Are you keeping up with the Jim Henson Company’s Jim Henson’s Red Book blog? You should be. If there’s one thing Henson is good at, it’s remembering and preserving the legacy of the fellow whose name is on its letterhead. Every day the Red Book site (named after Jim Henson’s personal journal) gives us a little peek into what Jim was doing on the corresponding date of a past year, and many entries elaborate on Jim’s notes with additional information and the occasional scan of Jim’s notepads and drawings. This week, I was happy to see an entry on a super-rare Henson project I’d heard of, but didn’t really know anything about: A 1969 pilot for a TV series based on the comic strip The Wizard of Id, starring Muppet versions of the characters. In fact, I can honestly say this was first time anything related to The Wizard of Id has made me happy.
This blog entry provided some interesting context, but even more exciting, it included a link to all the available footage from the Id pilot posted on YouTube. Check it out:
(I love seeing these lost bits of Muppet history uncovered. Some of the jokes are funny, and some of them aren’t, but that’s probably because it’s based on The Wizard of Id, and The Wizard of Id was never very funny to begin with. Still, the puppets look just like the characters from the strip, and Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl are obviously having fun with it.)
Here are a few more notable Red Book entries, all of which you should click on and read immediately. And by the way, I’m pretty sure the curated entries on the site were all written by the Henson Company’s archivist Karen Falk, who is extremely knowledgeable about all things Henson.
November 6, 1987 – Developing the Swedish Chef’s cereal
This entry focuses on Cröonchy Stars, the breakfast cereal with the Swedish Chef on the box from the late 80s. It includes rejected names for the product (I wish they really had called it Stoopid Flakes), Jim’s ideas for commercials, and a letter Jim wrote to the Swedish Trade Office… in the Chef’s language.
December 1964 – Tinkerdee, Take 2
This entry talks about Tales of the Tinkerdee, an earlier Muppet TV pilot that never aired, despite the undeniable charisma of Taminella the witch. A few years after Tales, they tried again with Land of the Tinkerdee, starring some of the same characters. The Red Book post features Jim’s character sketches and Jerry Juhl’s story notes, as well as a link to a clip starring the Muppet dog Rufus and his human friend Daryl. Hey, did you know Rufus could talk?
January 21, 1981 – Parachuting puppets
“And me! And me! And me!”” Everyone gets so worked up over the fact that the Muppets all ride bicycles in The Great Muppet Caper, we tend to overlook the fact that they also skydive, which is pretty dang impressive too. This Red Book post lays out the different options Henson and his crew considered to achieve the affect, explains why they waited until the end of filming to do it, and includes storyboards with notations like “OMIT PIANO.”
November, 1961 – Jim & Jerry put on a show for Hamburgers
In 1961, Jim was invited to participate in the US Department of Agriculture’s US Food Fair in Hamburg, Germany. By that point, the Muppets had banked a whole repertoire of funny bits, and from the description in this Red Book post, they brought out all their greatest hits for the German performances. The post includes scripts and, once again, some video: (Don’t turn up your speakers; the footage is silent.)
March 19, 1975 – The Hensons watch Sex and Violence on TV
I knew all the stories about how long it took to get a prime-time Muppet variety series on the air, and how many different permutations it went through, but before reading this entry I never really imagined what it must have been like for Jim Henson to sit down and watch the Muppet Show: Sex and Violence pilot air on national TV, hoping for the best. This Red Book post talks about the projects that led to The Muppet Show‘s eventual existence, and includes some nifty archival stuff from Sex and Violence.
October 1966 – The Cube takes shape
The Cube is one of those Jim Henson projects that folks outside the fan world would be surprised to hear about — an experimental short film for television with no Muppets in it. This post tells how hard it was to get the show on TV, and includes Jim’s notes, a page of the script, and a link to some excerpts:
February 7, 1983 – The Fragglenet
As Muppet geeks, we want to know everything about our favorite productions, even the things we didn’t know we wanted to know. The Red Book satisfies that need with this post about how the Fraggle Rock creators used early internet technology to develop and write the show while they were all in different countries. It’s kind of remarkable to think how high-tech it was at the time to talk about a TV show over slow, bulky computers, when today we don’t think twice about watching the very same show on our laptops.
January 8, 1981 – Pig underwater
This is my favorite Red Book entry so far. I’m sure you’ll agree that the most spectacular water ballet ever performed by a pig on film is the one featured in The Great Muppet Caper. Every time I see it, I wonder as I’m laughing my head off just how they pulled it off so flawlessly. And I wonder: Was Frank Oz really submerged underwater performing Miss Piggy? Did the puppet get ruined? Was that a heated pool? All of these questions are answered in this Red Book entry, which also has the original costume design sketch, and memos from the production detailing just how they did it.
Reading this kind of behind the scenes info only enhances my appreciation of the material, and that’s why the Jim Henson Red Book blog should be a required stop in any Muppet fan’s daily web-surfing. Or at least check it before you check LOLCats.
Click here to jump out of a plane with a weighted harness on the Tough Pigs forum! And feel free to tell to tell me if I missed any other cool Red Book posts.
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com