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The time I spent among the Muppets

The time I spent among the Muppets

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I've had a handful of heroes in my life. Paul McCartney, Walt Disney, and Charles Schulz to name a few. One of the real "biggies," to me, though was Jim Henson. I grew up with Sesame Street and later on The Muppet Show and all the films. I loved all of it.

Imagine my excitement when, with my last semester of college approaching, my dad reminded me of a relative we had working for Jim Henson Productions. Perhaps, I should call and arrange a meeting, maybe an internship would follow, put my broadcasting degree to use. Much to my delight, there was an internship available and I began a short but rather eventful tenure with the Jim Henson Company.

The internship was a dream come true. I would be working at the production studio on 67th street in Manhattan. Henson had three buildings in New York at the time. There was the studio, a creature shop next door and on 69th street, the opulent townhouse headquarters. I can remember touring the three buildings and being in "Muppet Heaven." There were toys and photographs and Muppet paraphernalia everywhere you looked. The headquarters were most impressive. As soon as you entered it was quite obvious which company laid claim to this beautiful brownstone. The waiting area featured a row of theater seats with a huge mural depicting the audience from The Muppet Show as a backdrop. Readers familiar with the NYC World of Disney store would recognize the large hanging Muppets and balloons sculpture as the centerpiece of a large winding staircase leading to the top floor. If you looked up you would see a beautiful stained glass ceiling depicting what would be Kermit's view of the swamp he called home. Needless to say, it was pretty cool.


Chris Barry and some friend from work
(Editor's note: Chris is the one on the right)

The creature shop was also something to be seen. As I toured, Big Bird was having some repair work done. I admit now, I snagged a yellow feather from the floor. Another artist was carving away at a piece of foam. There was a cage with a huge iguana in her workstation. I later found out she was creating a puppet for the show Dinosaurs, not yet in production.

The studio was mostly used for smaller productions and photo shoots. In the future months, it was a pleasure to watch several photo shoots taking place, magazine ads, puzzle photos and the like. I snapped several photos of me with various Muppets such as Beaker and Gonzo. But, my greatest thrill took place when I got word that Henson himself would be coming in to shoot something with Kermit. Frank Oz would also be there as well as Michael Frith, the company's creative director. Watching Jim Henson operate Kermit was sort of like watching John Hancock sign his name. It was a thrill. They were describing how the Muppets were designed and built, placement of the eyes in relation to the face and such. It turns out this video was going to Disney, as the two companies were in merger talks at the time. No word on whether the tape made it there as talks eventually fell apart. Perhaps it's on an Imagineers' shelf somewhere. Perhaps it's resurfaced now that Disney owns The Muppets.

As my internship drew to a close, my supervisor informed me that Jim made it a point to meet with all the interns before they left. It would take place in his office and he'd share a few moments with us. I couldn't wait for this opportunity. It was Friday morning, the last day of the internship and three of us were scheduled to meet with Jim at 10 am. I was on the Long Island Railroad, on my way into Manhattan when the train broke down and I was stuck, motionless for over one hour. I couldn't believe my luck. I was going to miss this once in a lifetime chance. I got off the train, called my boss and sure enough, I missed the meeting. She told me to come anyway; maybe he'd have a moment. Waiting in the row of theater seats, I studied all the characters on the mural and hoped for the best. My luck had changed. Jim had some rare free time and sat down with me in his office, just the two of us, for about 10-15 minutes!

Next time, I'll fill you in on what this legend was like and the events that transpired the following week.

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  • Thank you for sharing this useful information, I will regularly follow your blog

  • It's been a long time since I read a good article and such a meaning! I hope you will continue to write articles like these for hobbyists!

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