Jim Henson’s Fantastic World: Chicago
Member’s Night Preview Event
Besides the sound of the audience making small talk, songs from The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem, and More! CD could be heard. Above the stage on a large screen was projected a menu from a DVD created for the lecture that contained six video clips. The stage was still empty, but the seats around me were filling up. By 6:45 the auditorium was filled with Museum members and members of The Jim Henson Legacy, including Executive Director Arthur Novell. Seated nearby was also Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Director of Temporary Exhibits, Anna Rashford.
At 7:05, Anne Rashford took to the podium to make an introductory speech. During her time at the podium, she mentioned how Jim Henson was an “inventive genius,” likening his work to a scientist, which I was very pleased to hear. She also introduced The Jim Henson Legacy members, Arthur Novell, Karen Falk, and, special guest, President of The Jim Henson Legacy, Bonnie Erickson!
A representative of the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition spoke next. She spoke of the joy of working with the Jim Henson Legacy and Karen Falk, and introduced Karen as the next speaker. She came on the stage and acknowledged the Legacy members again and also Bill Grisham, whose wife was in the audience that night. Bill Grisham had worked with Jim Henson in the 1960’s. Karen Falk then explained how the lecture would consist of an overview of Jim’s work, using the six clips on the DVD. She started with Jim’s early career–mainly Sam and Friends and Wilkin’s Coffee commercials.
- Sam and Friends: Harry the Hipster is in front of a weather map. He explains that he is the new weatherman for the station. Kermit enters the scene and says that the station already has a weatherman. Harry informs Kermit that he’s not giving the weather, he’s selling it. Kermit tells him that you can’t sell the weather. Harry shows Kermit the crates of weather he has for sale: sunshine, thunderstorm, fog, snowstorm, rain, monsoon season, and tempest (in a teapot). Each weather crate, as it opens, has hilarious results for Kermit.
- Wilkins Coffee: Karen Falk explained that this was the second audience in 55-60 years who got to see these commercials
- Construction Worker – Wontkins falls off a building structure
- Club – Wilkins hits Wontkins with a club
- Falling Safe – Wontkins is hit by a falling safe
- Biplane – Wilkins flies a plane upside and Wontkins falls out
- The La Choy Dragon: Karen introduced this clip as a presentation on the La Choy Dragon made by Jim that was a joke of sorts. The clip started with a meeting comprised of Jim Henson and the La Choy Company. Jim says, “The idea of a real fire-breathing dragon intrigued me.” The rest of the presentation shows the process of Jim, Jerry, Don, and Bill Grisham creating the La Choy Dragon. Don keeps making bigger and bigger explosions throughout the clip, eventually leading to everyone escaping out a window. The building then catches on fire, then the roof, and then the whole building is in flames and destroyed. The audience loved it!
- The Ed Sullivan Show: “Mahna Mahna”
- Bufferin: A commercial for headache medicine that showed how a man was remembering a wonderful day with his family, then realized that that day was almost ruined with a headache. It showcased Jim’s fascination with visual thinking.
- NBC News – “The Ordeal of the American City;” The opening of an NBC news program
- The Muppet Show: Pearl Bailey Episode – The final production number, a hilarious mash-up of musical numbers because Kermit couldn’t get the rights to Camelot
- Fraggle Rock: “Let Me Be Your Song;” introduction of Cantus the Minstrel
After the last clip, Karen introduces Bonnie Erickson. Bonnie takes the stage to thunderous applause. Bonnie was such a great speaker. She discussed how the opening in Chicago is very special: Miss Piggy makes here premiere! A glamorous premiere, too, in her wedding dress.
She recalls how Piggy came about when a call for a “sexy female character” caused a change in a sketch on Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Piggy began as a “shy and naïve” young pig named Miss Piggy Lee, but that name did not stay. But the shy and naïve disappeared during the karate chop eureka moment on The Muppet Show. Bonnie explained how Kermit is Miss Piggy’s rock, a calming influence for the pig. And of course, how could you talk about Miss Piggy without mentioning her perfume, books, and fan clubs right around the time The Great Muppet Caper premiered. Bonnie also mentioned the marriage at the end of The Muppet Takes Manhattan; are Kermit and Miss Piggy married? We know what Piggy would say!
- “Return to Beneath the Planet of the Pigs”: Piggy’s big debut
- Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: Piggy is the girl singer to perform with Herb
- The Muppet Show: Season 1; Miss Piggy as a chorus girl
- The Muppet Show: Ruth Buzzi Episode; the karate chop eureka moment
- The Muppet Show: Elton John Episode; Piggy sings “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Elton John
- The Great Muppet Caper: “The First Time It Happens”; Piggy the movie star
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: “Manhattan Melodies” marriage
I hung around after the lecture to talk to both Bonnie and Karen. Bonnie was the sweetest person and we had a wonderful conversation. Karen as well was great to talk to and meet. She even signed my Jim Henson’s Designs & Doodles book! Both ladies spoke amazingly well and gave avid fans and casual fans something to appreciate over the course of the presentation.
Afterward, I visited the exhibit and was ecstatic. I had already seen the exhibit in Orlando, Florida, but the addition of Miss Piggy, the wedding cake topper, and a “Manhattan Melodies” playbill.