I think that there can be few who would argue that one of the most revolutionary and ingenious minds in the entertainment industry has to be Jim Henson. He was a man with a vision: to make puppetry mainstream entertainment. I believe that he succeeded in spades, and few would be able to convincingly disagree. He began his work in puppetry while attending high school. He was a studio arts major at the University of Maryland, and graduated with a B.Sc. in Home Ecconomics. He created the successful Sam and Friends, a five minute pupet show that introduced us to several characters, including the early version of what would become his most famous character and trademark, Kermit the Frog. He spent much of the fifties and sixties producing popular commercials with his Muppets, and had several appearances on television, most notably on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1969, Jim was asked to join the creative forces behind the immensely successful and still popular Sesame Street, bringing several memorable character such as Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird into pop culture history. He would produce several made for TV specials before his variety show "The Muppet Show" was launched in 1976. "The Muppet Show" would bring about a transition of the love for his puppetry into the mainstream market. Another critically acclaimed and successful show "Fraggle Rock" brought the Muppets and Jim Henson even further success, especially on an international level. They created the show so that it could be adapted to appeal to children of all nations.
Jim himself was the voice behind many of the most notable and memorable Muppet characters. In addition to Kermit, he performed dozens of popular characters, including Rowlf the Dog, Ernie, Dr. Teeth, the Swedish Chef, and Wladorf, one of the two old hecklers on the Muppet Show. Jim brought a level of charm and wit to the muppets he performed, and had impeccable comedic timing.
His career was not limitted to that of the TV industry. The silver screen brought us several examples of Jim Henson's genius. In addition to a series of successful Muppet movies, Jim was the creative genius behind the fantasy-themed "Dark Crystal", which is a mesmorizing story. His Muppets also provided us with creatures to be used in films such as "Labrynth", "Teenage Mutant Nija Turtles", and created the legendary character Yoda for the Star Wars franchise. Jim continued to have more success on television, with cartoon hits like "The Muppet Babies", variety shows like "The Jim Henson Hour", and one of my personal favourites, "The Storyteller". While he never acheived the commercial success he had with Sesame Street or the Muppet Show, he continued to create and invent fantastic fun creatures and characters for us to enjoy.
One of the biggest parts of his success was his ability to surround himself with similar creative geniuses who shared his vision. It is impossibe to speak of Jim Henson without at the very least acknowledging those who helped him along the way. His wife Jane was a fellow puppeteer until their children arrived. All of his kids were involved to some degree with the Muppets. Then there were the like of Jerry Juhl, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, David Golez, Jerry Nelson, and so many others who helped enrich our experience with the Muppets. It is a tribute to his legacy that we so many people continue his tradition.
Sadly, Jim Henson passed away on May 16, 1990, after complications associated with pneumonia. It was a sad day indeed for all of us, because he was more than just an entertainer. He was a song writer, a story teller, a humanitarian, a poet, an artist, and the best of what humanity can offer. It is almost 18 years since he has left us, but his work and his lebacy live on. May we never take for granted the special gift he gave to each of us that have enjoyed his work.