8/–/1976 – ‘Weekend trip with Lisa and Brian to Paris. Visit Philippe Genty.’

While taping the first season of The Muppet Show, Jim took a weekend between the Sandy Duncan and Candice Bergen episodes to travel to Paris with his children Lisa and Brian. While there, they visited with French puppeteer Philippe Genty whom Jim probably knew through his involvement with UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. Like Jim, Genty took great pains to explore all types of puppetry and, in the 1960s under the auspices of UNESCO, Genty spent four years visiting puppeteers around the world and made a related film. For his efforts, he was awarded the “Prize for Originality” at the International Festival in Bucherest. His group has performed for the last 35 years around the globe. An remarkably inventive puppeteer, Genty uses all types of puppetry, calling it “the theater of animation”. He incorporates mime, dance, live actors, surprising use of fabric and stage sets, and imaginative lighting. While many puppet companies work in this fashion today, Genty was a pioneer in the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, Jim decided to produce a series of six television programs highlighting the work of master puppeteers from around the world. It’s no surprise that Jim would choose Philippe Genty as one of the six, shooting his episode in January 1985. What excited Jim, he said in the program, was “Philippe’s work with abstract shapes. The results are very pure. Very poetic. Because, here, more than ever, the puppets are symbols on which the audience can place their own interpretations.”

Jim and Genty clearly felt a connection and became friends, sharing ideas through the mail. Genty wrote to Jim shortly after the taping, “You mentioned it is important to work with people you like and you feel at ease with. I do hope we have other opportunities for collaboration.” When they were together, they had discussed Genty’s idea for a feature film, and he sent Jim a script called Precipice. Jim shared it with Lisa who not only knew Genty from their 1976 visit but was, by 1985, a director of creative affairs at Warner Bros. The story, a thriller, focused on a puppeteer and his skills at manipulation, and Lisa provided thoughtful commentary which Jim passed on to Genty. The two men continued their correspondence and friendship in the ensuing years.

Learn more about Philippe Genty and Jim Henson Presents The World of Puppetry.

See a clip from Jim Henson Presents Philippe Genty.

Philippe Genty performs a marionette.

Philippe Genty in Jim Henson Presents The World of Puppetry.

Topics: 08-August '76, 1976, Family | Tagged , , , , , , ,

8/4/1980 – ‘Debbie Harry (MS)’

Topics: 08-August '80, 1980, Muppet Show | Tagged

8/2-5/1970 – ‘To L.A. set up Flip Wilson taping.’

Jim’s August 1970 trip to Los Angeles was to sit in on the planning and rehearsals for Flip Wilson’s variety show, Flip, scheduled to tape at the end of that week and air on October 15th. Caroll Spinney came out to perform Big Bird and Oscar accompanied by the Muppet builder and handler Kermit Love. While Jim went back to New York once everything was in place, Spinney and Love stayed on an additional week to tape a second appearance that would air as the show’s premiere on September 17th.

The Muppets were guests twice more on Flip. For the November 11th, 1971 show, they performed their popular “Java” piece featuring abstract dryer-hose characters dancing to the jazz composition of the same name made popular by trumpeter Al Hirt. Taped the month before, Kermit also chatted with Diahann Carroll, soliciting a kiss, and they did a piece with Flip and Dom DeLuise that Jim described in his journal as “Frank’s drunk” referring to a character performed by Frank Oz named Marcus Welby who had a bad case of hiccups. The show ended with Jim and Frank performing two blank faced Anything Muppets. Bantering with them, Wilson charmingly gave them eyes, eyebrows, and other facial features. Once everything was in place, the trio joyfully sang “Consider Yourself” from the musical Oliver!

The Muppets appeared the following year, taping the 1972 premiere episode in August for a September 14th air date. They did a Dancing Frog bit, a Ballroom bit and an Ernie and Bert song “Clink Clank”. While the reviews were somewhat tepid, Jim must have been pleased when Variety referenced Burr Tillstom’s work when talking about Jim’s. After praising the contributions of Pearl Bailey and Jack Benny when talking about the high points of the show, Variety said, “…and Jim Henson’s Muppets were right in there with the Kuklapolitans for fey humor.”

Learn more about the 1970 Muppet appearances on Flip Wilson’s show.

Flip Wilson with Frank Oz’s character Marcus Welby on Flip, November 11, 1971.

There were plenty of frogs available for appearances left over from Jim’s 1971 television special, The Frog Prince.

Topics: 08-August '70, 1970, Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8/2/1974 – ‘Film Heather for end of Ball Film.’

Along with the Muppet inserts for Sesame Street, during the first few years, Jim had the opportunity to create short films to teach counting, the alphabet and other concepts. He used a variety of techniques including live-action, stop-motion animation, and Claymation. Most of the films grew out of Jim’s concepts, and he led the creative work. A few were produced with other artists – two animated films were created with Maurice Sendak and some alphabet films in Claymation were collaborations with Marc Chinoy, for example. In the case of a film for the Number 3, Jim followed the lead of his performing partner Frank Oz. In the film, a ball rolls through an intricate metal sculpture designed and fabricated by Oz. The ball periodically trips levers, causing signs to pop up showing the numbers 1, 2, and 3, which are counted by a young child. The accompanying music, sounding something like a tune from a calliope, was composed by Jim.

The original version of Oz’s Number Three film (filmed in late 1970) ends with the ball falling into a box. A key is turned, like on a gumball machine, but instead of the ball coming out the spout at the bottom, it has apparently been ground up and a red powder is released. In 1974, in recognition that some young viewers may have been uncomfortable with the ball’s destruction, a second version of the ending was filmed. Instead of powder coming out of the spout, three balls roll out seemingly transformed into cherries, landing on piles of whipped cream atop three ice cream sundaes. A little girl (three and a half year-old Heather Henson) reaches in with a spoon, and with a delighted expression, eats one of the cherries. Truly a happy ending!

See Frank Oz’s “Number Three” film with Heather Henson.

Frank Oz’s ideas for his “Number Three” Sesame Street counting film, 1970.

Frank Oz building the sculptural track for his “Number Three” Sesame Street counting film, 1970.

Frank Oz building the sculptural track for his “Number Three” Sesame Street counting film, 1970.

Topics: 08-August '74, 1974, Sesame Street | Tagged , , , ,

8/1-6/1960 – ‘P. of A. Festival – Detroit.’

By 1960, Jim had already been working with puppets for five years, and through his daily show, commercial work and network variety show appearances, his work was both on local Washington airwaves and on TV screens around the country. He and his wife Jane recognized that there was much that could be learned by being engaged with the national puppetry community and decided to attend their first Puppeteers of America festival in August that year. With three month old Lisa in tow, the Hensons drove out to Detroit in their used Rolls Royce Silver Cloud that Jim had bought in celebration of his graduation from the University of Maryland that June. The festival was held at the Detroit Institute of Arts which holds an impressive puppetry collection (including Kermit the Frog, donated by Jim in the 1970s.)

Notes in Jim’s program indicate his interest in several performances, and he jotted down the title of a recommended book, Puppet Theatre Production and Manipulation by Miles Lee. Perhaps the most important part of this festival was the people that Jim encountered there. Burr Tillstrom, creator of television’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie, befriended Jim and Jane there – a thrilling moment for Jim who looked at Tillstrom as the most important puppeteer on television. He met Tillstrom’s colleague, puppet builder Don Sahlin, who Jim would recruit for The Muppets two years later. And in the front cover of his program, Margo Rose noted the contact information for her and her husband Rufus, best known as the puppeteers of Howdy Doody and his friends. The Roses would become close friends of the Hensons, and they would share happy times together over the next two decades.

Learn more about Burr Tillstrom and Don Sahlin.

Jim with his Rolls Royce on his graduation day, 1960.

Cover of the 1960 Puppeteers of American festival program.

Event listings in the 1960 Puppeteers of American festival program with Jim’s annotations.

Topics: 08-August '60, 1960, Appearances, Family, Social | Tagged , , , , , , , ,