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.
I spent a few moments on the phone yesterday with Eoin Cameron from ABC Radio in Perth, Australia, discussing Jim Henson and the Muppets — and wouldn’t you know, it’s already available for your listening pleasure. If you’ve got eight minutes, click here if you wanna listen. And my thanks to Eoin for having me on.
Ugh, I haven’t updated this blog since October? Really? That makes this officially the Longest I’ve Gone Without Updating. Sorry about that–but I’m hoping I’ve got a decent excuse, as I’m hard at work on George Lucas. In fact, I’ve written nearly 50,000 words, and I’m not even to Star Wars yet.
However, I’m sticking my head out to let you know that I’m Mississippi-bound later this month, where I’ll be talking about Jim Henson and the Muppets as part of the 26th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration. This year’s theme is “Bigger Than Life: Extraordinary Mississippians,” and Jim’s about as extraordinary as they come. But you don’t need me to tell you that. I’ll be speaking on Saturday, February 28, at 3:30 at the convention center as one of the NLCC’s Family Day events.
I’m really looking forward to this one. If you’re in Mississippi or vicinities thereabout, come on by.
I leave tomorrow afternoon for Richmond, Virginia, to attend an event I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year now: the James River Writers conference. I was so thrilled to be invited–and I’m even happier that they’ve chosen to keep me so busy over the weekend. I’ve been to Richmond lots and lots (I love their Poe Museum) but this is my first time at the conference as either a guest or speaker. So, yeah, I’ll say it again: I’m really looking forward to it.
If you’re attending–well, first, come say hello, okay? I’ll be giving one of two TED-style talks on Saturday morning–a quick ten minutes on what writers can learn from Jim Henson (hint: practice and perseverance). Then, on Sunday, I’ll be serving on two panels, one on research, the other on the art of the first draft. (For more information, the weekend conference schedule is right here.)
And even if you’re not attending . . . well, one of the great things about JRW is they host a lot of events in Richmond that anyone can attend. Late Saturday afternoon, then, I’ll be talking about Jim Henson at 5:30 p.m. at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond. I just finished putting together a new presentation, with a different line up of clips than I’ve used in the past, and I’m pretty excited about debuting in Richmond. And did I tell you it’s free? It’s free, people.
Late next week, I’ll be meeting with a Polish reporter to talk Jim Henson over at the University of Maryland. As you can imagine, he really wanted to see the Jim Henson statue, and I was so pleased that the University was able to take good care of us, even getting us a room at the Stamp Union Building to record a radio interview.
Oh, and wanna see what Jim Henson looks like in Polish? Here ya go:
Apparently “Tata Muppetow” translates roughly as “Father of the Muppets”–and just to make sure book browsers knew exactly who we were talking about, I love that they bumped out Kermit with a splash of green. Really nice work all around.
I had a great time with the Maryland Ensemble Theatre doing their Last Hurrah podcast this past weekend — and host Kevin Cole informs me that you can now download it for total free on iTunes, right here. I’m on Show 12 — but I had so much fun doing this one that I think you’ll probably enjoy any of the shows you might download. I joined Kevin and his pals Hannah Gutman and Andrew Michaels for more than an hour as we discussed Jim Henson, of course, but also whether biographers know everyone else’s projects, what it’s like to major in unemployment, and the whole Paul Is Dead thing.
The rest of my week is seat time, working my way through chapter two. Just for fun, go watch this:
Didja remember I told you earlier this week that I’d be doing a podcast with the fine folks over at Assembly of Geeks? Huh, didja? Well, I did — and I have. I had a lot of fun talking with supergeek Scott Murray, both on and off microphone. He’s a geek who knows his stuff. And as promised, you can listen to the entire thing if you just follow this link on over to their website.
And one more reminder that I’ll be with the Maryland Ensemble Theater for The Last Hurrah on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. in Frederick, Maryland. Bring everyone you know. And throw stuff.
Two announcements that need a slight hurrah — or, at least, a Kermit arm flail.
First: for those of you in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area, I’ll be appearing live on stage with the Maryland Ensemble Theatre to take part in their LAST HURRAH comedy show. The fun starts this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre, in the historic Francis Scott Key Hotel in downtown Frederick. I have no idea what I’m in for with this one — it’s a live show and podcast populated by stand up comedians and other masters of improv — but I’m looking forward to it. And believe me, I’m not even going to try to joke and make mit thuh funny, Lebowski — I’ll leave that to the seasoned professionals. But if you’re in the area on Sunday night and looking for some fun, come on in. And bring everybody you know. And even some people you don’t.
Here’s their press release with all the information you’ll need.
Second: tomorrow, as promised, I’ll Officially Announce My Next Project. I think you’re gonna like it–at least, I hope you do. I know I’m pretty excited about it.