Interview with Muppet Writer Craig Shemin, Part 2

Mitchell Stein – In case you missed it, make sure to check out part one of our interview with Muppet writer Craig Shemin! Without further ado here is our second and last part of our interview with Craig Shemin.


Craig Shemin Interview Part 2
Conducted by Mitchell Stein

Mitchell Stein:   What do you think is the future of the Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Legacy is in the next twenty years? What do you think will be archived in that time?

Craig Shemin:   I’d say there’s a lot of stuff. I know the Henson Company is working on a lot of stuff. They have a lot of shows and films in the works. I mean, I’m hoping twenty years down the road the company is up and running and still doing work. They overcame a great deal of adversity when Jim died, I remember because I was there, and very quickly they got up to speed and created some shows that were really very strong. When I was working at the company in the late 90s, Henson was producing shows like The Wubbolous World of Dr. Seuss, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Farscape. In the ten years following Jim’s death, the company had produced more hours of television than what Jim had done in his lifetime, and a lot of people don’t realize that the family came together and really made that happen.

It was very sad to recently lose John Henson, he was a truly great guy and I know it’s really hard on the family and I hope they are able to continue moving forward.

As for the Jim Henson Legacy, we’re hoping that a lot of what we do we will be taken over by the organizations that the Henson Family donated these collections to. So you are going to be seeing a lot more of the activities we normally do such as screenings and events which will be taken over by the Museum of Moving Image and other organizations.

MS:   I was hoping you might be able to share some more insight on John Henson. Of course Muppet fans are very saddened by his passing but some are unfamiliar with John as his credits with the Muppets were not as big as some of the other Hensons. I was hoping you might be able to share some fond memories of John Henson with us.

CS:   I remember working with him on several occasions, he really enjoyed life. He was sort of always taking life as it happened and I think he was really like his father in that way. I once remember I think in ’92 or ’93, Jane Henson started giving presentations to people, so she asked me and John to make a video tour of the Henson workshop. John really got into it and he took his video camera and went around the workshop and we had a lot of fun and John was really getting into shooting video of all the drawers full of eyes and ears, and it was just a lot of fun to put together and when I watch it now, you can kind of hear him laughing behind the camera. He found really funny things to shoot around the workshop.

When he started performing Sweetums, he really got into it and really enjoyed it. I remember Sweetums was supposed to do an appearance on CNN one day, and we were shooting it in the Henson Townhouse and I was still in the public relations department, and we were all waiting for John to arrive but he was stuck in traffic, so they were literally minutes away from putting me into the Sweetums costume for this appearance. I was so relieved when John walked through the door with a big smile on his face, and said “sorry I’m late!” and I was just so relived to not have to play Sweetums that day.

I wasn’t really that close with John, but I always remember him being very positive and always greeting me with a smile.

MS:   What would you say is the most misunderstood thing about Jim Henson?

CS:   I don’t know if I would say misunderstood, but so many people see Jim Henson as the guy who created the Muppets, but they don’t see the bigger picture of a guy who was good at really so many things. The puppets were only one of the things he did. He did animation, he did a lot of really wonderful artwork, he was an Academy Award nominated film maker for his short film, Timepiece, so I think some people when they see Jim Henson they see him on talk shows and with Kermit, they’re only seeing part of a very big picture and that’s what we try to emphasize at these Henson events and screenings. He’s a guy who of course created the Muppets, but he did so many other great things.

I don’t know if you got the chance to see Youth ’68 or The Cube, these are very unique television programs done in the 60’s by Jim, and they have nothing to do with puppetry, and I think that we try to position Jim as an artist, he was a puppeteer but first and foremost an artist, and an incredible performer. Not a lot of people think about how good a performer Jim really was.

I guess I wouldn’t call it a misunderstanding, but I just don’t think they’re seeing the big-picture.

MS:   I actually haven’t had the chance to see The Cube or Youth ’68 yet, but I’ve seen many of his other fantastic works.

CS:   You can actually purchase The Cube and Timepiece on iTunes right now! Henson put that up there. Unfortunately, there’s too many music copyright issues for Youth ’68, and they weren’t able to get that one up.

MS:   And for my last question, who is your favorite Muppet, or can you even pick just one?

CS:   I have several favorites actually, but I really love Rowlf! Recently I put together a Rowlf compilation for one of our screenings at the Museum of Moving Image, there’s something so special about that character and especially his interactions with Jimmy Dean. I also love Fozzie. From a point of view of writing for characters, it doesn’t get better than Miss Piggy.

I had the opportunity to write for Piggy quite a bit. I co-wrote her cookbook, and many different speeches TV appearances and projects. From a writing point of view, she is the richest character. She is a lot of fun to work for.

Huge thanks to Craig for the wonderful interview–and the closing picture!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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