Jim Henson’s 75th Birthday: The Effect on the World

Chase Beecher – This past Saturday was the celebration of what would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday. Lots of folks got in on the celebration. As I am sure you have seen, Google turned their “Google Doodle” into digital puppets. The Rainbow Connection bridge was dedicated in Leland, Mississippi. Jim’s films were shown all over the country celebrating his work. “Jim Henson” became a trending topic on Twitter (so did Mean Girls 2, but I bet it was unrelated), and tributes came from all around. We have compiled what we could–there is a lot of love for Jim, and we can see his legacy is living on. We have tributes coming from Twitter, Facebook  and from personal request. (Thanks to Jerry Nelson and Gene and Bill Barretta!) Here’s to you, Jim! Happy Birthday!

Bill Prady (co-creator of The Big Bang Theory):   I began writing while working for Henson, so his impact on my life is profound. Lesson: write what truly amuses you–not others. I began my writing career at the Muppets. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t miss Jim. Happy birthday, boss.

Neal Patrick Harris (via Twitter):   Jim Henson would have been 75 today. I wish he were still around. I miss him.

Chris Hardwick, The Nerdist (via Twitter):   Happy 75th Bday JIM HENSON!! Your indelible mark on our souls will live on forever.

Kelly Tindall:   Is it too negative to say that I’d sacrifice every person from every reality show to a volcano for one more hour of Jim Henson T.V.?

Elizabeth Leary:   Funny how someone you never met can have such an impact on you. No idea where I’d be/what I’d be doing without Jim Henson.

Jacqueline Yatko
:   He made believe there will always be a child in each of us no matter what age we are.

Stephen Christy
(Editor-in-Chief of Archaia Comics):   Working on Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand has been almost a spiritual experience. We are definitely trying to channel Jim’s creativity.

Lauri Sarah:  Jim Henson made me feel safe when I was scared and smile when I felt like crying, and forever friends.

Lucas Ross:   He got into my head at an early age and has a thumbprint on all I do now. I even named my oldest son “Henson.” for real. I tried for Kermit, but didn’t fly.

Jonathan Melville:   I’ve realized from Jim that I need to be more creative, mediocre isn’t an option. Not sure I’ve succeeded, but I’m trying!

Dave Hulteen, Jr (Muppet Fan Artist):   Today would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday, the most influential person to me who has inspired my art.

James V. Carrol (Muppet Fan Artist):  At five years old, my parents took me to see the theatrical debut of The Muppet Movie and it greatly impacted my life. I remember everything about that day. The illusion was so real that I actually believed the Swedish Chef broke the projector in the middle of the movie. Most people mistake becoming rich and famous as the goal of the film, but it’s about sharing your journey with other likeminded individuals who may be very different in every other aspect of their lives. That kind of positivity, no matter what the challenge, is how I always think of Jim Henson and is only a fraction of what his work continues to mean in my life.

Noel MacNeal (Muppet Performer):   This says it all. (And not only don’t you ever see Kermit’s feet, it’s FUNNIER not seeing his feet!)

Ryan Dosier:   I was born after Jim Henson was gone. The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson aired a month after I was born. I love the fact that Muppet stuff continued and has continued all thanks to the legacy Jim Henson left us. We miss you, Jim. Thank you for leaving us your legacy so that we can carry it on in your memory. You inspire me every day, Jim Henson. I hope to do your legacy proud.

Jerry Nelson (Muppet Performer):   The first time I saw Jim Henson was 1956 at WOR. The NBC affiliate in the basement of the the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. I had just returned from military service and was working as a Page delivering mail and Tele-taped news updates to the newsroom and various departments of the station. He and Jane were rehearsing for that evening’s show of Sam and Friends. Little did I know then that nine years later my life would be so intricately tied to the Muppets for so much of my career.  A blessing that gave me the opportunity, though I did not know it at the time, to put into practice what I had trained for all of my life; to dance, sing, and play in the company of so many talented people. I thank my lucky stars Jim saw that potential in me when I finally met him in New York City.

And now we present an extremely special, personal thank you and look at how Jim Henson has affected the lives of the Barretta brothers: Bill and Gene.

On Jim Henson’s 75th birthday, we’re reflecting on what his life meant to us with a personal thank you.  Our experiences are both solo and shared as brothers.

GENE:   Jim made a tremendous impact on me early on. When I was 10, my cousin Gary and I discovered Bert and Ernie on TV–suddenly the world of puppetry came alive for us. I had to be very careful not to tell my junior high classmates I was watching Sesame Street. Eventually, we introduced my younger brother Billy to it and look where that led!

GENE & BILL:   For many years after that, we, along with Gary, made frequent trips to the foam and fabric shop where we bought supplies to make our own “Muppets.” There was an occasional puppet show at the Katzenbach School for the Deaf, thanks to one of their teachers, our Aunt Kathy. The shows were important to us, but making the puppets and fantasizing about what it might be like to one day work with Jim Henson was what it was all about.

BILL:   Since I was four years younger than my brother and cousin, I got to be a part of the puppet shows by assisting them.  I got to do things like, pull the string that released the confetti at the right moment. Helping them bring smiles to the deaf children’s faces was something I’ll never forget. And now, with what I’ve come to learn about Jim (through the people that were close to him), I think back on those early puppet shows and feel he would have really appreciated what we were doing. Especially how we placed the big speakers facing down onto the floor so that the deaf children could feel the vibrations of the music we played.

GENE:   My first official encounter with Jim Henson was at age fourteen.  I was not shy about sending him a fan letter to ask how he made his Muppets.  It must have been his calm and generous demeanor that made me think it was ok to approach him. Not long after, guess what arrived in the mail? Not only a personal letter from Jim, but also a set of instructions on how to make Muppets! Would you expect anything else? That letter survived many decades in a ragged portfolio and is now hanging in my studio.

GENE & BILL:   We were in his company three times after that. Once briefly when he showed up at Sesame Place, where we were working as summer employees alongside his son, Brian. A few years later we spent more time with Jim in his NY apartment during a visit with Brian. And our final honor was attending his memorial service in 1990.

BILL:   I remember so vividly the day he came to Sesame Place. I happened to be working next to a brand new automated character attraction of “Oscar The Grouch” that they were testing. From where I was stationed, I looked up for a moment and just happened to see Jim walking into the park. He could have easily gone through some private VIP entrance, but instead, he entered the park just like everyone else. I immediately abandoned my post, ran up to him and said something corny like “Mr. Henson! Welcome to Sesame Place!” He said, in a low tone “Thanks. Do you know where the Oscar attraction is?” …Did I? I basically spent the next half hour just staring at him as he observed Oscar and it’s effects on the park guests. The fact that he preferred to be with the people and not with some VIP escort made a huge impact on me… such great humility.

GENE:   I know that he made an impact on me because I think about him often–especially when I am working on one of my children’s books.  My manner with children was strongly influenced by watching Jim speak with them. I emphasize the word “with.” He put children at ease when they were in his presence. He initiated a dialogue based on mutual respect. He made them feel as though he had nowhere more important to be during those moments. I strive to follow his lead.

BILL:   And I guess I am following his lead as well. I’m always honored and amazed that I get to perform a few of Jim’s characters. As a kid, and growing up, his characters seemed to jump out at me more than any others. The types of voices he created along with the pure and crazy, playful personas that went along with them, is something that feels close to me as a performer.

GENE:   I can also thank Jim for helping me approach adulthood as an artist. Very early on, I recognized that he was a mature, responsible adult and parent who could also nurture a child-like innocence within. That was vital for his creative mind. I now know how important that is for my work (and life) as well. The trick though, is to not allow for the inner child to override maturity.

BILL:   I actually prefer that my inner child take over. He’s so much smarter and more fearless than me.   Still searching for the balance I guess.   

GENE & BILL:   Finally, now that we both have a child, we hope to follow his lead as a parent. Look at his legacy. Jim and Jane raised five remarkable children. Speak with any of them and its clear that they experienced an inspired childhood filled with valuable life lessons. So, thank you, Jim. The best way to really thank you is to remain creative. And we will.

Chase Beecher:   How could I pay tribute to Jim Henson? Well, there are not too many human beings that have affected my life the way that he has. Rumor has it, I had a Kermit doll in the womb with me, and that is when it all started. I have thought about this, and had Jim not been here, I know that I would probably want to be a school teacher or a doctor or something sane like that, rather than being a performer, trying to make millions of people happy. My sense of humor and wonder would radically be different. But more than that, I think the world would be radically different. The world is a lot lighter and happier and a lot greener for him having been here. I think the greatest and lasting tribute is not only the great men and women carrying on his legacy, but the great folks that I have met that share in my crazy love for the Muppets. We ourselves are a little like the Muppets: a fundamentally different group of individuals who have come together and cosmically understand one another on a deeper level.

Well, now that I have been all schmaltzy, I am going to go throw some Boomerang Fish. Just for the Halibut.

Do you wanna throw fish with Chase? Find him on Twitter @chasebeecher or at facebook.com/chasebeecher

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

8 thoughts on “Jim Henson’s 75th Birthday: The Effect on the World

  1. I am 33 years old and a proud Muppet fan. cannot wait for new Muppet movie, the kids will have to watch out as i will be sitting in the front row (probably singing along too) 🙂

  2. I grew up on Fraggle Rock- obsessed is a good description to describe my love of it as a child. Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas was one of my favorite movies as well, and loved the fact that my mom would watch it with me. As an adult I still watch and own these great pieces. I love the booklet that came with the fraggle Rock dvd, it shows Jim's creative process and is a neat glimpse at a mastermind at work.

  3. Jim Henson will always be an inspiration to me. Ever since I was little I have loved the Muppets, Muppet Babies and Sesame street. I was only about 8 when Jim Henson passed away but a year later I read an paper back biography book for kids about Jim Henson, and ever since then I have admired Jim Henson. I am teacher and I agree with Jim that children need imagination, and that we need to be more like children. 🙂

  4. I got hooked on the Muppets when I was in college and we would watch The Muppet Show every Friday night. My brother was in high school at an all boys boarding school and he said they had to dedicate one TV room every Friday night to The Muppet Show. And I got my 21 year old niece hooked on the Muppets when she was about 4 years old, she is still hooked!!! I can watch a Muppet Show and feel better immediately, if things are tough in my life. Thank you Jim Henson!!!

    ***I was in a thrift store on September 23 and found, in pristine condition, the LIFE magazine featuring a goodbye to Jim Henson from July, 1990 for 29 cents. It sent shivers down my spine when I found out his 75th birthday was September 24.

  5. I grew up on Jim Henson and for as long as I can remember he was my comfort, inspiration, love, and laughs. I will never forget when he became ill and his death that followed. It was like my best friend died. I always dreamed of showing up on the doorsteps of the Henson studios, bag in hand – willing to do ANYTHING as long as it was for Jim Henson. At 41 I still have that dream ((sigh))…Jim made the magic of life visible.

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