Jim Henson, Master Utopiast

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When Jim Henson was in college his life as muppet creator and muppet master began. His muppets have lives of their own now. Miss Piggy, Kermit, Bert and Ernie, Grover and Elmo just to name a few that are very real to kids and adults.

Jim Henson was born on September 24, 1936 in Greeenville, Mississippi. He lived in the countryside as a child and loved to ride horses and fish in the creek in his backyard. He never was athletically inclined but loved to draw, paint and create things with his hands. When Jim was a teenager he exasperated his parents by watching the television all day and night it seemed. His favorite shows were “Kukla Fran and Ollie” and other marionette shows. He was fascinated by puppets and television.

In 1954 Jim tried out for a puppet show that was going to be on a local television station. He made a rat puppet and a couple of cowboy puppets and won a part in the show. But three weeks later the show was canceled and that seemed like the end of his career. It wasn’t the end, however, because some NBC executives had seen some of Jim’s performances and liked him immediately. Henson landed a job as a puppeteer in a cartoon show.

At the time Henson was going to college at the University of Maryland and began taking puppeteering courses along with acting, stage and scene design. By 1955 Jim Henson had his own show, called “Sam and His Friends” about a bald, buggy eyed puppet and a frog named Kermit. Soon thereafter he was hired to make Wilkins coffee commercials; he made 160 of them with his puppets.

In 1957 Henson went on the “Tonight Show” with Kermit and a purple monster. His career continued to take off and he started making big bucks. He bought a Rolls-Royce to drive to his college graduation. Soon his puppets became known as muppets; by combining the two words puppets and marionettes. The biggest break came in 1969 when PBS asked him to do a children’s show called “Sesame Street”. This is where Big Bird, Fozzie Bear, The Count, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie all came to life. The show flourished and in 1974 the show won an Emmy Award. The show is still on today.

Jim Henson wanted to market his muppets to the adult audience as well as children. But it was hard now with the popularity of Sesame Street the muppets were stuck in a rut that seemed to say that puppets were only for kids. Jim worked hard to break free of that stereotype and created the Muppet Show. This is where the sexy Miss Piggy came to be.

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