Short Projects

Jim animating "Drums West".

Jim animating “Drums West”.

Today, before proceeding with Jim Henson’s next large project, the Tales of the Tinkerdee pilot, I thought I would briefly cover a number of shorter creative endeavors Jim pursued, some of which overlap with the Sam and Friends time frame. I also hadn’t touched on some of the things going on in Jim’s personal life at the time, and this post will cover some of that, as well.


So, to rewind a bit, in 1960, Jim graduated from the University of Maryland and Jane gave birth to their first child, Lisa Marie Henson. That same year, Jim attended the Puppeteers of America convention, where he met Don Sahlin, a brilliant puppet builder who would come to work/collaborate with him for many years. Around this time, Jim first got the idea to make an all-Muppet variety show for TV that, at the time, he was calling Zoocus. It never ended up materializing but it set the creative juices flowing for what would eventually be The Muppet Show many years later. During this time, Jim was continuing to produce Sam and Friends and the Wilkins and Wontkins ads and make appearances on variety shows.


In 1961, Jim attended the con again, and this time befriended a 17-year-old Frank Oznowicz (Oz, for short), and was so impressed with his talent that he offered to give him a job at the burgeoning Muppets, Inc. as soon as he was old enough to join. This is also where he met Jerry Juhl, who would become another key component of the Muppets empire. While originally a puppeteer, he was also a brilliant writer who would come to help largely shape what we think of as the Muppets’ voice. He would eventually be the head writer for The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and countless other Muppet projects.


A few days back, I posted Cat and Mouse, Jim’s whimsically dark “animated painting” that featured an abstract cat chasing an abstract mouse. In ’61, Jim continued to experiment with this sort of artwork. Remember, he considered himself a visual artist first and puppeteer second, and he was never satisfied with puppetry being his only artistic avenue. The following two short films, Drums West and Shearing Hamilton are even more abstract than Cat and Mouse, being composed only of cut-out shapes dancing to the jazz music of Chico Hamilton, and yet they’re no less hypnotic and beautiful to watch. They also continue to foreshadow the sort of short animations he would later do for Sesame Street, mainly in order to teach numbers.



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