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A Henson family reunion at NYC's Museum of Television & Radio

A Henson family reunion at NYC's Museum of Television & Radio

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It looks like our favorite California theme park isn't the only one celebrating a golden anniversary this year. On Saturday, September 24, the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City hosted a celebration of 50 years of the Jim Henson Company. My friend Robert and I attended and had quite an enjoyable afternoon.

As we entered the hall on 52nd street in Midtown Manhattan, we weren't quite sure what to expect. The museum's website had a few different things on the schedule. The first was a sneak preview of the upcoming Henson program, "Frances." Thanks to the busy New York streets, we missed this peak at the next generation of Henson programming. I was told that it looks great. We'll have to watch out for the premiere.

First up on the schedule was a book signing by Jim Henson's daughter Cheryl. She was signing copies of the new book, "It's Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider," a collection of quotes from Jim, various members of the Henson extended creative family, and even some of the Muppets themselves. The book is a wonderful read and would make a great gift for any fan of Jim's. The books were offered for sale at the museum. I picked up a copy and got on the autograph line. When it was my turn, I told Cheryl of my past employment with the company and how much that time meant to me. She said she recognized me, but I'm sure she was just being polite. She graciously signed my book, "To Chris - Part of the family." We snapped a photo and made our way out into the museum.

Children were making puppets out of paper bags and all sorts of different materials, while large television monitors played episodes of "Fraggle Rock." Speaking of Fraggles, Gobo Fraggle made an appearance and posed for pictures with children. Gobo found time to pose with some big kids as well.

There were ongoing screenings of episodes of "Fraggle Rock" and "Jim Henson's Storyteller." It was great to be able to see programs like these that have been off TV for some time. There were some great stills from various Henson productions framed and hanging on the walls of the screening room. In between screenings and events we actually had time to catch the premiere episode of "The Jetsons"- where George and Jane first hire Rosie the Robot.

The highlight of the day had to be the puppeteer demonstration. The room was filled with equal numbers of fans and families. Many of the children were holding the puppets they had created earlier in the day. There was a small stage with a table in the center, a large video screen behind, and a small home video camera set on a tripod. On the table were all sorts of fabrics and wigs and a box full of "Muppet pieces," sitting alongside what appeared to be two puppets in clear bags.

Tyler Bunch took the stage and introduced himself as a puppeteer for the Jim Henson Company. His list of credits include "Bear in the Big Blue House," "The Book of Pooh," "Muppets in Space," and "Sesame Street" among others. His most recognizable character would have to be Treelo from "Bear in the Big Blue House." When prompted to do Treelo's voice he responded, "But, I don't want to do the voice," in that character's signature high pitched tone, much to the delight of the kids in the room. Tyler proved to be a wonderful host for the demonstration. His warm and humorous demeanor appealed to all ages in the audience.

As he removed the first puppet from the bag, he began to take suggestions from the crowd on eye color, hairstyle and type of clothing to dress this character. He connected the puppet's hands to two puppeteering rods and showed us how they work. Once the character was complete, he went on to demonstrate the subtle way he manipulates the puppets mouth and hands for just the right effect. He then turned on the camera, dimmed the lights and began to explain how the puppeteers worked on camera. There was a small monitor at his feet, which allowed him to see his performance exactly as it would appear on the screen.

Next he put together the second puppet, which was a puppet with workable hands. For this character he needed a volunteer from the audience to operate the puppets right hand while he operated the left. The young boy assisting him got lots of laughs as he tried to follow Tyler's instructions and "be" the right hand of this character.

Tyler then invited all the children in the audience to come up on stage with their puppets and puppeteer on camera as they danced to the theme from "Fraggle Rock." Bunch then took time to sit and answer questions from the audience. His 12 years of experience as a Henson puppeteer made for a very informative and funny presentation. We all learned something from him and appreciated the hour we spent together. I even won a Red Fraggle plush in a raffle to bring home to my 6-year-old daughter. As they held up Red, the girl Fraggle, I turned to Robert and said, "Boy, Samantha (my daughter) would like that one." The words were still hanging in the air as my name was called. Muppet magic, I guess.

As we exited the small theater, I spotted Jim Henson's wife Jane standing in the back. Jane always has a quiet grace about her and seemed surprised by my recognition of her. I told her how much I enjoyed the day and how my time at Henson years ago meant so much to me. As always, Jane was gracious and almost embarrassed by her fame. After seeing Cheryl and Jane Henson together at this event, I was reminded that as big as the company got, it's still, at times, a small family operation.

There was an interesting footnote to this article. It started out as just an observation by Robert, regarding something that was conspicuously absent from the days' events. That footnote, however, grew into it's own article and I'll talk about that next time.

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