On this day in 1936, the master puppeteer and dreamer Jim Henson was born. Born in Mississippi, his family moved up near Washington DC when he was 10 years old. He graduated high school in Hyattsville, Maryland in 1954 and that very same year would go on to appear on television as a puppeteer for the first time. This began a career that would span decades as Henson innovated television puppetry, and later movies as well.
Jim Henson also was instrumental in the success of Sesame Street. With his work there, kids around the globe were educated and inspired. His genius made education something that could also be entertaining. One has to speculate that much of children’s learning programming was born out of the ideas of Sesame Street.
Think Jim Henson and it is hard to not immediately think of Kermit the Frog and the Muppets. While Jim Henson shared his creative genius in so many different ways, the Muppets stand out. As I sit here thinking about this on what would have been his 80th birthday, it really does make sense that this would be his greatest legacy. The Muppets were not only innovative in technology, but also innovative in how they told stories.
Think of the Muppets and it is pretty hard to not have a smile on your face. It had to be a lot of fun to film the segments on The Muppet Show, the on location scenes in the movies, or Kermit’s interviews on Sesame Street. Jim Henson wasn’t only a genius when it came to storytelling, he also knew how to create an incredible team. Because of this team and the culture he created, creativity and innovation could thrive. Muppets could drive, become giants, dance, play the banjo, and defy the limits that once constrained them. No longer were puppets on stages, they were interacting in the world!
Another thing I love about the Muppets is their diversity. The creatures and characters that Jim Henson and his team created were only limited by the imaginations of the creators. This led to a cast of characters that were all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities. Through all their differences, friendship always seemed to hold them together in the end as they went on their various adventures big and small.
Jim Henson really was ahead of his time in so many ways. Last year I had the opportunity to visit the Charlie Chaplin Studios where the Jim Henson Company now resides. While the Jim Henson Company purchased the lot in 2000, the location still has a connection with Jim Henson that was special. It felt like a place one could imaging Jim Henson and the Muppets residing in. While Henson has been gone for quite some time, walking around that studio seemed to bring him to life as his spirit and legacy lives on there.
On what would have been his 80th birthday, it is the perfect time to remember the great puppet master. He brought to the world a whole collection of quirky friends. He used these quirky friends to reinforce that we are good enough just as we are and that while it may not be easy, it’s the best person to be. So thank you Jim Henson and may your legacy continue to live on for the next 80 years and beyond!