4/–/1968 – ‘Made 3 Coffee Breaks for IBM 100% Club.’

Topics: 04-April '68, 1968, Commercials | Tagged ,
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4/3/1974 – ‘TODAY Show – Bert as Gene Shalit.’

By the fifth season of Sesame Street, the characters from the show were well known around the country and welcomed guests on the television networks. Ernie and Bert (Jim Henson and Frank Oz) did a bit on The Today Show with one of the regular hosts, Gene Shalit. The conceit was that Bert was joining the show as a new interviewer and Gene would give him some tips. They began with Ernie’s suggestion that Bert disguise himself so that he is not bothered on the street after the show. Ernie explained, “Look at Gene Shalit over there. You don’t think he really looks like that do you?” So, Bert added a Gene Shalit-like moustache and began to interview Ernie who was completely uncooperative. Ernie answered Gene’s questions charmingly, but wouldn’t answer more than “Yes” or “No” to Bert. Finally Bert quit in disgust.

Three years later, Shalit hosted a special featuring another Muppet dressed to look like him. According to the press materials, “Shalit is to host an adult ‘look’ at Sesame Street in a Festival ’77 special for PBS. The 30-minute special, Sesame Street at Night? takes its theme from a critic’s remark when TV’s most popular children’s series began eight years ago – ‘It’s too good for kids.’ The 1,000th hour of Sesame Street is to be broadcast on Friday, March 11.”

Gene Shalit of The Today Show, early 1970s.

Bonnie Erickson’s design for converting Bert into Gene Shalit.

Jim’s script for the Today Show appearance with Bert as Gene Shalit.

Another Gene Shalit Muppet for Sesame Street at Night?, 1977.

Topics: 04-April '74, 1974, Sesame Street | Tagged , , , ,
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4/2/1965 – ‘Paar Show – Robot.’

Jim and his colleagues were comfortable at the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center having made numerous appearances on The Steve Allen Show, The Tonight Show, and The Today Show. They were guests several times on Jack Paar’s primetime variety show, The Jack Paar Program, and during an appearance in 1964, they left a permanent record – Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl and Don Sahlin decorated a closetful of pipes with paint and fur – the “Muppet Pipes” are now part of the NBC tour.

Several months later, in April 1964, Jim and his team went back to NBC to do another appearance on Jack Paar’s program. This time, they brought their blinking and beeping robot to perform and did a comedy routine that commented on the fallibility of machines and our hopes for the electronic age. Jim had used versions of this robot before for a trade show in Germany and an AT&T seminar. Since the routines required that the robot self-destruct, Jim had to rebuild him several times. Clearly, Jim and his collaborator Jerry Juhl felt a certain affection for this overconfident and underperforming machine.

Learn more about the previous Paar appearance and the Muppet pipes at NBC.

Jim used variations on this robot for several appearances, including on The Jack Paar Program. See how he was used for AT&T.

Jim and Jerry Juhl repairing their robot, mid-1960s.

Topics: 04-April '65, 1965, Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
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4/–/1978 – ‘Sesame Street begins talking about Theme Park.’

As far back to his first trip to Disneyland in 1960, Jim recognized the ability of theme parks to bring characters to life in an incredibly powerful way. The possibility for interaction created a huge range of potential activities to reach children, and Jim imagined his creations in that sort of setting. In 1978, Jim and his Sesame Street colleagues began to think about a new kind of theme park, not on the scale of Disney’s nor with the same commercial intent, but a sort of over-the-top playground featuring the denizens of Sesame Street. It would promote fun exercise and healthy eating, inquisitive learning and stretching the imagination – a place where visitors could meet their friends from the show and expand on what they had learned from it. Development started in earnest the following year, and Sesame Place opened outside Philadelphia in 1980.

Over the years, Sesame Place has evolved. Things that did not work were closed and other areas, like Twiddlebug Land, were developed. The biggest change was the incorporation of a dedicated section for water rides and activities, creating a hybrid Play Park-Water Park that continues to welcome visitors every April.

See what’s going on at Sesame Place today.

Learn more about Sesame Place.

The entrance to Sesame Place, early 1980s.

Sesame Place in the early 1980s.

Cheryl Henson (right) and Laurent Linn (left) and an oversized Twiddlebug (center) at the opening of Twiddlebug Land in 1993.

Topics: 04-April '78, 1978, Sesame Street | Tagged , , , ,
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3/31/1959 – ‘N.Y. art directors award.’

Jim’s television commercials, first created in 1957 for the Wilkins Coffee Company of Washington, DC, were extremely popular, receiving mentions in the press and accolades from various organizations. Jim received a certificate of appreciation from the American Association of University Women in 1958. The following year, he received a Gold Medal at the Art Directors Show of Metropolitan Washington, in the Design of A Complete Unit (Television Art) category. Jim also received awards for the Wilkins commercials from the Baltimore Art Directors Club and at the American TV Commercials festival.

Jim’s commercials received recognition in some unexpected places. In 1959, Senator John Marshall Butler (Republican from Maryland) made an impassioned speech about the poor quality of television and advertising. He complained about violence and called most programs, “…just plain trash.” He continued, “As to advertising, it insults the intelligence of the viewer. It is geared to know-nothings. As far as I am concerned, if I hear ‘a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste’, I promptly change the channel. About the only clever advertising on the air today is ‘Wilkins and Wontkins’. It pleases rather than irritates television audiences and I am happy to learn that this series is bringing increased sales to its sponsor.”

Learn more about Jim’s coffee commercials.

See some examples of Jim’s Wilkins Coffee commercials.

Editorial cartoon related to Senator Butler’s speech. Baltimore Sun, Feb. 21, 1959.

Topics: Commercials | Tagged , , , , , , ,
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