Okay, maybe it’s really not Jim Henson Day — but it’s Jim’s 81st birthday, so over on Twitter I suggested we make #JimHensonDay a thing. And really, when the President of the United States is tweeting like a lunatic, all but taunting another country into nuclear war, I figure now is as good a day as any to remind ourselves that there are still a lot of good people and good things going on in the universe — and that Jim, his life, and work remain an inspiration for fun, creativity, and basic decency.
Here’s the string of Twitter posts I put up this morning. Feel free to comment on what Jim and his work mean to you in the comments — or join the conversation on Twitter on the hashtag #JimHensonDay.
Go out and do something silly today. Jim would approve. Heck, he’d encourage it.
“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who makes a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave this world a little bit better for my being here.” — Jim Henson
Happy Birthday to Jim Henson, who would have been 80 years old today. Celebrate his life by doing something silly, just because you can. Jim would approve.
Here’s one of my very favorite images of Jim, taken in the late 1980s. This one actually hung in the National Portrait Gallery for a while.
Have fun today, and think of Jim for a little bit while you do it.
Happy Birthday, Jim. We still miss you.
After nearly three years in hardcover, Jim Henson is finally available in a nifty paperback format. Just for fun, I’ve posted the entire wraparound book jacket, so you can see what a nice job the folks at Ballantine have done with it. There was a bit of discussion about the best color to use as a background to give the paperback a different look and feel than the hardcover, and I think the light blue is a nice touch. You can click here to get it on Amazon, here for Barnes and Noble, and here to find it on Indiebound.
It was also neat this morning to see Random House tweet out a photo of the five books they launched today. There’s Jim, in the photo at right, leaning casually up against the Rolling Stones.
I’ve been asked if there’s any material in the paperback that wasn’t in the hardcover, and the answer to that is: yes, but you probably won’t really notice. There were a couple of corrections to be made (somehow, I put Featherstone in the cast of Tales of the Tinkerdee, when, doggone it, I knew better than that), and a reference to the TV reboot of The Muppets, but for the most part, there are no real major additions. I got pretty much everything in the first time.
Oh, and in case you’re still without one, the hardcover will stay around for just a bit longer, too, before it’s finally taken out of print.
At long last, there’s an official release date — and official cover — for the paperback of Jim Henson: The Biography. It’ll be coming your way on May 10, 2016.
You can pre-order it on Amazon right here, at Barnes & Noble here, or from IndieBound here. And, of course, you can also order it from your favorite bookstore near you.
While I’ve been trying to keep appearances to a minimum as I finish up work on George Lucas, here’s one I couldn’t resist:
I’ll be giving an hour-long presentation on Jim Henson at the Guilderland Public Library in Guilderland, New York, on Friday, February 19, at 2:00 p.m. As an added bonus, the library will have several Muppets on display, on loan courtesy of The Jim Henson Legacy.
Which Muppets, you ask? Ah, that’ll be a surprise for me as well.
The Guilderland Public Library is located at 2228 Western Avenue, just northwest of Albany. And did I mention it’s free? Of course it is — so if you’re in the area, come on by.
Months and months and MONTHS ago, I was interviewed on camera by a crack team of documentarians for a new PBS series called In Their Own Words — the first three episodes of which would feature Queen Elizabeth, Muhammad Ali, and (ta dah!) Jim Henson. Back then, they weren’t quite sure when the series would premiere, but now here it is, all queued up and ready to go on a PBS station near you this September — with the Jim Henson episode slotted for September 15. (Looking over the schedule, it appears there’s also one part of a two-part documentary on Walt Disney airing that evening, so it’s a good night to get your fill of creative geniuses.)
Will I be on camera? I don’t really know; looking at the preview, they got tons of terrific people to talk with them — Frank Oz, Brian and Cheryl Henson, Michael Frith, Neil Patrick Harris — so what are ya looking for ME for anyway? Click on the photo of Jim below and have a look:
In Their Own Words: Jim Henson, airs on September 15 at 8:00 pm — but check your local listings, as they say. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.
While I’ve been keeping speaking engagements to a minimum as I work on George Lucas, I’m incredibly honored to be asked to speak on Jim Henson at the Mississippi Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the end of September. I’ll be kicking off the Monday morning session on September 28, down in Vicksburg, Mississippi. For more information, you can check the conference out right here.
I don’t know who actually posted his — someone calling him/herself “Henson Rarities” — but whoever they are, they’ve posted on YouTube one of my all-time favorite Muppet variety show appearances. It’s Kermit and Grover performing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1970, and it’s a thing of beauty, even with the terrible condition of the video. (Nerd note: Unofficial Official Muppet Historian Craig Shemin actually found a much higher-quality, full color version of this that he unveiled in New York a few years ago, and lemme tell ya, it is a beaut.)
A NOTE FROM BRIAN: I usually prefer to celebrate a subject’s date of birth rather than observe the day he died. But it’s worth noting that twenty-five years ago today — May 16, 1990 — Jim Henson passed away at 1:21 a.m. in New York.
Readers of Jim Henson: The Biography often tell me that they find the chapter on Jim’s death to be both sad and fascinating, especially as the circumstances of Jim’s death have, for the last two-and-a-half decades, been misinterpreted, misreported, or just plain misunderstood. I appreciate hearing that readers find this portion of the book as gratifying as they do heartbreaking. You can thank the Henson family for their openness in discussing Jim’s death, and for providing me with the honor — and responsibility — of reading Jim’s medical records from that day in May 1990.
As we remember Jim on the occasion of his passing, then, I thought I’d do something a bit different. I’m posting below — perhaps for only a limited time — an excerpt from the chapter “Just One Person,” from Jim Henson: The Biography, on the days leading up to and including Jim’s death. We’ll begin on Saturday, May 12, 1990, with Jim and his daughter Cheryl flying to North Carolina to visit his father Paul and stepmother Bobby. Continue reading
Man, this one hurts. The great Stan Freberg has passed away at age 88.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Freberg around 2012 when I was doing research on Jim Henson. I was very excited to make the phone call, as I was a huge fan of his, and when I mentioned how much I loved his “Banana Boat” parody, Stan immediately dropped into that great voice and did a bit of it on the phone (“I came through the window!”)
So what does Stan have to do with Jim Henson and the Muppets? Glad you asked.
In the early days of the Muppets, when Jim Henson was doing Sam and Friends here in DC on our local NBC station, Jim used to have the Muppets lip-synch to comedy records–which more often than not meant he was gonna use one of Freberg’s. Here are a few of the members of the cast of Sam and Friends (specifically Moldy Hay and Hank and Frank) lip-synching to Freberg’s “C’est Ci Bon,” probably sometime in 1955 or 1956. Take a look, and I’ll be back with you after the video:
Wasn’t that great? Now, an interesting coda to all this: back in the 1950s, there was never much thought given to clearing records for usage, which likely would have involved paying royalties–an expensive proviso, especially for a college student, which is what Jim still was in 1957. The strategy, then, was to ask forgiveness instead of permission–and when any wounded artist brought their concerns to Jim’s attention, most gave way after meeting Jim and watching the Muppets.
That was true for Freberg as well, who in 1957 learned that his records were being used without attribution (or recompense!) and went storming down to WRC-TV one evening to take up the matter with Jim personally. Once he actually saw Jim (and Jane) performing to his records, he immediately melted. Shortly thereafter, he sent Jim an enthusiastic telegram. “I take it all back,” Freberg wrote. “This is one of the greatest acts I have ever seen [and I] am honored to let you use my records for ever and longer.” And so they did.
Miss ya already, Stan.