal “Drop Bodo”. Clearly, he was not giving up on the Broadway Show idea, but wanted to do something different and thought Gelbart might be a good collaborator. In July, he and Gelbart met with Brian and Wendy Froud and started discussions about a new project for the stage that would also feature medieval characters. Over the next year, a writing deal was negotiated with Gelbart for what was then being referred to as the Medieval Show, but by 1983, Jim was looking into other writers, including Neil Simon.

Nothing came of the Medieval idea, but in 1985, Jim began developing a different idea for a Broadway Show, this time in a more contemporary world. With a working title of “The Puppet Show”, it was to be an array of performances with a variety of music loosely strung together with a behind-the-scenes storyline focusing on the puppeteers and their personalities and relationships. Among others, Jim hoped to use performer Fred Newman as a central figure. While Jim never staged this show, it was clearly the genesis of the idea for his 1987 television pilot, Puppetman, which starred Fred Newman.

For more information about the Broadway Show, see journal entry for March 7, 1973.

For more information about Puppetman, see journal entry from March 1987.

Jim’s idea for Gawky Birds for the live stage, early 1970s.

Birds from Jim’s pitch for a Broadway Show, 1972.

Brian Froud’s character designs for Bodo, 1981.

Brian Froud’s character designs for Bodo, 1981.

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

Topics: 06-June '81, 1981, Muppet Show | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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6/16/1971 – ‘Opening night Nancy Sinatra – Hilton International’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

During June and July 1971, the Muppets were featured performers in Nancy Sinatra’s nightclub act at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. With the almost over-night success of Sesame Street, audiences saw the Muppets as being mostly for children. The Vegas show offered Jim an opportunity to perform for adults and remind them of his characters’ wide appeal. When questioned why, after being such a hit with Sesame Street, he would play a casino, Jim responded, “I don’t particularly like people to think that is all we do. We have always worked in the realm of adults. Maybe that’s why we are here.”

The live show also allowed Jim to experiment with puppetry techniques for the stage, creating new characters and reusing his full body characters and other comic bits that had been originally performed in other settings. “We tried to put together material we thought would work in terms of large movement and color,” he explained. While education was the ultimate goal of Sesame Street, Jim said of this show, “There is that whole feeling of brotherhood and kindness and gentleness beneath it all, but the idea here is basically to entertain.”

The Muppets (performed by Jim with Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz and John Lovelady) shared the stage with Nancy, her brother Frank, Jr., Hugh Lambert, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the International Hotel Orchestra led by Billy Strange. The show started with “Mahna Mahna” and Jim’s abstract creatures performed “Buggy Mugger” and “Big Boss Man”. The oversized Thog sang a duet with Nancy, “Fortuosity”, and a Brotherhood of Frogs performed “When The Frogs Go Marching In”. Pieces for a television version of the show, Movin’ with Nancy, were taped in Los Angeles that August, but the show never aired. The live show, however, was a hit – television writer Joe Delaney said, in speaking about Nancy’s husband and producer, “[Hugh] Lambert’s real stroke of casting genius was to include the TV-famous Muppets on the bill. What a thorough joy they are.”

Jim’s sketch for Buggy Mugger characters, c. 1971.

Jim’s staging plan for Mahna Mahna with Nancy Sinatra, 1971.

Nancy Sinatra and Thog in the Raleigh Times, June 22, 1971.

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

Topics: 06-June '71, 1971, Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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6/–/1960 – ‘Vacation – first trip to Calif. – Disneyland – animation equipment.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

After a busy first year of marriage that included the daily Sam and Friends show, a myriad of commercials, the birth of their first child, and Jim’s graduation from the University of Maryland, the Hensons were ready for a vacation. A huge Disney fan, Jim was excited to finally visit the theme park in Anaheim that had opened five years previously. Intrigued by the possibilities presented by the art of animation and, perhaps, inspired by the work represented at Disneyland, Jim bought an animation stand and related equipment that month to try his hand at a medium beyond puppets. In his Bethesda, MD home workshop, he set up the gear, attaching his Bolex 16-mm camera to the stand, and immediately started to experiment on film.

Along with Walt Disney, Jim looked at the work of John Hubley, an early Disney animator and creator of Mr. Magoo. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Hubley was making experimental films using watercolor on wax, spraying cells, and other techniques. Jim also took particular interest in the work of Scottish/Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren who had pioneered the technique of painting directly on film stock. McLaren’s work tried to demonstrate the abstractions he visualized as he listened to music. Many of Jim’s animation experiments from the early 1960s took a similar direction, using visuals to describe the aural and vice versa. While many of these film experiments were more for his personal satisfaction than for commercial use, Jim’s animated overlays for his “Visual Thinking” piece with Kermit and Harry was used on Sam and Friends and later Ed Sullivan. He tried moving cut paper under the camera and found it made a nice bridge between the action sequences in his film Time Piece. And Jim eventually made a variety of stop-motion, paint-under-camera, and computer animated films to teach counting on Sesame Street.

See Jim’s early 1960s animated piece Cat and Mouse with music by Chico Hamilton.

For an example of Jim’s stop motion work, see the #12 Rocks film created for Sesame Street in 1970. It won a Best Animated Film award at the First World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1972.

Here you can watch silent archival footage of Jim at his animation stand around 1961.

Cut paper animated sequence from Time Piece, 1964.


Jim’s notebook for charting the animation sequences in Time Piece, 1964.


Storyboard panel for Jim’s computer generated animated film for Sesame Street, 1970.


Jim making his stop-motion animated film #12 Rocks for Sesame Street, 1970.

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

Topics: 06-June '60, 1960, Family, Sam_and_Friends, Sesame Street, Time Piece | Tagged , , , , , , ,
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6/11/1973 – ‘Dave Goelz begins with us.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

When Dave Goelz (best known for his character Gonzo) first came to work for Jim in New York, it was as a designer and puppet builder rather than as a performer. He helped create puppets for numerous productions and was particularly involved in the development of characters for Jim’s unrealized Broadway Show. He drew from his experience as an industrial designer to create both the look and the mechanisms that made the Muppet characters so expressive. His abilities in this area helped his performance in unforeseen ways – after performing Gonzo for a while using a character recycled from the 1970 special, The Great Santa Claus Switch, Dave rebuilt him, creating an eye mechanism that allowed them to open and close. With this improvement, Dave was better able to express Gonzo’s surprise and excitement, further developing his character. Dave built Zoot, Floyd, and other Muppet Show characters, but as his enormous skills as a performer became apparent during those years, he spent fewer hours in the workshop. He made important contributions as a puppeteer on Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and particularly Fraggle Rock and continues with Gonzo today, most recently in The Muppets Most Wanted.

Dave Goelz’s bird design for Jim’s unrealized Broadway Show, 1973.

Dave Goelz’s bird design for Jim’s unrealized Broadway Show, 1973.

Dave Goelz’s puppet design for Mirinda commercial, 1975.

Dave Goelz’s character design for Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas, 1976.

DaveGoelz working in the Henson workshop, 1976.

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

Topics: 06-June '73, 1973, Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, Muppet Show | Tagged , , , ,
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6/7/1965 – ‘The Life and Times of The Muppets As documented by Jim Henson and begun this 7th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1965.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

On hiatus from The Jimmy Dean Show and shortly after screening Time Piece for the first time, Jim decided to document what he had done thus far, starting a regular record of his life and work moving forward. In a small cloth-covered blank book, he noted professional activities and personal highlights. His hectic schedule was slightly lighter heading into those summer months, perhaps giving him a little more time at home to enjoy his recently born fourth child, John Paul, and his new Great Dane puppy, Troy, and to go back through his calendars and desk diaries to make the entries in his red book. Given how Jim’s work had expanded from a little local show to national television appearances, television commercials, and experimental film work, it was time to take stock, see where he had been, and get a sense for what he wanted in the future. It was also a way to organize all the information and memories in his brain, freeing him to fill it with new ideas and inspirations.

While Jim tried to get a measure of control over his wide-ranging activities by setting them down on paper, he was developing an idea called “The Organized Brain”. Intrigued by thought processes and the source of ideas, Jim wanted to somehow visualize these on film. One of his earliest efforts was a combination puppetry and film presentation that aired on The Mike Douglas Show during a week in July 1966. It starred Limbo, a character created around 1960 consisting of foam rubber eyes and mouth that seemed to float in the air while manipulated with strings from below. Limbo was superimposed over a film of plumbing, strings, smoke and photographic images meant to evoke the inner-workings of the mind. Jim, speaking for Limbo and accompanied by electronic music by Raymond Scott, described how he had his thoughts filed away – as you might imagine, it was pretty crowded in there! By 1988 when Jim made his last entries in the “red book” journal that he started back in 1965, it was pretty crowded, too, filled with a lifetime of memories that merited organizing for reference and reflection.

One version of Jim’s exploration of the thought process called “Idea Man” can be seen here.

The title page from Jim’s Red Book journal, 1965.

Entries from 1974 and 1975 in Jim’s Red Book.

Limbo puppet (aka Nobody), 1960s.

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

Topics: 06-June '65, 1965 | Tagged , , , , , , , ,
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