Jim Henson and Muppets’ 1971 appearance on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ is a sheer delight

On Thanksgiving Day 1971—that would have been November 25—Dick Cavett featured Jim Henson and the Muppets on his ABC talk show. Indeed, they very nearly took the show over. The Muppets had recently become famous through the popular PBS educational program Sesame Street, but Henson wasn’t well known at this time; Cavett and Henson both remark on this. So it’s quite possible that this 90-minute show represented Henson’s proper introduction to the American people.

Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson
For anyone who is fond of the Muppets, the show is simply a delight. Henson is there, as is Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Caroll Spinney as the puppeteers and voice actors. More to the point, all of your favorite Sesame Street characters are there, including Kermit, Grover, Ernie & Bert, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, as well as a whole bunch of other ones that are more ad hoc. The gang was there to promote The Muppet Alphabet Album as well as a TV special called The Frog Prince.

If you’ve ever wanted to see Henson and Oz show exactly how modular these puppets are by putting one through his paces (he becomes at least three different characters in just a few moments through the manipulation of eyes and headwear, Mr. Potato-style), this is the video for you. Kermit sings a song in drag (I swear to god this is true); well, just like any true drag queen, Kermit lipsyncs, in this case to Rosemary Clooney’s rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” from My Fair Lady. Actually, that number turns out to be a little bit gruesome!

Kermit and some of his relatives
We get to meet a few Fraggles and a huge muppet named Thog. The Cookie Monster devours one of Cavett’s boom mics and then says, “The microphones on the Carson show—blech!” Grover tries to read the cue card to segue to an impending commercial but then admits he can’t actually read. My favorite bit of all involves Ernie and Bert. Ernie convinces Bert to talk more like a know-it-all hepcat because after all, they’re not on educational TV anymore, they’ve hit the big time of national TV on ABC! So of course by the time Cavett is ready for them, Ernie has shed his shades and beret and Bert is left looking like an insincere phony, which irks Bert no end. We also get a nice rendition of the “Mahna Mahna” song.

Dick Cavett and Thog
In addition to everything else, Cavett provided Henson with a forum to show off a fair number of his non-Muppet pieces, including “Youth 68” and a handful of Sesame Street shorts. Here’s a rough list of the segments; these are taken from the YouTube “About” sections but I’ve pruned the commercials away from the list:

1. Intro, Dick is comforted by Thog.

2. “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face,” interview with Jim Henson, scenes from The Frog Prince
3. interview with Jim Henson, scenes from The Frog Prince
4. “Mahna Mahna,” more chat with Jim Henson and Muppets, Thog sings “Three Little Fishies”

5. Cookie Monster interview
6. Big Bird sings “Very Special Letter” (about the letter V)

7. Puppeteers interview, P Is My Favorite Letter, Oscar interview

8. Bert and Ernie
9. Grover interview

10. Demonstration of an anything Muppet, Sesame Street inserts, Bossman
11. Kermit Love interview

12. Visual Thinking

13. Jim Henson talks about film editing and shows a scene from Youth 68
14. Jim Henson shows a clip called “Susanne” and a scene from “Time Piece”

15. Glow Worm, Jim Henson talks about how Muppets work

16. Sesame Street merch plug, credits

The episode is broken up into six different videos—we’ve embedded the first, the other five shouldn’t be hard to find.

via Classic Television Showbiz

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Thomas Dolby (sort of) explains how synthesizers work
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Jim Henson
Thomas Dolby

In this clip from Jim Henson’s short-lived 1989 series, The Ghost of Faffner Hall—about a music conservatory run by a man who hates music—Thomas Dolby tries explaining how a synthesizer works with the help of a matchbox and a very dizzy fly.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Experimental film collaboration between Jim Henson and Raymond Scott, 1967
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Jim Henson
Raymond Scott

Jim Henson made “Wheels That Go” for a film contest at Montreal’s Expo ‘67 featuring his three-year-old son Brian and a wild electronic score by the great Raymond Scott (who is credited here as “Ramond” due to a bummer of a typo).

The short film explores motion, basically. In cars, across bridges, in NYC, on trains… Brian looks at wheels, rides on them and plays with them. I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s only a minute long. Just hit play.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Muppets dump Chick-Fil-A for anti-gay stance

Bert & Ernie, together since 1969

The Jim Henson Company has severed their partnership with fast food chain Chick-Fil-A. The company’s “Creature Shop” toys are being given away with kid’s meals, but that’s coming to an end, due to Chick-Fil-A’s conservative Christian President-CEO Dan Cathy’s anti-gay public statements.

The Jim Henson Company posted this statement to their Facebook page:

The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors. Lisa Henson, our CEO is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to GLAAD.

The comments are fascinating.

Meanwhile Boston mayor Tom Menino has publicly stated his opposition to a Chick-Fil-A opening in Beantown. It’s not like a mayor can single-handedly decree something like this, but Menino can make damn sure that opening the Boston branch of Chick-Fil-A is a very, very slow and expensive process for Dan Cathy and his crew.

Not eating at a Chick-Fil-A is an easy way to send a message that this kind of thing won’t be tolerated in your community, either. Why give Truett and Dan Cathy your money to fight marriage equality? Bigotry = bad business. It’s time Chick-Fil-A’s stockholders and franchise owners realize this and kick Dan Cathy to the curb. He’s a PR disaster.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Jennifer Connelly auditions for ‘Labyrinth’, 1986
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Jim Henson
Jennifer Connelly

Another curio from the Jim Henson vaults, this time the audition tape of a 14-year-old Jennifer Connelly for the 1986 cult classic Labyrinth. You gotta admit Connelly totally nails this audition, selling the action with her own reactions when there is literally nothing there. When he speaks near the end, you can tell Jim Henson is impressed:


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Sex & Violence: the first ever ‘Muppet Show,’ 1974

An interesting curio from the back catalog of the Jim Henson estate here - the first ever (pilot) episode of The Muppet Show, which was recorded late in 1974 for broadcast in 1975. From the Muppets wikia:

The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence aired on ABC on March 19, 1975, and was shot on December 10-16, 1974.

It was one of the two pilots produced for The Muppet Show. The other pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show, aired in 1974.

In this half-hour variety special, the Muppets parody the proliferation of sex and violence on television.

Subtitled “An End to Sex & Violence,” this first ever episode of the world’s favourite puppet theatre seems a bit racy for a supposed family audience. However, watching this pilot it’s clear that Henson and co. were aiming for a more adult-orientated, risqué edge to the material, akin to the sketches they provided in the very early years of Saturday Night Live (and which were deemed, in the end, not to work.)

Obviously some more fine tuning was needed on this material before it became the international hit we all know and love. Not least a honing of the format and pacing of the show. This early version is a lot more fast-moving, with quicker cuts between multiple sketches, which we return to numerous times. The show had also yet to make musical numbers its main focus, perhaps explaining the later decision to constrain the sketches to single slots allowed to play out in full.

That’s not the only thing that’s disconcertingly different though: the usual Muppet Show host Kermit is relegated to just a bit part, even though by this stage he had become well known through appearances on Sesame Street. Sam the Eagle has a lot of screen time, and an early variant on Miss Piggy makes a brief appearance.

The main presenting duties go to a humanoid Muppet called Nigel, who is backed up by right hand man by Floyd Pepper, better known as the bass player in Dr Teeth’s Electric Mayhem and the popular character Janice’s main squeeze. The main Muppets’ to-camera addresses are a lot more knowing and audience-literate than Kermit’s let’s-get-this-show-on-the-road style, again hinting at the influence of a more grown-up, hip comedy aesthetic influenced by Lorne Michaels and even Monty Python.

Still, flawed as it may be, this is well worth a watch for Muppet fans and even the more curious viewer. Below is part one, while parts two and three are after the jump:

The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence Parts 2 & 3 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
‘The Muppet Show’ without The Muppets

These two delightful behind the scenes videos from The Muppet Show were generously posted by an ATV cameraman who worked on the program named John O’Brien.

In the first clip, we see what The Muppet Show would have been like had they used real-life actors—well, at least the crew members—instead of puppets. Not quite the same, is it?

A little bit of fun by the crew recorded at the end of the first series/season of The Muppet Show in 1976 (I joined ATV in 1977 during Season 2) ... I am not sure who was responsible for putting this together (I suspect Peter Harris had an input) but I’m sure someone will tell me.

The cast includes Peter Harris, Richard Holloway, Jim O’Donnell, Brian Grant, Steve Springford, Jerry Hoare, Phil Hawkes, Gerry Elms, John Rook, Martin Baker, Sue Boyers, Francis Essex, Dennis Bassinger, David Chandler, Bryan Holgate, Peter Milic, Claude Walters and the ladies from the Canteen.


And then there’s the second video, which is also pretty amazing:

A behind the scenes glimpse of the Muppet Show on it’s last day of recording at the Elstree Television Studios in 1980 on which I was privileged to work as a Cameraman.

Featured is Jim Henson and Frank Oz who were the main inspiration and creative forces behind the show. Narrated by Peter Harris, one of the two directors on the show … it mostly reveals crew and cast having a very silly day as everyone said their final farewells. Richard Holloway (now Executive Producer on “The X Factor”) had been the Senior Floor Manager for the duration and it was probably inevitable that he became the victim of the flan flingers … he took it in great spirits.

This last day in Studio D was the culmination of 5 years work, fun and laughter on what was arguably the most successful Children’s Programme in the world at the time, having been sold to some 110 countries … it was the end of an era for many and the Muppets have gone on to become truly iconic.


Via Nerdcore

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Angry, flatulent robot stars in little-known Jim Henson film from 1963
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Jim Henson

Seldom-seen short film by Jim Henson from the AT&T archives:

Jim Henson made this film in 1963 for The Bell System. Specifically, it was made for an elite seminar given for business owners, on the then-brand-new topic — Data Communications.


(via Nerdcore and Submitterator )

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Behind the scenes documentary about Jim Henson’s ‘The Dark Crystal’
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Jim Henson
The Dark Crystal

Before there was CGI, there was Jim Henson’s animatronics masterpiece The Dark Crystal. I remember seeing this as a little kid and totally having my mind blown with all the fantastic creatures, detailed sets and elaborate costumes. This 1982 behind-the-scenes documentary on the film shows just how much hard work and dedication was used in making this cult classic.


Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Cable gets synopsis of ‘The Dark Crystal’ very, very wrong

Parts II and III after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Orson Welles’ creepy interview with Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Creepy is an understatement considering there’s a scene where Miss Piggy’s “lifeless” body is poked and prodded in a lake. Here’s little bit about the unaired pilot via Wikipedia:

The Orson Welles Show was an unsold television talk show pilot. It has never been broadcast or released. Filming began in September 1978 and the project was completed around February 1979. […] Welles interviewed Burt Reynolds (taking several questions from the audience,) Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and performed two magic tricks assisted by Angie Dickinson. Several of The Muppets were featured in taped segments, including Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great and Animal.

Update: A Dangerous Minds reader points out the dead Muppet scenes are from a Late Night with Conan O’Brien sketch. Thanks for the heads-up, Meaning_of! 

(via Nerdcore)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Jim Henson’s seldom seen 1969 pilot for ‘The Wizard of Id’

Jim Henson’s test pilot of Johnny Hart’s Wizard of Id strip from 1969. If this was pitched again in 2011, the “class war” humor would be more in tune with the times, eh?

Via Classic Television Showbiz

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Jim Henson blows Middle America’s mind on Carson in 1974

Did Johnny Carson know what he was getting into when his producers asked Jim Henson to perform without Muppets on his show in February 1974?

By the time of the clip below, Henson and his Muppets Inc. crew were five years into what was becoming a hugely successful partnership with the Children’s Television Workshop on the show that would raise Generation X, Sesame Street.

What better time to do something like, say, adapt electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott’s highly trippy piece, “The Organized Mind” as a short live multimedia stage performance? (By the way, the film playing in the background is apparently Henson’s film adaptation of the same piece of music.)

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Cookie Monster helps train IBM sales staff (1967)
Jim Henson’s “Time Piece”

Bonus clip after the jump: “The Paperwork Explosion” another 1967 Henson/Scott collaborative film for IBM…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Jim Henson’s “Time Piece”
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Jim Henson
Time Piece

Before there were Muppets, there was Jim Henson, experimental film maker:

Time Piece is nine very weird, sort of beatnik minutes of fast-paced, scattered imagery and sounds all set to the beat of a hi-hat.  He makes music out of everyday sounds.  So you get tapping, tick-tocks, footsteps, drumbeats, car zooms, whistles, screeches, pogo sticks, high heels, typewriters, on/off switches, dings, buzzes, bowling balls, elevators, champagne pops, zippers, dogs panting, rocking chairs, beers opening, tea kettles, crackers, coughing, and a shot of Henson painting an elephant pink.  The only word used in the whole thing is ?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment