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Joseph Scarbrough launched what he called "The Scarblog" as a way of cataloging his work over the years, as well as going into greater detail of things on his mind (known as "Unfinished Thoughts").

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Muppet Man

Wowie kazowie! It seems like the internet is just buzzing today over the fact that it's Jim Henson's birthday, and it's such a spectacular sight to see that over twenty years after his untimely death, that he is still remembered to this day, and his creations of the Muppets, and other fantastic puppety creatures are beloved by generation after generation.

In fact, I don't believe it's any secret that Jim Henson pretty much changed the art of puppetry as we know it, and may in fact, saved it as well; even longtime colleague and friend Frank Oz has once said, "He just exploited puppetry. People accept it now as normal, but then it was like brand new."

Although we live now in a world so dangerous that you can't even step outside to get the mail without the need of a bullet-proof vest, I do believe that in some small way, Jim did manage to live up to one of his well-known quotes: “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there.”

To some, Jim Henson was a hippie. To some, Jim Henson was a dreamer. To some, Jim Henson was a puppet master. To some, Jim Henson was a genius. And to some, Jim Henson was an idol. Jim and his Muppets have certainly had a big impact on my life; it's hard for me to imagine a time where the Muppets weren't a part of my life, from growing up learning basics like the alphabet and numbers in entertaining ways from Sesame Street, to getting a kick of the antics that went on at the Muppet Theatre on The Muppet Show, to even darker, fantasy elements like The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. Jim Henson is certainly the man I most admire, and look up; he is, in fact, the very reason why I became a puppeteer myself.

I can remember ten years ago, when A&E broadcasted an episode of Biography, about the impact that Sesame Street had made on young children since it's debut over forty years ago in 1969... naturally, Sesame Street wouldn't be as big of a hit as it had become, had it not been for Jim contributing such characters as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster, Grover, The Count, and countless others. Of course, the special featured quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage, showing all of the hours of draining and demanding work - from researching curriculum, to testing it with young audiences, to finally making it to the air - that goes into making the show ("We used to be able to tape two whole shows everyday, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon," Muppeteer Caroll Spinney once said, "we take longer now because we have much more special effects, and much more competition."). At eleven-years-old, seeing the work of people whose names may be more recognizable than their faces, like Caroll Spinney, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Martin P. Robinson, etc, was such a mezmorizing experience; I was glued to the TV watching how these people brought our favorite characters to life for television... it looked like so much fun, and to think, they also get paid to do this... who doesn't want that in a career? To be able to do something that you enjoy, and get paid for it? Needless to say, although I had toyed with the idea of possibly becoming a cartoonist when I grew up, I made my mind up from that moment on that I would be a puppeteer, and I'm happy to say that I have been for seven years now, and it's thanks to the inspiration and influence of a genius like Jim Henson.

It's still sad to think how Jim's life ended so soon, at the age of 53; I have no doubt that if he were still with us today, the Muppets, in general, would also probably be in a better place. I'm certainly glad that his legacy has been continued and has been kept alive for all these years, and even without his guidence, we have gotten some wonderful projects, ranging from movies, to TV shows, to TV specials, though without his guidence, I do believe that has caused some mild suffering in the big picture: Disney has made more promises than they've kept about the Muppets, all the while slowly erasing Jim's name from the franchise, and replacing it with their own (it's sad to me to see lesss and less of "Jim Henson's Muppets" on products), and although it's taken them all this time to finally give us a new (theatrical) movie, I still personally have some reservations about the film (mainly and specifically because of having Jason Segel at the helm). But beyond that, even without Jim, the Muppets continue to be a large part of our lives, and in fact, continue to influence the art of puppetry for newer mediums, such as the internet. I'm sure that would have made him proud.

I know that I, myself, and my friends and family from Muppet Central are always celebrating Jim's birthday every year, it's still really nice and touching to see that just about everybody out there is celebrating him and his work this year. All I can say at this point is: Happy Birthday Jim, thank you for sharing your visions and dreams with us, and for living up to your ambition for making the world a little better for having been here.

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