Tag Archives: Frank Oz

Go Watch Muppet Guys Talking

Muppet-Guys-Talking-the-Muppet-GuysIf you’re a Muppet fan, chances are you’re already anxiously awaiting the release of Muppet Guys Talking, Frank Oz’s documentary of . . . well, Muppet guys talking about life, art, and working with Jim Henson.  And who are the Muppet Guys? They’re Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Dave Goelz, and Bill Barretta. More information — including how you can watch the documentary when it’s released later this week — is available over on muppetguystalking.com.  Go.

While you wait, you might also wanna check out this really wonderful interview with Frank Oz, conducted by those savvy fellas over at Tough Pigs. And I’ve gotta admit: I’m thrilled to be on the receiving end of some first-rate Frank Oz ballbreaking:

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NOTE: I actually love Paul McCartney.

A Today Show Update

UnknownOkay, I have it on good authority that the Today show segment will air tomorrow — Tuesday, October 15 — during the eight o’clock hour.

And while I haven’t seen the segment — and won’t until everyone else does — I can tell you that you’ll see Frank Oz in it.  So that should be enough, really, for you to wanna tune in.

Set  your DVRs now. Or not. I’m not the boss of you.


Willie, Washington, and Jon

So, remember that Today show appearance that was on the schedule, then off, then on, then off again? Well, it’s back on — but I won’t be live in studio.  Instead, I spent most of the day yesterday working with a crew from NBC, being interviewed on camera by Willie Geist for a longer feature they’ll be doing on Jim — and his biography — for Today. I was also very fortunate to have Frank Oz with me — and while we won’t be sitting on the couch together, he very graciously sat for a 40 minute interview, and said lots of wonderful things.

Afterwards, we spent the rest of the afternoon over at The Jim Henson Company workshop and archives, where Karen Falk and I talked about some of the countless terrific items Jim kept and filed away, which were invaluable for my research.

It should be a fun piece — Willie Geist is a big fan of Jim’s — and I’ll let you know when it’s going to run.  Right not, they’re aiming for October 15, but that could change, depending on how fast they can edit everything together.

That was yesterday. Then this morning I was up early to head over to a nearby studio to chat remotely with an NPR station in Boston to talk  about . . . (wait for it) . . . Washington Irving. The new Sleepy Hollow TV series (which I dig) has sparked something of an Irving revival — and is apparently driving lots of gawkers toward the little town on New York’s Highway 9 — so we spent the morning comparing Irving’s tale with the the TV show, and speculating on whether Irving would enjoy it (as a great nicker of other people’s tales, I think Irving would get a kick out of it, actually).

The real question, however, is this: is the Sleepy Hollow TV series taking place in some alternate universe where Irving never existed or even wrote the original tale? I mean really, when Crane introduces himself to someone in the show, no one ever goes, “Ichabod Crane? Yeah, right.” (On another tangent, I keep hoping we’ll find out Irving himself is part of the underground movement to protect the world from the forces of evil, and wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” either as a way of debunking one of the four horsemen, or perhaps sending some sort of coded message to future generations of protectors on how to fight the horsemen . . . Fox producers: Call me!)

I’m not at all surprised by the revived interest.  One of the leading search terms driving people to my website — after “Jim Henson,” of course — is “Is Legend of Sleepy Hollow real?” (which keeps sending people here).

Finally, in just a few hours I leave for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Holy cow.

Okay, NOW You Should Adjust Your Sets…

UnknownIf you’ve got your DVR set for Tuesday, September 24, to catch me with Frank Oz on the Today show . . . well, it’s time to adjust your settings. NBC told us last week that this might happen, but now it’s been confirmed:

The Today Show appearance with Frank Oz has been moved from Tuesday, September 24 to Thursday, September 26. 

Not to worry, nothing’s gone wrong — apparently, these things happen all the time when scheduling live television.  While it’s a bit of a bummer that we won’t be there on Jim’s birthday (and official launch date for the biography), my bigger concern was whether Frank Oz’s schedule would still be open.  Thankfully, it was.

So, once again, set — or reset — those DVRs, because we’re gonna be on the Today show. Yes, really. I swear.

Do Not Adjust Your Set…

Here’s the announcement I’ve been waiting to make for a while, but I wanted to wait until it officially showed up in my own TV listings.  Which it finally did last night on my snazzy Verizon FiOs DVR:


On the same morning Jim Henson is published, I’ll be on The Today Show to talk all about Jim, some time (so I’m told) between 7 and 9 a.m. That’s pretty freaking cool in itself — and I’m both excited and a bit nervous about it — but what this listing doesn’t tell you is who’ll also be sitting with me to talk about Jim Henson . . . someone who knows quite a lot about Jim and the Muppets.

It’s this guy, right here. MV5BMTI1NTM4ODA0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODMxMjQ0._V1._SY314_CR6,0,214,314_

Yup. It’s FRANK OZ.

If you’re writing it down, it’s The Today Show on NBC on September 24.  Check your local listings for the right time. You won’t want to miss this one because, come on, IT’S FRANK OZ.

Photo Opportunity

See that big blank square at the top of the chapter? Yeah, a photo goes there.

See that big blank square at the top of the chapter in this advance copy? Yeah, a photo goes there.

Several readers of advance copies of Jim Henson have asked why the book doesn’t have any photos in it.  Good question.  The ARCs for Jim Henson didn’t include photos because (1) typically, advance copies of books don’t include the photo inserts, and (2) in the case of Jim Henson, it took a long time to clear some of the photos, so we couldn’t have included an insert even if we’d wanted to. In fact, the last of the photos didn’t clear until about three weeks ago, which is actually cutting it pretty close.

The final version of Jim Henson will include a photo insert that contains more than 40 photos, plus sixteen more that will appear at the top of each chapter. And even the most rabid Muppet fan will spot a few that have never been seen any time, any where. While this is a biography and not a photo book , I think you’ll find the photos helpful as a kind of score card: they’ll help you keep track of the players (always useful in a biography with lots of names in it), guide you through a number of projects, and, yes, you’ll see a few behind-the-scenes photos of Jim and the Muppet performers at work.*

It was genuinely tough deciding which photos to use.  I spent weeks sitting with, talking with, and e-mailing archivists, scrolling through digital files, turning over page after page in black photo binders, and squinting through an eyepiece at tiny photos on contact sheets. There were just too many great photos to count, and in my first pass, I selected more than a hundred I wanted to use. From there, my editor Ryan Doherty and  I set to work paring them down. With space limited, we wanted to get the most from any picture we might select–and if there were several people in one photo, all the better. Jim directing David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth? Perfect. Jim performing with Kathy Mullen in The Dark Crystal? You bet. Jim standing by himself in the middle of a sound stage during the making of The Dark Crystal? Alas, not so much — but a tough call.

A no-brainer.

Jim Henson soars in 1965’s Time Piece. A no-brainer.

Some photos, of course, have been seen and used before–but they’re just so good, so iconic, it’s impossible not to use them. The photo still of Jim soaring on his DaVinci wings from Time Piece, for example, is a no-brainer, as is the 1960s-era photo of Jim and nineteen-year-old Frank Oz with Rowlf the Dog. There’s a reason these photos have been used before, and will probably be used again and again: they’re great.

Still, sometimes we ran into problems. There were a few photos, for example, where it was unclear exactly who owned them and how they might be legally cleared for use. Other times, there were photos I loved and wanted to use, but their owner wouldn’t clear them. Those things happen, but it likely means that someone’s favorite photo is bound to be missing.

Ultimately, we tried to pick photos that were not only visually interesting, but by merely flipping though the photo insert, you could get a fairly good idea of the arc of Jim’s life. I’m thrilled with the photos we’re using in this book–and while it wasn’t always easy, I appreciate that we were permitted to use each and every one of them.

* Meanwhile, if you’re looking for books with lots of color photos, you couldn’t do much better than Christopher Finch’s classic Jim Henson: The Works or Karen Falk’s magnificent Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal. If you’re a Muppet fan, you’ve already got both of them.



Frank Oz

One of the really great thrills of working on this project over the past five years has been meeting, interviewing, and, in many cases, getting to know Jim Henson’s family, friends, collaborators, and colleagues. To a person, they’ve all been generous with their time, warm in their welcomes, and interesting and engaging. I’ve spoken with people in living rooms and kitchens, offices and workshops, on studio sets, on Skype, and yes, even over the old-fashioned telephone.

It became immediately apparent that with a topic like Jim Henson, getting people to talk — and talk excitedly — would never be a problem. As a result, most of my conversations — which I usually tried to keep to an hour  — often sprawled out to two, three, sometimes beyond four hours. And even then, we still found it hard to wrap things up and stop talking.  Jim had, and still has, that effect on people.

There was one person, however, I was incredibly nervous about meeting in person: Frank Oz. My concern was never about him;  instead, I was worried that I would completely geek out and be unable to have a meaningful conversation with him. Not only am I a fan from way back, and not only is he pivotal to Jim’s story, but . . . well, heck, it’s Frank Oz. 

As it turns out, we had a great time and conversation together — so much so, in fact, that we had several more afterward. Oz is an incredibly private guy, so I won’t go into any detail except to say that he’s extremely thoughtful, forthright, introspective, brilliant, and — as you can surely imagine — genuinely entertaining and laugh out loud funny. Jim’s story wouldn’t have been complete without his participation, and I’m grateful — and thrilled — for his involvement and enthusiasm.

It is my great pleasure, then, to have the following blurb appear on Jim Henson’s biography:

I worked with Jim for over thirty years.  He was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me.  Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. Jim needed this book to be written. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.

— Frank Oz

All I can say is: Thank you, Frank Oz. For everything.

Jim, Frank, and Merv

On June 26, 1984, Jim Henson and Frank Oz were out promoting The Muppets Take Manhattan and made a memorable appearance as guests on the Merv Griffin Show  (“Frank and I do entire Merv Griffin Show,” Jim wrote in his journal). Jim and Oz performed Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal and Fozzie before finally heading for the guest sofa.

I love the way Jim looks in this footage. He’s smartly dressed, and while relaxed, he’s still not quite comfortable appearing on camera. But don’t take my word for it; let Jim explain it himself.

Here are a little more than eleven minutes of fun from The Merv Griffin Show (sorry about the aggressive on-screen sales pitch — this is a promo for a Merv Griffin collection). Enjoy.

Complete and Otter Hilarity

What’s that? You’d like to see outtakes from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas? Here you go:

“Henson & Oz” and the Museum of the Moving Image

The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York — a stone throw from the Kaufman Astoria studios where Sesame Street is taped — is presently hosting the exhibit Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, a marvelous show covering the entire span of Jim Henson’s creative career.  As the program for the show says:

Fifteen iconic puppets, including Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, and Bert and Ernie, are on view, along with photographs of Henson and his collaborators at work and excerpts from his early projects and experimental films. The exhibition spans Henson’s entire career, with drawings, cartoons, and posters produced during his college years in the late 1950s and objects related to the inspired imaginary world of his popular 1982 fantasy film, The Dark Crystal. The exhibition features artifacts from Henson’s best-known projects, The Muppet ShowThe Muppet Movie and its sequels,Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street, in addition to materials from Sam and Friends, an early show he created in the 1950s, and his pioneering television commercial work in the 1960s.

I had the opportunity to see the exhibit when it was at the Smithsonian in 2008, and it’s a lot of fun.  And while there are plenty of familiar faces on display, you’ll also have the chance to take a peek at some hidden treasures, including some projects that never materialized.

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World runs through January 2012.  You can find more information right here.

Meanwhile, the Museum of the Moving Image has put up on its website a terrific short film Henson & Oz, a affectionate look at the on- and off-screen relationship of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and the characters they performed.  And it’s very funny stuff indeed. Have a look.