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Commemorating 75 Years Of Jim Henson

Sarah Ledesma |
September 24, 2011 | 11:02 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Happy 75th Birthday to Jim Henson! (creative commons)
Happy 75th Birthday to Jim Henson! (creative commons)
Happy Birthday Jim Henson!  Today, September 24th, on what would be his 75th birthday, we take a moment to look back on the illustrious career that lives on to inspire the imagination and innovation for future generations to come. The following retrospective highlights one of the greatest creative imaginations of our times.    

Jim Henson was an American puppeteer who dreamed of making Muppets as “entertainment for everybody."  In 1956 he helped realize this dream building a frog puppet named Kermit the Frog. ''I suppose that he's an alter ego,'' Mr. Henson said. ''But he's a little snarkier than I am - slightly wise. Kermit says things I hold myself back from saying.'' 

Perhaps this outlet for his alter ego is what made Jim the famously kind employer his former colleagues recount in the touching Celebratory 75th Birthday podcast produced by the Jim Henson Company.  The podcast is a touching tribute recounting relationships with Henson throughout the various levels of production.  As a former receptionist recounts, “I think Jim Henson had the ability to make absolutely everyone that worked for the company feel like they were an important part of the success of the company.”

After listening to several of the podcast recollections it becomes apparent that Jim subscribes to the golden rule of dream making.  Create unto others as you would have them create unto you.  You get a sense that Henson was this altruistic omnipotent fairy godfather of creativity ushering his co-collaborators to success and in turn securing his own for all of time.  

As an important lesson for us all, success did not come easily to Jim as he struggled through the early decades of his career honing his craft on a variety of projects that came his way from commercials, talk shows, and children’s projects.

Then in 1969 along came the children’s project that launched the ships of a thousand Muppet personalities, "Sesame Street."  What would public television programming look like today without the innovative Henson Muppet Engineering?  For that matter, what would our childhoods look like?  Sesame Street is the substitute parent, babysitter, friend and teacher influencing childhoods from the show's inception to its current on-going production. 

In the years following, Henson and his influential creative partner Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Animal) worked tirelessly in an effort to maintain the Muppets' versatility as entertainment intellectual property for all ages and not pigeon hole them to the sole venue of children’s programming. 

Along came “The Muppet Show,” a variety show featuring Hollywood’s biggest acts including Steve Martin, Elton John, Mel Brooks, Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and the relative list of who’s who in Hollywood continued through the show’s success.         

Eventually, Henson and Oz would capture silver screen success for his own motley crew of Muppets with 1979’s “The Muppet Movie.”  Both a box office and critical success, the film paved the way for the studio’s creative endeavors for years to come.  The rest as they say is history. 

History will hopefully repeat itself this Thanksgiving with, "The Muppets"starring Jason Segel ("How I Met Your Mother").  It is rumored Segel was hand-picked by the Henson company for his passion and dedication as a life long afficionado and follower of the franchise.  

If I had to choose a favorite Jim Henson collaboration, in my mind it would be like choosing a favorite child.  As an eighties baby I grew up on all things Muppet and I feel like I’m a better person for it.  The world was made a better place with Jim Henson in it and his legacy continues to inspire imaginations forevermore.   

Jim Henson let the world know that child-like imagination is not limited to youth.  Imagination is for, “the lovers, the dreamers, and you.”   


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