10/22/1965 – ‘Tape Cinderella pilot’

When Jon Stone, who would go on to co-create Sesame Street, left his job with Captain Kangaroo in 1963, it was to develop scripts with his writing partner Tom Whedon in hopes of selling a hit television show. In the summer of 1965, Stone and Whedon sold an idea to CBS for a half-hour Saturday morning show based on Snow White. CBS commissioned a script but then passed on producing the show. Stone and Whedon then went to ABC who liked the overall concept, but wanted them to change the story to Cinderella’s. That did the trick and pre-production was underway. The overall concept, remembered Stone thirty years later, was that, “…you’d tell a little of the Cinderella story, and end each week with something [happening] that couldn’t possibly happen if you knew the story” – like the prince accidentally crushing the glass slipper instead of finding it. The episode would end with a cliffhanger, picking up with a little more of the story’s action the following week. Once Cinderella’s exploits were exhausted, other fairytale characters would be integrated into the storyline.

Stone and Whedon had seen the Muppets on The Tonight Show and other variety shows and knew Jim’s work. Stone called up Jim and arranged a meeting. “We hit it off right away,” Stone remembered, and Jim signed on to create the characters and perform in the show. The pilot was videotaped in black and white at the ABC studios in New York. Bob Schwarz directed, and the characters designed by Jim, including the oversized Splurge, were performed by Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, and a puppeteer from Ohio named George Latshaw. A young Harvard grad, Joe Raposo, provided the music, making this the first time he collaborated with Jim and Jon Stone.

ABC passed on the series, but Jim kept the idea in mind as he tried to sell his ideas for television specials. In 1968, he made Hey Cinderella! which combined ideas from his collaboration with Stone and Whedon with those from his earlier work on Tales of the Tinkerdee. Jon Stone stayed involved, performing as one of the humans in the special, but was not a producer or writer on the show. That year, Jon also collaborated on Jim’s NBC Experiment in Television Youth ’68, serving as director, and introduced Jim to the team developing Sesame Street.

The King designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

The Black Duke designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

General Babbit designed for Cinderella by Jim, 1965.

A quick bite during Youth ’68 production. The bearded men are, left to right, Jerry Juhl, Jon Stone, and Jim Henson, 1968.

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

Topics: 10-October '65, 1965, Hey Cinderella, Tales of The Tinkerdee | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

10/–/1983 – ‘Begin Judy McKie on dining room table.’

When Jim bought his apartment at the Sherry-Netherland building on Fifth Avenue, he took great care in choosing the furnishings. In many cases, he commissioned craft artisans to create unique pieces. One of these was an enchanting dining room table by Judy McKie with carved vines for legs. The hand-carved chairs to go with it featured animals crawling up the legs or peeking over the backs. Her use of animal life appealed to Jim, and in an interview for Metropolitan Home magazine, he remarked, “I love her sense of humor.”

Learn more about Jim’s apartment at the Sherry-Netherland.

Jim’s apartment in the Sherry-Netherland. The Judy McKie table can be seen to the right. Photo by Thomas Hooper.

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

Topics: 10-October '83, 1983 | Tagged

10/14-15/1970 – ‘Shoot #8’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Jim’s second series of counting films for Sesame Street, made mostly in 1970, used a variety of film and animation techniques. For The Queen of 6, The King of 8 and the Number 12 Rocks films, the characters (and rocks) were brought to life through stop-motion animation. Puppet builder Don Sahlin had worked with George Pal and others on stop-motion projects and was able to bring his in-depth knowledge of the process to these productions.

Jim designed the Queen, the King and the related characters which Don transformed into three-dimensions. Using a variety of materials (the eight Princesses were made from small toy bowling pins and balls), Don interpreted Jim’s quick sketches and created a mini royal community to tell their brief stories. For both The Queen of 6 and The King of 8, Jim wrote humorous rap-like songs – the Queen’s spoken by a narrator, and the King (voiced by Jim) telling most of his tale himself. Elaborate sets were built, and Jim hand-painted the large castle with windows that opened to reveal the eight Princesses. He was building doll houses for his daughters at that time so his miniature abode-building skills were sharp. While the Queen’s story ended with her six kittens tucked neatly into bed, the King’s ending had a twist – much to his chagrin, the King of 8 became the father of a ninth Princess. Clearly, Jim wanted a comic ending and created storyboards for several versions. He must have chosen the right one – the film holds up today and still elicits a big laugh.

See The Queen of 6 and The King of 8 come to life.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard panels for The Queen of 6, 1970.

Jim on set of The King of 8, 1970.

A Princess of 8 being prepared for an exhibit.

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

Topics: 10-October '70, 1970, Sesame Street | Tagged

10/9/1966 – ‘Shooting “Cyclia” footage – Gabi.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Jim’s initial creative efforts for his unrealized Cyclia nightclub project focused on the filmed images he wanted to couple with music tracks. He and his team went and shot hours of footage that he imagined would be projected on ceilings and walls and even body-suit clad go-go girls, timed to the music. At first, Jim looked at existing structures and locations and tried to squeeze his vision into those spaces. As things progressed, his ideas became more expansive to include all aspects of the club, and Jim came up with ideas for a variety of shaped structures, furniture, and entertainment systems, without limiting them to what was necessarily practical or even possible.

Jim contacted lighting and sound experts including the Lumadellic Experience lighting company in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His associate at the time, Barry Clark, wrote to them that, “We have been thinking of a Technimation-process floor, using rotating polarized discs below a thick plexiglass layer to create an animated effect keyed to music tempo and mood.” This inspired some innovative thinking, and Morgan Rockhill at Lumadellic responded, “I’ve done some deep thinking in relation to your question regarding the possibility of recording the lighting data program adjacent to the musical sound track on a magnetic tape system. I have not only discovered that it is possible, but also that it is extremely practical and far more economical than the data storage system I had previously conceived!”

In 1967, Jim looked at real estate in New York, and came close to signing a contract for two adjacent buildings on East 78th Street. By the following year, he was scouting locations in Los Angeles and promoting the idea to backers as having venues on both coasts. A building on Santa Monica Boulevard was of interest, and in New York he pursued several properties on the east side. As his vision expanded to giant geodesic domes, Jim made inquiries about a vacant lot on Second Avenue that now houses the base of the Roosevelt Island Tram. In an empty space like that, there were practically no design limitations. By 1970, however, the Cyclia Corporation was dissolved, and Jim’s energies went into Sesame Street and his quest for a Muppet series.

For more information on Cyclia, see the entry for July 1967.

See samples of Cyclia footage here and here.

Blue prints for a potential Cyclia location on East 78th Street.

Barry Clark’s sketch of a possible Cyclia location on Madison Avenue.

A possible look for a Los Angeles Cyclia location.

Projection plan for Cyclia.

A geodesic dome brochure from Jim’s Cyclia file.

Dome inspirations from Jim’s Cyclia file.

Jim’s interior plan for a circular nightclub, 1967.

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

Topics: 10-October '66, 1966, Appearances | Tagged ,

10/6/1986 “VTR The Christmas Toy in Toronto”

Inspired by the success of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas and earlier attempts to create Muppet holiday specials (like a Halloween special or even an “Income Tax Day” special,) Jim produced two charming shows in 1986: The Tale of The Bunny Picnic and The Christmas Toy. During a period when Jim was actively pursuing projects that could utilize the latest in computer graphics and digital technologies, these two specials were purposefully old fashioned puppet productions (although Henson puppets are never as simple as they might look).

The Tale of The Bunny Picnic, combining elements of Beatrix Potter and the can-do spirit of Fraggle Rock, was populated by cute bunnies and the requisite Muppet dog. Capturing the joy of Henson picnics on the Hampstead Heath, Jocelyn Stevenson’s story coupled with Diane Dawson-Hearn’s visuals was well received on television and translated into an appealing picture book. The interminably cute star, Bean Bunny, became a regular Muppet ensemble player.

The Christmas Toy, written by Labyrinth contributor Laura Phillips, also featured a new group of characters – an array of toys that come to life in a playroom when the household’s children, Jamie and Jesse Jones, are not around. The classic tale (almost a decade before Pixar’s Toy Story release) focused on friendship, the meaning of Christmas and how new toys would impact the group dynamic. Rugby the Tiger (performed by Dave Goelz) sets things in motion with a misguided plan that required the intervention of the other toys to make things right. The core Fraggle crew, Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Kathy Mullen, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson performed with younger puppeteers, Camille Bonora, Brian Henson, Rob Mills and Nikki Tilroe, and Jim performed Kermit to introduce the story.

Airing on ABC on December 6, 1986, The Christmas Toy got generally good reviews. Variety described the new characters as, “…refreshingly varied and sophisticated,” and the story as, “…surprisingly effective.” In USA Today, Matt Roush called the show, “…an inventive and engaging treat.” Given the abundance of holiday specials on TV (Newsweek listed almost 50 programs airing that season,) just getting reviewed was an impressive feat. In interviews, Jim noted that he was inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit and The Nutcracker to try to create a whole new group of characters based on toys that come to life. He would have been pleased that a variation on this group formed the core cast of a new series produced by Brian Henson in 1994, The Secret Life of Toys.

See the Christmas Toys in action.

Jim and his colleagues enjoyed what they called “bunny picnics” on the Hampstead Heath in London.

Diane Dawson-Hearn’s designs for The Tale of The Bunny Picnic, 1985.

The performers shooting The Christmas Toy, 1986.

Characters from The Christmas Toy in the playroom set, 1986.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books on October 31, 2012.

Topics: 10-October '86, 1986, Christmas Toy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,