Muppet Monday: Muppet Home Room

While I like to think of Muppet Monday as a place I can share my love of everything Muppets, I’m also taking this opportunity to embark on my own Muppet education. So what better way to start then to learn about the man behind the Muppets? I’ve never known that much about Jim Henson. As I mentioned in my first MM, my mom did buy the Life magazine when he passed away, and I know bits and pieces from reading about him online. (I even watched parts of his memorial service on YouTube. Warning: do not do this at work without tissues present.) Timing could also not be more perfect. This year, Jim would have turned 75 years old on September 24th, and he will also receive a Disney Legends award this summer.
I started off slow with a children’s biography by Deanne Durrett from my local library. Full of some brightly colored photographs and big text, I actually discovered quite a few new tid-bits in the 41 pages and about, 20 minutes it took to read it. So here is a list of ten facts, with a few bonus blips just because…
  1. The Wizard of Oz was the first movie Jim ever saw.
  2. Kermit was first imagined as a “lizard-like creature”. Not a frog. The first Kermit puppet was made from Jim’s mom’s green coat and ping pong balls for eyes. Kermit was also named for one of Jim’s childhood friends.
  3. In high school, Jim designed sets for theater productions and also drew cartoons for the school newspaper.
  4. Jim landed his first job on a kids show called Junior Good Morning Show. To get the job, he created his own puppets – a French rat and two cowboys.
  5. Jim met his future wife, Jane, in college at the University of Maryland; she was his puppeteer partner. Her puppet would eventually become Cookie Monster.
  6. Jim came up with the name “Muppets” because his creation was a combo of marionettes and puppets. (Hubs thought it was monster + puppets.) The Muppets were a combination of hand puppet + rod puppet + marionette.
  7. Jim and Jane formed Muppets Inc. when they were just seniors in college. After graduation, though, Jim was still unsure of a career in puppets. He left Jane in charge, and traveled to Europe to become a painter. (Thankfully he changed his mind.)
  8. Did you know the Muppets debuted before Sesame Street? Muppets were on national television in 1956 and Sesame Street came to televisions in 1969.
  9. The Muppet Show actually began in England in 1975.
  10. After Jim’s death, the Ernie and Bert puppets were stored away for good. Jim’s frequent working partner, Frank Oz, decided he could not play Bert opposite of anyone else. The Bert and Ernie skits that continue to play on Sesame Street are just repeats of the original shorts from years ago. (Also to be noted: many of these skits were not scripted. Frank and Jim would just play off each other as if communicating in real life.)
Bonus Trivia:
  • Jane did not like to do the voices of the puppets.
  • Jane and Jim had 5 children together. And this was a surprise to me up until a few years ago. They were not married up until his death; they separated in 1986.
  • He called his grandparents Pop & Dear. (How cute is that?)
  • He really was a genius. Jim saved enough money from his summer jobs in TV to finance his college education and any additional expenses.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s Muppet Monday and you’ll stick around as I dig deeper into Muppet History! (BTW, if you have any recommendations for books, movies, etc., please let me know in the comment section! Thanks!)
Be sure to also check out Dap’s Magic for their own Muppet Monday!

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

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