Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service
t is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Jim Henson’s
Fantastic World. I am grateful for your continued interest
in Jim’s work and legacy. And I sincerely thank the
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and
this presenting venue for providing the opportunity to
enjoy Jim’s extraordinary creativity. Have fun!
Founder, The Jim Henson Legacy
“As children, we all live in a world
of imagination, of fantasy,
and for some of us that world
of make-believe continues
Jim Henson (1936–1990)
This Kermit the Frog from the 1970s is a
more polished version of the original Kermit
that Jim made in 1955 from his mother’s
old spring coat and a ping-pong ball.
n the 1950s, Jim Henson created the forerunners of the Muppets
and launched a career in fılm and television that blossomed
with the development of one magical fıgure after another. By
his untimely death in 1990, Jim had produced elaborate imaginary
worlds fılled with unique characters, objects, environments, and
even languages and cultures.
What started as a one-man enterprise grew into an internationally
acclaimed phenomenon. Jim’s work is known in dozens of languages
in more than 100 countries. His originality, warmth, and enthusiasm
attracted extraordinary collaborators and helped to spread Jim’s
vision to new generations of artists, writers, performers, and audiences.
The whimsical nature of Jim’s 1970
sketches of the Frackles pervades all of
his work, including the television series
In Jim’s Own Words
A few months before The Dark Crystal opened in 1982,
journalist Judy Harris interviewed Jim Henson for
Cinefantastique, a horror, fantasy, and science fiction
film magazine. The following are edited excerpts from
Q: It’s just amazing to me what you can do with a hunk of felt . . .
Jim: That’s one of the great things about puppetry. You do part of it, and the
audience fılls in the rest.
Q: The fırst Kermit was made out of your mother’s coat. Would you say that it was
just an accident that the coat was green and that maybe if the coat had been
purple that Kermit would not have evolved into a frog?
Jim: That’s quite likely, actually. Yes, the fırst Kermit was not even
a clean green—it’s sort of more a turquoise— sort of a milky
turquoise . . . The nice thing about Kermit
is there’s nothing
in that head. I mean, the whole shape is merely just a cloth pattern . . . and so
the whole thing is really created by your hand, which is why he’s a delightful
character to operate, too.
Q: Once you create a puppet, isn’t it that much easier to make a duplicate of it?
Jim: Strangely, no, with major characters in particular. Any time we have to
duplicate Ernie and Bert, for instance, we all cringe because they’re very,
very diffıcult to duplicate. Much harder to do than the fırst ones. There’s an
incredible subtlety to the placement of the eyes and the planes of the shape
that they’re made of, and if any of those things are off just slightly, the
character doesn’t look the same.
During his appearances on Fraggle
Rock, the minstrel Cantus (left) offered
songs and words of advice. Gobo (right)
is the leader of the Fraggles.
King Goshposh (far right) and his aide
Featherstone (below) were originally
designed for Jim’s 1962 Tales of
Q: Was the term “Muppets” coined specifıcally for Sam and Friends?
Jim: Yes, I think we did use the term Muppets before we got the show Sam and
Friends—a few months after I started working. It was really just a term we made
up. For a long time I would tell people it was a combination of marionettes and
puppets but, basically, it was really just a word that we coined.
Q: In the fılms and even to a certain extent on the TV shows there’s increasing use
of radio-controlled devices and mechanical and hydraulic things. Do you envision The
Muppets ever becoming completely animatronic?
Jim: Well, no, although one of the things that we’re working with these days in
Fraggle Rock is a way of performing a character completely outside . . . We’ve been
able to radio control [the Doozers’] movement . . . but, basically, the performance is
still coming from the performer. And I think that always has to be a key thing to
us: that all of the mechanical things and all of the radio-controlled stuff is
Hipster Mahna Mahna.
always at the service of the performer . . . The performance
is where the humanity is, where the relationship is, and I think
that has to stay at the heart of it all.
Q: I know that one of the things that appeals to you very much is creating
new worlds and new characters and new creatures . . .
Jim: I loved working with illustrator Brian Froud on Dark Crystal . . . The
idea of having one design mind create an entire thing really appealed
to me . . . The way things are going these days with special effects and all of
the different ﬁlm techniques, one of the things that’s exciting is that . . .
you can take and bring to life any sort of illustrations or you can create
anything new . . . I think that whole worlds are opening up to us that are
limited only by our imaginations.
Jim developed hundreds of characters
for TV commercials in the 1960s,
including this knight for Linit, a spray
Many of the Muppet characters,
including Rowlf, got their start in
ads Jim produced in the 1960s.
“One of the nice things about
puppets is that it’s your own
hand in there. You can make
it do anything you want it to.”
Jim and Kermit in 1978 on the set
of The Muppet Movie.
Cantus and the Minstrels down
at Fraggle Rock.
For his 1982 feature film, The Dark Crystal, Jim and his
creative team developed a world with original characters,
like the Mystics, and unique plant life, household objects,
weapons, and musical instruments.
1936 James Maury Henson is born
on September 24 in Greenville, MS.
A Jim Henson Time Line
1954 Jim enters the University of Maryland
where he meets performing partner
Jane Nebel, whom he marries in 1959.
1955 Jim has his own five-minute
television show, Sam and Friends,
with Jane Nebel.
1957 Jim’s first commercial, for Wilkins
Coffee, is taped.
1960 The Muppets appear for the first
time on the Today Show.
1964 Production of Jim’s short film
Time Piece begins.
1968 Youth ’68 is produced for the
NBC Experiment in Television series.
1969 Sesame Street premieres and
The Cube is produced for the NBC
Experiment in Television series.
1976 The Muppet Show premieres.
1979 The Muppet Movie premieres.
1982 The Dark Crystal movie premieres.
1983 Fraggle Rock debuts on HBO.
1986 Labyrinth movie premieres.
1987 Jim is inducted into the Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences’
Television Hall of Fame.
1989 Jim hosts The Jim Henson Hour,
a weekly television show.
1990 Jim dies suddenly on May 16
in New York City.
Jim takes flight in his 1964 short film, Time Piece,
a surreal and satirical look at the human experience
and the nature of man.
1992 Jane Henson establishes
The Jim Henson Legacy.
Organized by The Jim Henson Legacy and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling
Exhibition Service in cooperation with the Henson family, The Jim Henson
Company, The Muppets Studio, LLC, and Sesame Workshop. This exhibition is
made possible by The Biography Channel. Additional support has been provided
by The Jane Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson.
Cover: Mahna Mahna and his back-up singers, the Snowths, appeared on television
variety shows and The Muppet Show.
Below: Jim created this big-eyed monster for possible use at the 1964 World’s Fair.
The Jim Henson interview was published in the April/May 1983 (13:4) issue of
Cinefantastique and may be read online at http://users.bestweb.net/~foosie/henson.htm.
MUPPET, MUPPETS, and the Muppet Characters are registered trademarks of Muppets
Holding Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved. © 2007 Muppets Holding Company,
LLC. | Jim Henson’s mark and logo, FRAGGLE ROCK, and THE DARK CRYSTAL are
trademarks of The Jim Henson Company. © 2007 The Jim Henson Company. All
Rights Reserved. | Drawings courtesy The Jim Henson Legacy | Color photos by
John E. Barrett and John Lawrence Jones.
Design by Studio A, Alexandria, VA | © 2007 Smithsonian Institution