Here’s a 15-minute segment featuring Jim Henson that aired on Iowa Public Television in 1969.
I thought about running it last week but decided to start my Muppet Monday posts
with more of a bang; while it’ll surely suck in any Henson admirer, it’s longer and slower-paced than your usual Internet video link. Henson is so mellow that he makes Mister Rogers look like Gilbert Gottfried.
Among the things that jump out at me are the fact that it’s Rowlf the Dog approaching Henson at the start of the video. Sesame Street hadn’t begun yet, and although Kermit the Frog — who in abstract, prototypical form predates Rowlf — has long been Henson’s signature creation, at the time this video was made Rowlf was still the better-known Muppet, having appeared as a regular on The Jimmy Dean Show and a series of commercials over the past decade.
You hear Kermit in Henson’s voice, of course, as he puts together some rudimentary puppets alongside his creative partner, Don Sahlin, who built Rowlf and many of the early Sesame Street characters from Henson’s sketches. I knew that Kermit and Ernie were very close in tone to Henson’s actual speaking voice, yet whenever I see video of him talking as himself I’m surprised by just how close; the way he holds the vowel sound in the word “spoon” here is proof that this mild-mannered man was born to give fantastical life to charming pieces of felt — and has me mourning him, more than 21 years after his death, as if we lost him just yesterday. The comfort and glee that he feels working with the puppets is not just virtually palpable but literally audible as he unselfconsciously mutters little sounds while drawing an eye or sticking on a nose.
My links above to Rowlf, Kermit, and Sahlin go to the awesome, fan-run Muppet Wiki site, an endlessly fascinating repository of exhaustive info on all things Henson, Muppet, and Sesame.
Related: Muppet Monday (Sept. 26th) • Muppet
Thursday (Nov. 11th) • Muppet Monday (Dec. 26th)