6/7/1982 – ‘Kermit the F. lectures at Harvard then fly to London- mix D.C.’

When the graduation season is in full swing, colleges seek interesting and entertaining speakers for the various events celebrating their students. Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter, was a visible member of the Harvard class of 1982 (finishing up her degree in 1983 after taking time off to work with her dad) and served as an prominent editor of The Harvard Lampoon (other Lampoon alum that worked with Jim include Michael Frith and Chris Cerf.) When it came time for Lisa’s class to graduate, it’s no surprise that Kermit the Frog was asked to speak.

Kermit did not present the commencement speech (that ceremony featured words from John Kenneth Galbraith, Mother Theresa and John Finely), but he shared his wisdom with a smaller audience in Sanders Hall, a historic theater in Memorial Hall, a day or two before. Lisa outlined his speech, and then she, Jim and her fellow Lampoon member Jay Itzkowitz penned Kermit’s words. It must have been raining heavily that day – Kermit noted, “This is great weather for frogs. I just now swam over here from the Hyatt Regency – and I didn’t even have to use the river.” Kermit continued in a comic vein, gently poking fun at the sense of superiority that might come with a Harvard degree but mostly satirizing the solemn words of wisdom found in most commencement speeches. In general, Kermit’s words sent the message that one shouldn’t take oneself too seriously and should realize that graduation is just a starting point in the great adventure of adult life. “Graduation is a turning point, a crisis, a sharp little pain as when you tear a Band-Aid off your knee,” he noted. With his characteristic optimism, Kermit added, “But from here on, it’s smooth sailing on friendly seas.”

Lisa Henson graduated from Harvard the following year, and Jim noted her “Summa Cum Laude” honor in his journal. Learn more about Lisa’s Harvard experience.

Jim and Lisa Henson at her Harvard graduation, 1983.

A page from Jim’s handwritten draft of Kermit’s Harvard speech, 1982.

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

Topics: 06-June '82, 1982, Appearances | Tagged , , , ,
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6/6-7/1986 – ‘NY Press Junket Labyrinth- w/ Brian H. then in LA for Press.’

Topics: 06-June '86, 1986, Labyrinth | Tagged
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6/5/1979 – ‘Lincoln Center Library – Party exhibit of The Art of the Muppets (runs thru Aug.)’

The days leading up to the premiere of The Muppet Movie on June 22, 1979 were filled with various promotional and celebratory events for Jim and his team. A major one was the opening of The Art of The Muppets, an exhibit that provided a sweeping look at the Muppet characters and the people behind them. The original version of the show was created specifically for the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center and opened there on June 5, 1979. Visitors were thrilled to see their friends from The Muppet Show and Sesame Street and to learn about some of the magic behind the scenes. The popularity of the exhibit inspired a larger version at The San Diego Museum of Art and a subsequent tour. Almost ten years and twenty venues later, the exhibit, with a new name, The World of Jim Henson, had its final showing in London at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Read more about The Art of the Muppets tour.

See some of the behind the scenes material created for the exhibit.

“Art of The Muppets” exhibit coverage in Go Greyhound magazine, 1980.

“Art of The Muppets” exhibit coverage in Go Greyhound magazine, 1980.

“Art of The Muppets” exhibit coverage in Go Greyhound magazine, 1980.

“Art of The Muppets” exhibit coverage in Go Greyhound magazine, 1980.

“Art of The Muppets” exhibit coverage in Go Greyhound magazine, 1980.

Jim at the “Art of The Muppets” exhibit in Dade County, FL in 1984.

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

Topics: 06-June '79, 1979, Exhibits | Tagged , , ,
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6/4/1967 – ‘Sullivan “Visual Thinking”.’

When Jim first got an animation stand in 1960, one the earliest pieces he created was “Visual Thinking” for his Washington, DC television show Sam and Friends. This bit was a dialogue between Kermit and Harry the hipster about Kermit’s efforts to visualize his thoughts. Superimposed over the filmed conversation was an animated sequence meant to illustrate the ideas being discussed. While Kermit was a beginner able to visualize just a letter or number, Harry was a virtuoso picturing complicated jazz riffs. Unfortunately, Harry’s visuals got out of control, eventually obliterating the scene.

Jim often used pictures to express his thoughts and created a number of pieces in the 1960s demonstrating this idea. Beyond several renditions of “Visual Thinking” using animation to depict what was percolating in a character’s head, Jim did several pieces with a puppet character called Limbo that was constructed of foam pieces forming just a sort of line drawing of facial features. Limbo was superimposed over a filmed background of images representing thoughts, memories, and ideas. A voice-over described the character’s effort to organize his thoughts, gaining a measure of control over the exuberant chaos within.

See the original “Visual Thinking” from Sam and Friends.

Learn more about Jim’s early animations.

Kermit and Harry the Hipster with Professor Madcliff (on left) from Sam and Friends, 1955-1961.

Limbo, Jim’s abstract face character that was superimposed over filmed images, early 1960s.

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

Topics: 06-June '67, 1967, Appearances | Tagged , , ,
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6/3/1976 – ‘Rita Moreno (MS)’

When Jim taped the Rita Moreno episode for the first season of The Muppet Show, he had already taped four others and the show was really starting to gel. It’s not surprising that he chose this fifth episode as the first to air in the New York television market when the show premiered that September 20th. Dr. Bob hit all his marks in “Veterinarian’s Hospital” (although the performers for Nurses Piggy and Janice were still in flux), Fozzie kept a telephone gag running, The Swedish Chef added to the chaos with misbehaving flapjacks, and Marvin Suggs debuted his celebrated “Lady of Spain” rendition with his Muppaphones. But it was the charm and humor of the guest star that really made the whole thing work.

Moreno, a celebrated star of stage and screen, is perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning turn as Anita in West Side Story. Her versatile talent demonstrated in that film which included singing, dancing, serious acting and the ability to do subtle comedy served her well on The Muppet Show. She did a slapstick “Apache Dance” with a beret-wearing partner, appeared on a panel with various characters (including a Guru that Jim had featured in his various Muppet Show proposals), and enjoyed a conversation with Kermit that was abruptly interrupted by Sweetums. Probably the most memorable part of the show was Moreno’s rendition of the song (earlier popularized by Peggy Lee) “Fever.” With a drum accompaniment, Moreno sang emotionally, swept up in Animal’s frenzied playing. Her performance did not go unnoticed, and she won an Emmy award for “outstanding continuing or single performance by a supporting actress in variety or music” – The Muppet Show’s first Emmy. In another connection, Moreno was also a featured actress in Children’s Television Workshop’s program The Electric Company.

Rita Moreno with Sweetums and Kermit on The Muppet Show, 1976.

Jim’s idea for a Guru-like character featured in a Muppet Show proposal, 1972.

Jim’s idea for a Guru character from about 1960.

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

Topics: 06-June '76, 1976, Muppet Show | Tagged , , , , ,
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