Since I’m visiting the nation’s capital this weekend, I thought I would talk about some early Jim Henson work — focusing on one of my life necessities — coffee.
Though Jim was born in Mississippi, he was raised mostly in Maryland where he went to high school and later attended the University of Maryland (where he also met his wife, Jane). It’s no surprise that much of his early work is tied to this area. One opportunity that had much impact on Jim’s career was when a local Washington D.C. coffee company asked him to make a series of commercials selling their product.
The final product ran in November and December of 1957 and led to the birth of two puppets named Wilkins and Wontkins.
Can you guess which one loves coffee and which doesn’t?
In 200 or so commercials (all running about 8 second a piece), Wilkins did just about everything he could to convince Wontkins he really WANTS coffee.
You can see the action for yourself here:
You just don’t see ads like this anymore, do you?
One thing that really stands out is what Wilkins and Wontkins look like. Nothing compared to the Muppets we know today, right? They sort of look like sock puppets or blobs. This is interesting because we see how people didn’t need well-known characters to be drawn into commercials. (I’m sure the comedy played a hand here too.) On the other hand, it’s pretty fantastic to see just where Jim started. In these commercials, early inspiration for The Muppet Show is definitely apparent. Don’t you think? (Crazy Harry, maybe??)
Here are a few early sketches featured in Imagination Illustrated (a lovely birthday present from a friend + so worth a look at):
According to Imagination Illustrated, Jim’s work on bringing Wilkins and Wontkins into the world led to jobs for the next 10 years of his career.
I know I’ll think twice when I gulp down my cup of java this morning… it’s certainly amazing what a little bit of coffee can do!