Last Tuesday, I survived one very scary man on the subway and a rat prowling around the platform to make it to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens for an event focusing on the recent release of Jim Henson: The Biography with an eclectic panel of experts.
The panel was led by Craig Shemin, President of The Jim Henson Legacy, and included:
- Fran Brill (the first official female puppeteer that Jim hired)
- Bonnie Erickson (designer of several early Muppets including Miss Piggy/Execute Director of Jim Henson Legacy)
- Karen Falk (Jim Henson archivist and author of Imagination Illustrated)
- Brian Jay Jones (author of Jim Henson: The Biography)
- Barbara Miller (curator at Moving Image Museum, currently working on the new Jim Henson exhibit)
- Dwight Bowers (curator at Smithsonian, where Muppets were recently donated for Jim’s birthday)
The two-hour presentation was filled with enthusiastic chatter about Jim, and, best of all, peppered with some rare video footage. One particular standout was an interview of Jim and Frank Oz on a short-lived Orson Welles talk show. It was so so choppy, and so super awkward. Another highlight was a “behind-the-scenes” look at how Jim and his crew make a commercial. Some pretty entertaining (and delightfully silly!) stuff.
Other noteworthy facts:
- Craig Shemin has penned a Muppets Character Encyclopedia that will be hitting bookshelves NEXT YEAR. So much fun. It will be released on February 7. (Right around my birthday!)
- Did you know Bonnie Erickson also designed the Philly Phanatic?
- Understandably, Brian Jay Jones was asked a lot about how he wrote the book and how he prepared for it. While the Henson family did not have editorial control, they were incredibly open with stories about their dad/husband and getting Brian in touch with the right people to fill in gaps. They did receive a first draft, and helped to fact check.
- Frank Oz refused to be recorded for the biography (he didn’t want his interviews to end up on the internet) so Brian hand-wrote everything Frank shared with him. Afterwards Brian would have to go right to a computer and type everything out because his handwriting is terrible and he didn’t want to forget anything.
- After reading the biography, Fran Brill said she was most surprised about the treatment of the puppeteers and puppets in the Disney deal. (Jim was adamant that Disney not just hire anyone to work as a puppeteer that what made their company so unique was the relationship each puppeteer had with their Muppet.) “It was like a bad pre-nup.”
- Karen Falk did confirm that they have scripts for the Broadway show Jim was working on before “The Muppet Show” got on the air. They had even built stuff for the show already, but when it didn’t work out, used that stuff for different projects.
Afterwards, Brian stayed and signed books for attendees.
This event was actually the first of several Jim Henson programs to be coming to the Museum of the Moving Image before the opening of the Jim Henson Gallery in 2015. (Though, we were assured that they would continue the programs after the opening because they are so popular. Who doesn’t love a Muppet?!)
Does anyone have $10K they can lend me?
I’m always so energized by these local events and the opportunity to learn more and more about the Muppets and Jim Henson. I’m looking forward to the promised holiday events coming up soon!
And the best news of all? The biography is officially a New York Times Bestseller? Yay! Congrats Brian!