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Muppet Master
An Interview with Jim Henson

By Judy Harris
September 21, 1998

GoboJust before The Dark Crystal (1982) was due to open, Fred Clarke, publisher of Cinefantastique, called to ask if I would like to write an article about the career of Jim Henson. Would I! I had been a fan of the Muppets since I first saw them making guest appearances on Ed Sullivan and other variety and talk shows. When Rowlf made his debut as a regular on the Jimmy Dean Show (1963), I ran out and bought myself a stuffed Rowlf (which I still have, somewhat the worse for wear). I had seen all the Muppet fairy tale TV specials and was an avid fan of The Muppet Show. The period of The Dark Crystal was a very creative one for the Henson organization; almost simultaneously Fraggle Rock was about to debut on HBO. This became another show I never missed.

The Henson organization supported and continues to support the art of puppetry. Some of the ways it does this is by mounting exhibitions of the work of puppeteers and also sponsoring actual performances. At the time of the following interview, I had recently seen at Lincoln Center one of these exhibitions which contained items from virtually the entire history of the Muppets; simultaneous with the release of The Dark Crystal, there was an even more impressive exhibit, also at Lincoln Center, of many of the puppet/characters from The Dark Crystal in wonderfully detailed dioramas. Subsequently, over the years, I have been to other exhibits mounted by or with the participation of the Henson organization, including one devoted to the artwork of Jim Henson.

YorickIn doing additional research for the article on Henson's career, which was published in the April/May 1983 issue of Cinefantastique (volume 13, number 4), I came more and more to admire Henson as a human being. Previously, if anyone had asked me to name someone I considered a hero, I would have been hard pressed to nominate anyone contemporary, but certainly Jim Henson fit that description for me. It is a tribute to his vision that the Henson organization survived his sudden death on May 16th, 1990 and has continued to be creative and entertaining.

If you have ever attended a fan convention at which someone you admire was a guest, you know the frustration of having to raise your hand to get called on and, even then, being able to ask only a single question. You can perhaps then imagine how enormously satisfying it is to be able to spend about 90 minutes with someone you admire, not only being able to ask any question you like, but also being able to follow up the answers with questions you might not initially have prepared. I had prepared myself prior to the interview with a rather long, typed list of questions, and this list to an extent imposed a certain order to my questions but I certainly got derailed a couple of times when I got an unexpected response.

Jim Henson

Jim Henson was always thrilled when others enjoyed his work. One of his desires was that the Muppet characters would live on after his death.

This project, the phone interview with Jim Henson, my subsequent face to face meetings with him a week or two later, and the free access I had to the Muppet headquarters and the workshop, is one of the high points of my life.

The following is a transcript of a telephone interview between Jim Henson and me on September 21, 1982. I am at home in New York while Jim is in London taking a break from postproduction for The Dark Crystal.


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