11/27/1975 – ‘Thanksgiving Float.’

The 1975 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marked the second appearance of a Sesame Street float as part of this much beloved New York tradition. The Muppets from Sesame Street continue to join the spectacle each year on a float joined by the human cast and often in the form of giant balloons. Read about Jim’s enthusiastic participation in Macy’s annual parade here and here.

Advertisement for the 1978 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The Kermit balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Topics: 11-November '75, 1975, Appearances | Tagged

11/26/1986 – ‘Heather and I go to Germany – Promote Labyrinth’

Labyrinth opened in the US on June 27th, 1986. It would be almost six months before the film appeared in theaters across the Atlantic. After some production work and development on IN-TV, the precursor to what would become The Jim Henson Hour, Jim headed to Germany in late November to promote the release of Labyrinth. As was often the case, Jim traveled with one of his five children, in this case the youngest, the almost-sixteen-year-old Heather. After press appearances there, they headed to London for the royal premiere. By the week before Christmas, they were back at home, and the family headed up to Stratton Mountain in Vermont for a few days of skiing.

Jim and Heather Henson, 1980s.

Topics: 11-November '86, 1986, Labyrinth | Tagged , , , , , ,

11/18/1965 – ‘Dean Show in Carnegie Hall’

As a television and country music personality from Washington, DC, Jimmy Dean was well aware of Jim and his Muppets when he premiered his ABC prime time variety show in September, 1963. He invited Jim to be part of his second episode which was taped that August 29th. Jim (with Jerry Juhl and his new recruit Frank Oz) started with his piece “Cool Jazz,” an abstract bit featuring gloved hands dancing to music. Afterwards, Dean shook each of the four hands and then introduced his “Old Buddy” Rowlf for the first time. Bantering and making bad dog puns, the two introduced the Willis Sisters who sang “Moon River” with Rowlf to thunderous applause. Rowlf was not meant to be a regular, but appearing again, Dean told his audience, “Last week, we had an old hound dog buddy of mine with us…and he turned out to be the hit of the show. We’ve had all kinds of people asking us to have him back again…so what else can I say except…here’s Rowlf!”

Through the spring of 1966, Rowlf made weekly appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show and that summer, he toured with Dean to live appearances at various locations around the country. Over those three years, Jim had the opportunity to fully develop a character and create a believable relationship between a puppet and a real person. He also established his most important performing partnership with Frank Oz who performed Rowlf’s right paw while Jim performed the head, left paw and voice. They learned each others rhythms and performing styles, laying the groundwork for such seamless collaborations as Ernie and Bert, Kermit and Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef. It was educational for all — Jerry Juhl sat in with the seasoned comedy writers on the show, and by the end of the run, was contributing much of Rowlf’s material and had a good understanding of writing for network television.

The show that Jim taped on November 18th, 1965 was one of several recorded outside the studio. Together, Dean and Rowlf played the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana State Fair and did a show in Miami. Playing Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra, however, was a big deal and required some sophistication. Wearing white tie, Rowlf joined Dean on stage, carrying his violin and offering up his rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” (actually played by the orchestra’s violin soloist). Rowlf’s enthusiastic fiddling to Dean’s frantic conducting reached a furious pace and ended in a dramatic upsweep, with Rowlf launching the bow into the air. It was a triumphant moment among many – Rowlf’s popularity with Dean opened doors to the first Muppet toys (plush Rowlf and Kermit puppets in 1966), a spokes-dog job at IBM, and a hosting job on a 1967 summer variety show, Our Place.

Jimmy Dean and his old hound dog buddy Rowlf.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Pages from Jim’s Carnegie Hall Jimmy Dean Show script.

Rowlf with Frank Oz and Jim.

Jim and Rowlf get top billing in this Jimmy Dean Show press clipping.

Topics: Appearances | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11/8-11/1971 – ‘Go to Chicago to Silvestri. See flocking’

In the 1960s, Jim’s innovative use of fleece-covered foam for his puppets captured light well, enhancing the way they looked on television. His discovery, in the early 1970s, of the effectiveness of flocked foam on the screen started his builders (Don Sahlin, Bonnie Erickson, Caroly Wilcox and John Lovelady) in a new direction. Now Jim’s puppets could be fleece covered, fur covered or flocked, providing greater variety in their appearance. The flocked surface worked for a wide range of expressive faces and is largely responsible for the soft, glamorous love affair between the flock-covered Miss Piggy and the camera.

In the spring of 1971, Jim took his team up to Middletown, NY to see Otto Heinbach at his DeKor Flocking Company. Jim acquired a flocking machine, and they started experimenting with it, covering pieces of carved foam with flocking glue and sending an electric charge through them to attract the tiny fibers that would create a soft surface. The first flocked puppet was a drummer/maestro character created by Erickson for Jim’s live appearance with Nancy Sinatra in Las Vegas that summer. Continuing his research into the method, Jim flew out to Chicago that November to look at the flocked figures created by the Silvestri Art Company, known for extravagant holiday displays in department stores and other public places. By the start of the new year, Jim’s team was making flocked heads for his Muppet Musicians of Bremen special and in the fall, the Country Trio (caricature puppets of Jim, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson) all appeared with flocked faces. As John Lovelady wrote in a letter to Otto Heinbach in 1973, “We have had a delightful time with your machine!”

Jim’s sketch of the flocked drummer puppet for the Nancy Sinatra stage show in Las Vegas, 1971.

Bonnie Erickson and Caroly Wilcox flocking hands for The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, 1972. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Erickson

Topics: 11-November '71, 1971 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11/–/1982 – ‘Looking at different computer graphics.’

With The Dark Crystal ready for its December premiere, Jim spent some time in November 1982 between promotional obligations getting up to speed on developments in the world of computer graphics. Jim was rubbing elbows with various people making advances in the field of special effects, like George Lucas and Dick Smith, and digital possibilities were the next frontier. He was excited about computers in general and was exploring a concept for a television special with a focus on demystifying computers for the general public. But it was the sophisticated hardware and software for digital animation, not the home computer, that Jim felt could have a real impact on his ability to translate his creative vision to the screen.

Jim started development of a series, Starboppers, with sophisticated themes relating to children’s emotional development and examination of their inner lives. Being able to address these types of ideas in a show aimed at young audiences was important to Jim, but perhaps more exciting to him were the technological possibilities for the show. He envisioned 3-D fleece and foam puppet characters appearing, for the first time, in a digitally rendered set. Performing on blue-screen, the Starboppers would move about in a virtual spaceship, and the images would be married on screen. While the show didn’t happen, Jim did use computer animation for the owl at the opening of Labyrinth and worked with CG designer Tom Barham on the animated opening sequence for The Jim Henson Hour later in the decade.

Learn about Jim’s explorations in the area of computer graphics.

In the early years, Jim’s machine and computer characters tended to be well meaning but totally incompetent. By the 1980s, they got more respect as evidenced by this character idea for Muppet Voyager in 1988.

Topics: 11-November '82, 1982, Dark Crystal | Tagged , , , , ,