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A chat with Jim Henson

A chat with Jim Henson

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So ... for once in my life, the Long Island Railroad's ineptitude delivers me a real sweet deal. Thanks to my train's major delay, I missed my intern meeting with Jim Henson. The stars were apparently aligned in my favor though. Once I finally arrived at the townhouse headquarters of Jim Henson Productions, Jim was able to take time out of his hectic schedule and meet with me.

Before my train stopped dead in the tunnel, I was awash in anticipation. I would actually get to sit and talk to this legend. Granted, it was with three other interns as well as myself, but still a great opportunity. What would I say? How should I act? As the train screeched to a halt and I spent the next hour and a half banging my head against the train window, I came to grips with the reality that this meeting wasn't going to happen. When I phoned my boss and she said I should come anyway and maybe he could meet with me alone, the panic of trying to get uptown ASAP took over. By the time I was actually sitting in Jim's office, I had no idea what to say or how to act but it really didn't matter, something wonderful happened.


Chris hangs out with some friends from work

I relayed my ordeal to him and we shared what I like to call a "New York Moment." This city can toss you a beating sometimes, It doesn't matter if you're a legend like Jim Henson or a lowly college intern; we've all been there. We began talking like two New Yorkers who met on a train or in a coffee shop. It was two regular folks with shared experiences. He asked me where I grew up, where I went to school, what my college was like. Basically, we had a 15-minute chat, the kind you have when you're trying to get to know someone new. I could've gushed over him and his accomplishments. I could've asked him all sorts of, "I'm your biggest fan" type of questions. Instead, I found myself having a pleasant talk with someone who I had admired my whole life.

I found him to be a warm and inviting conversationalist. His playful nature was immediately apparent. Throughout our entire conversation he was playing with what I'll call a "noise stick," essentially a plastic tube with a noisemaker inside. As you tilted the stick in one direction, the noisemaker inside would slide down the tube and make this really bizarre, cartoony noise. He played with this the whole time we spoke. It was great watching this brilliant man play with such a goofy toy.


Young Mr. Barry gets ahead

That's when it dawned on me. Look past the brilliant creative man, who carved an empire out of foam and cloth, and you would find a man who found a way to actually be Peter Pan. He had a wonderful childlike quality about him. After all, as he was fond of saying, he had made a career out of "wiggling the dollies." Watching him sit in his big office talking to the lowest man on his totem pole, all the while treating me as his equal and playing with a downright silly toy the whole time made me admire him even more.

His office was a fascinating mix of great antiques and what I could only describe as "cool Muppet stuff." It was comfortable and inviting, much like the man himself. He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and responded earnestly to each question I asked him. Technical crew members had told me that Henson TV or film shoots took forever because Jim was interested in everyone's opinion and took them all into consideration to achieve the final shot. A rarity indeed in a business filled with huge egos.


Kermit & Chris

As he wished me luck in my future and walked me out, I was glad that the day turned out the way it did. I felt like I had made a friend that day. People in this business have cautioned me about meeting your idols. "They could disappoint you," they had warned me. Jim Henson had lived up to his legend, proved himself to be just a regular guy and revealed the inner child that made his work so true and sincere. I couldn't have asked for more.

I'll always remember that day: Friday May 11, 1990.

Five days later -- on Wednesday May 16th, 1990 -- Jim Henson was dead.

Next time -- the memorial service and working with the extended Henson 'family' on "The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson."

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  • Thanks for your article! I have read through some similar topics! However, your post has given me a very special impression, unlike other posts.

  • Congratulations mate for chatting with him. Great conversation though.

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