BOOK REVIEW: IMAGINATION ILLUSTRATED: THE JIM HENSON JOURNAL
This is weird.
I was trying to come up with an idea for a blog post to debut in this space on May 16. I had the thought of writing about this book I’ve been reading, Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal, by Karen Falk, with a foreword by Jim Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson.
That’s not the weird part. Getting to that.
Jim Henson was, of course, the creator of the Muppets. Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, the cult-move fav The Dark Crystal, all benefited from or sprang directly from Jim Henson’s mind. Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, not to mention Bert & Ernie and the gang from Sesame Street, formed a HUGE part of my childhood. Me and a lot of others.
So, recently, I was given Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal as gift. The book takes pages from a handwritten journal Henson started as a young man starting out in puppeteering in the 195os and uses it, along with his drawings and photos from his life and work, to frame Henson’s story. He kept that journal nearly up to his untimely death in 1990 at age 53.
Here comes the weird part.
So, I thought, this might be an okay blog topic. But then I noticed something. The date. Two dates actually.
I was planning the blog to go up in 2013. On May 16.
Jim Henson died in 1990. ON MAY 16!
Did your blood just turn cold. Mine did. I may also have peed a little. It’s not warming me up though.
Given this cosmic confluence, or something, how could I not do this blog post now?
So here it is.
I love this book. My favorite thing about it? There was clearly no separation in Henson’s head between his work life, his family life and his own personality. They all fed each other. A lot of his journal entries are things like: “August 14-26, shooting new training film for IBM. Using Rowlf in this one. Second kid born. Doing the Kermit bit on Ed Sullivan.” Entries about flying to London to shoot a TV special land alongside picking up the family’s new station wagon.
Yet, despite the lack of separation, Henson wasn’t screwed up. He was passionate about his work AND his family and he figured out how to make them co-exist. Nice skill, that.
My SECOND favorite thing about this book (so far anyway. I’m still reading it.)?
Kermit was NOT the first national, break-out Muppet star.
I just freaked your crap out, didn’t I?
It’s true that Kermit was one of the first Muppets. He was a character on Henson’s 1950’s show Sam and Friends, a late-night show. Each episode ran all of five minutes but got Henson noticed by advertisers and lead to a long and productive career in commercials and industrial training films featuring his Muppets and odd characters.
One of those characters was Rowlf the Dog. He’s probably best remembered now as the laid-back piano player on The Muppet Show. But back in the sixties, he was EVERYWHERE. Henson used him in ads for IBM and a host of other companies. He was a regular on TV variety shows.
Although there are a slew of Muppets today more famous than Rowlf, without him, the Muppets never would have happened.
We’re assuming Rowlf’s agent will leverage this into a better deal for the next Muppet Movie.
See, kids, this is what happens when you read books. You learn stuff.
Go read something. Like maybe my other posts, or my book In the St. Nick of Time .
So! The takeaway is: The Henson book, awesome. My shameless self-promotion, despicable.