Short Projects

Later that year, Jim and Jane’s second daughter, Cheryl, was born, at which point Jane retired from puppetry in order to focus on the kids, and Jim accepted an invitation from the USDA–possibly through a connection from his deceased brother, Paul, who had been in the military–to travel to Germany and perform his puppets at the US Food Fair in Hamburg. Jerry Juhl and he collaborated on making a set of new puppets and sketches, to further experiment with the form. One of the sketches, unfortunately not represented in the below footage, was Sam and Friend‘s Omar playing a nutty chef dicing up food and speaking in fake German, a bit that would eventually evolve into the Swedish Chef. He also premiered a mechanical puppet that almost looks like a steampunk robot, a line of mechanical soldiers that were able to fire guns that puffed out smoke (both of which were basically primitive versions of the sort of animatronics he would later perfect in the Creature Shop), and Limbo the Floating Face, a more primitive version of which appeared in Sam and Friends‘ “Magic Mirror” commercial for Esskay. The below footage is entirely silent, however it gives us a fascinating look at the puppets and a taste (no pun intended) of what the food fair was like.



On December 15, 1961, Sam and Friends finally closed up shop, and in February of the next year, Jim and Jerry traveled back to Berlin, for an event called “Green Week,” which was hosted by the United States Information Agency. This began a partnership that led to Jim doing a PSA for the USIA that aired in the Dominican Republic, to help them promote democracy. Today, it’s a pretty fascinating curiosity, particularly because rather than being an American or British Muppet production dubbed into another language, this piece was actually written and performed in Spanish:



The same year, Jim also began creating a series of car safety ads for the Council of Churches, Protestant Radio and Television Center, and the Citizens Advisory Committee on Highway Safety, in Atlanta, Georgia. They starred two goody-two-shoes children, Billy and Sue, who would teach the misbehaving monster, Sneegle, a lesson whenever he encouraged them to be bad. Ironically, due to Billy and Sue being so boring compared to the funny Sneegle, when the ads were tested with children, all it did was make them want to emulate his bad behavior, which is why the ads were shelved! But you can see one for yourself here:



And in June of 1962, Jim and Co. traveled to Atlanta to film what would be his first-ever television pilot for a show that wasn’t picked up but was the largest-scale Muppet project up to that point: Tales of the Tinkerdee, an original fairy tale that introduced a number of characters who would recur throughout his later Tales from Muppetland fairy tale specials, and perhaps most notably is another key step in Kermit’s evolution from nondescript abstract green guy to definitively frog. And I’ll be covering that little gem tomorrow…

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