With a Henson-devoted gallery in the works (expected to open in Winter of 2014-2015) and the Muppets coming back to the theater again next year, lots of people are once again curious about the behind-the-scenes of one of the biggest creative forces of our lifetime.
I expect we will see more books like Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal (yes please!) and more articles around the web but for now, here are some interesting tidbits about the man behind the Muppets that will interest fairy tale people:
- The Wizard of Oz was the first movie Henson ever watched and remained his favorite until his death. (References to the classic film appeared in several Muppets projects.)
- Rumor has it that Henson wanted to direct a film based on the classic Beauty and the Beast
fairy tale, with Tom Cruise playing the prince afflicted by a curse
that turns him into a monster. Unfortunately Disney was planning their
version of the story for a 1991 release, so Henson backed down from the idea. The fairy tale inspired several Muppets sketches, including one with Lesley Ann Warren.
- In the 1960s, Henson — along with Sesame Street writer and producer Jon Stone and TV screenwriter Tom Whedon (Joss Whedon’s father) — created a Cinderella television pilot that never aired. It eventually became the 1969 hour-long TV special Hey, Cinderella!.
- Henson loved to read. His favorite children’s books were Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne and The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber.
What this article doesn't say is that fairy tales were a huge influence on Henson and inspired much of his creativity, whether directly or indirectly. Not only does much of his work have that fairy tale spirit of fantasy, down-to-earth, Jack-like fun and solid truth core, but time and time again he returned to telling his own versions of well-known tales and quite a few forgotten ones too. (I count The Storyteller series as being one of his great achievements for so many reasons!)
Henson's influence is obvious in the Sesame Street News Flash segments - not just in the use of muppets but in the way humor is used to freshen a familiar story and twist the tropes a little so you viewers actually think about what they're watching. Sesame Street's fairy tale news mix-ups and flash-fables were my first exposure to fractured fairy tales, teaching me a lot about elements of story, fairy tale motifs and fairy tale logic (not to mention giving me that bug to go find out more!).
That The Muppets - with that signature Henson humor - keep popping up as fairy tale characters in film, comics, TV sketches and books, even after their creator has passed on, is taken as par for the course but it wouldn't have happened without Jim's insistence on returning to the tales.
The way he worked with, told and used fairy tales is very much in keeping with their nature. True fairy tales can't be pinned down to a single text in a book somewhere. They are alive and mutable and as a community of fairy tale students, researchers, writers and aficionados, we have much to thank Jim Henson for in keeping fairy tales alive and well today. The Muppets, their creator and fairy tales will be forever linked.
We will always miss you Jim.
Thank you for helping keep our tales alive and well.
(You can read the whole article HERE.)