Category Archives: Dave Goelz

Book Launch, Radio, Reviews, and More . . .

I’m a virtual plethora of information today. Ready? Here we go…

MOMI-logo-176x176-72dpiFirst, the official book launch for Jim Henson will be on October 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Working with the Jim Henson Legacy, there’ll be a panel discussion about Jim Henson and his work, featuring me, Muppet performer Fran Brill, Henson Company archivist Karen Falk, Dwight Bowers of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and MOMI curator Barbara Miller.  That’s a deep bench of folks well-versed in Jim and the Muppets, so this should be a lot of fun–especially as the panel is moderated by Craig Shemin, current president of the Jim Henson Legacy (and an ace in Jim’s story as well) who’s bringing rare video, along with a beautiful new print of Jim’s 1965 experimental film Time Piece.

The event starts at 7 p.m., and when that’s done, I’ll be signing books–and, as this is a ticketed event, thanking everyone profusely for coming–until they close the place down.

Why the MOMI? Not only did the museum recently host the exhibition Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, but the Henson family recently donated hundreds of puppets and artifacts, which will serve as a permanent exhibit–housed in their very own gallery, courtesy of the support of  The City of New York–starting in early 2015. It’s sort of Jim’s home away from home.

More information on the museum and the event can be found right here.  And don’t worry, while the launch event is October 1, the book is still coming out on September 24. Promise.

UnknownSecond, on Wednesday, September 25 — the day after the book comes out — I’ll be live in studio to talk Jim with guest host Susan Page on The Diane Rehm Show. And if that weren’t exciting enough, we’ll be joined by Muppet performer Dave Goelz.

Yup.

DAVE.

GOELZ.

So okay, you say — those are two cool events, but neither takes place on September 24, when the book is published.  True enough.  I have something else in store for that day — with another special guest. But more on that as we get closer to Tuesday the 24th.

Third: The fine folks at ToughPigs — who are nearly Kirkus-like  in their take-no-prisoners, call it like they see it assessments of Muppet- and Jim-related products — reviewed Jim Henson: The Biography . . . and liked it. A lot. I’ll let you go read the entire thing yourself, but here’s a taste:

“[T]he sheer amount of information, both new and old, in this book is simply staggering . . .  Jim Henson: The Biography is the most complete record of Jim’s history that I’ve ever seen, which is completely relatable to all sorts of Muppet fans . . . This is a must-buy.”

My thanks to Joe Hennes at ToughPigs for the kind words.

Finally, nods to Jim are showing up on all sorts of wonderful and unexpected places.  There was this nice little piece in Hemispheres–the magazine you find in your seat back on United Airlines flights–as well as this full-pager in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine. Additionally, look later on this month for Jim Henson to show up in Vanity Fair, Real Simple, and over on Parade.com.

Good as Goelz

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Dave Goelz with Gonzo.

Over the past few weeks, advance copies of Jim Henson have made their way out into the world and into the hands of reviewers and other readers. It’s been gratifying to hear the (so far) overwhelmingly positive feedback, but there was one set of readers I was particularly interested in hearing from: Jim Henson’s friends and colleagues.  I made a point, then, of personally sending advance copies to a number of Jim’s collaborators, both as a token of thanks for their help in writing Jim’s story, but also to see if they — like Frank Oz — thought I had captured the Jim Henson they had known in the pages of the book.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I received a note from Muppet performer Dave Goelz (who I talked about earlier right here), who had this to say about Jim Henson:

“I loved it. Brian Jay Jones vividly portrays Jim’s journey, and also the intersecting journeys of his colleagues and friends. In spite of the fact that Jim and I worked together closely for many years, there were compartments of his life that I hadn’t known before. I was completely involved and couldn’t put the book down. A tremendous job.” — Dave Goelz

As I can’t seem to say enough: Thank you, Dave Goelz.

Gonzo Scheduling

The Great Gonzo.

When I left for Los Angeles two weeks ago, my original schedule—as I think I reported in these pages a few entries back —was going to be a bit of a whirlwind: I would be arriving at LAX at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, which gave me just enough time to rent a car, check into my hotel and grab a bite to eat before I headed over to the Jim Henson Company to meet with Lisa Henson in the afternoon. Early Wednesday morning, I was going to drive to Burbank to meet with Muppet performer Dave Goelz, who had been scheduled to work all Tuesday evening on a Muppet-related project, but had graciously offered to give me a few hours the next morning before he caught an early flight back home. I would then drive back to LAX, return my rental car, and catch my 3 p.m. flight back to Baltimore. That was the way it was supposed to work, at least.

That didn’t happen.  And yet, things couldn’t have gone any better.

The even greater Dave Goelz.

After checking into my hotel, I did what most of us do the moment we settle into the room: I plugged in the laptop, grumbled a bit about having to pay for wireless service, then logged in to check my e-mail.  There I found waiting for me a message Dave Goelz had sent while I was still on the plane that morning, apologizing that he had run into an unexpected schedule change. “Tuesday we expect to shoot until about 2 a.m.,” he wrote, and explained that he was concerned he would be too sleep-deprived to participate in a worthwhile interview the next morning.  However, he continued, “I’d love it if you could come to the studio to do the interview. We’re shooting a music video with OK Go…” Attached at the bottom of the message was a map to Delfino Studios in Sylmar.  “Hope you can make it.” Dave said.

Make it? Are you kidding?

As it turns out, the band OK Go had recorded a version of the theme from The Muppet Show for The Green Album, a new collection of Muppet-related covers—and the Muppets, naturally, would be a major part of their music video. The Muppets and the video-savvy OK Go together? There was no way it couldn’t be a lot of fun.  Knowing he was already at the studio working and therefore unable to check e-mail, I tapped out a text message to Dave telling him that I would love the chance to watch him work, and asked if I could meet him at 7 p.m., after I finished my meeting over at Henson Studios. Dave responded almost immediately: “Xlent.”

I kept my appointment with Lisa Henson—who was as warm and gracious and thoughtful as always—then as the clock neared 6 p.m., I pointed my Kia Soul (what the heck?) in the direction of Burbank. A little after 7 p.m., I pulled up at Delfino Studios, a compound of several connected warehouses just outside of the city.  I managed to luck into finding a producer on a break out in the parking lot, who kindly steered me through a maze of outer rooms and into one of Delfino’s dark, cavernous main studios.  There, in the middle of the room, under an enormous glare of lights, the members of the band OK Go were patiently resting their heads on the top of a long board, waiting for the music to begin as the crew buzzed around them.

Trying to stay out of the way as much as possible, I climbed into a canvas chair in a cozy seating area that had been set up off to one side, an assortment of chairs and sofas arranged around several flatscreen monitors where we could easily see exactly what the cameras were filming. As playback began over the studio speakers, the band began to lipsynch to themselves singing The Muppet Show theme—and as they finished the verse, up popped Marvin Suggs to pound on their heads with his Muppaphone mallets.  My mouth hung open. “OMG,” I texted to my wife, “I JUST SAW MARVIN SUGGS!” (Her response: “MODULATE!” I do love having a pop culture-savvy spouse…)

After another hour of filming—where I watched lead singer Damian Kulash repeatedly smash into, then peel his face off of, a piece of plexiglass as he and the Muppet performers attempted to get the timing just right on a series of quick head turns—Dave Goelz climbed off a ladder where he had been performing Gonzo and we were finally able to grab some time to speak in a quiet side office.

An hour later, a technician came in to call Dave back to the set. Dave cheerily pointed a finger at me. “Let’s keep talking!” he said. “Don’t go anywhere!” Believe me, there was no chance that was happening.  For another hour I stood to one side as Dave laid on a rolling cart with Gonzo, reacting goofily as a Muppaphone mallet was thrown into a pyramid of inverted trash cans, sending a bucket swinging toward the camera.  As it struck a Muppet chicken, a blast of compressed air blew a handful of feathers skyward.  (“Whoopeee!!” cheered Gonzo in several takes.) The director finally decided everyone had nailed it, and back Dave and I went to talking, taking a slight break to eat dinner on the set around 11 p.m.

The genuinely nice Steve Whitmire.

At one point, Steve Whitmire—who’s performed Kermit the Frog since 1990, and who I had the pleasure of speaking with in Atlanta earlier this year—circled around us several times, then came over, smiling, to shake my hand. “I thought I recognized you!” he said as he clapped me on the shoulder.  Man, the Muppet performers are all such genuinely nice people.

Well into the early hours of Wednesday morning, Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire sat just out of the camera’s eye, performing Statler and Waldorf, first with Kulash, and then by themselves. They worked without a script, preferring to ad lib their dialogue, cracking each other up, and laughing in character. After one particular take, director Kirk Thatcher laughed out loud. “That was great!” he called out, “Let’s cut!”

“No, it wasn’t great,” Whitmire said.  “We need something else.”

“I got it! I got it!” said Goelz, and as cameras rolled again, the two of them worked their way through several more jokes until both were happy with it.

As I watched these two old friends work together—two men who had known each other for nearly thirty-five years, and who knew each other’s rhythms so well they could hit all the beats of an ad-libbed routine perfectly— I was struck by just how fortunate I am to be a part of their world, if only for a moment.  To call it awe inspiring doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

I closed my night–or morning, rather, for at this point, it was approaching 3 a.m.—listening to Dave speak fondly of friends and coworkers, many of whom are long since gone. After we finished, as I got up to go, he took my hand in both of his and shook it warmly. “Thank you for letting me talk about Jim,” he said. “It’s been a real privilege.” That choked me up; as I said earlier, the Muppet performers are all such warm and generous people. It was all I could do to stammer that the privilege was all mine.

And it truly was.

And now, here’s the video I had the thrill of watching Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, OK Go, and the rest of the talented Muppet performers make in that warehouse studio in Burbank:

(My thanks to Dave Goelz for inviting me to the set — and to the members of OK Go who graciously permitted me to stay there.)