Jim first encountered pioneering producer Diana Birkenfield in 1963 behind the scenes at The Jimmy Dean Show. She worked with him off and on over the years, providing professional support on many productions, even though they didn’t always see eye to eye. Diana was outspoken and did not hesitate to tell Jim when she thought that the path he was following was flawed. Jim respected her immensely and took her contributions seriously. They were friends, too, and he cared about her personally, even noting when she was hospitalized in 1973 in his journal. But sometimes Jim and Diana needed a break. After close to a decade of collaboration and the successful airing of The Muppet Valentine Show in 1974, Diana left Jim’s employment to work on outside projects.
Given her producing talent, it’s not surprising that toward the end of 1981, Jim asked Diana to rejoin Henson Associates. Things were getting underway to start production on Fraggle Rock and Jim needed a seasoned producer who understood working with puppets to set up and oversee the shoot which would start the following March. She was executive in charge of production for the series and had her hand in just about every Muppet production for the rest of the 1980s. Her retirement, to move home to Pittsburgh to care for her ailing mother, coincided with Jim’s passing in 1990.