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Tim's Turn - March 2017

I’m a Muppet Baby

In 1970, while at The Ohio State University, I would rush home each afternoon and join a few fraternity brothers to watch “Sesame Street.” It was a boundless, fun way to clear one’s mind after a day of grad school classes. It was amusing to watch world-class guest stars, such as B.B. King and Lou Rawls, interact with the furry little creatures.

In the mid-’70s, I didn’t miss a single episode of “The Muppet Show.” Once I “grew up,” I lost track of the little guys until I heard about the construction in 1979 of Sesame Place theme park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a Muppet-themed playpark. 

In 1990, while a journalist with Amusement Business, I was invited to Walt Disney World to report on several new attractions, including “Here Come the Muppets,” and then again a year later when Jim Henson’s “Muppet*Vision 3D” premiered. 

My Muppet voyage continued at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2016 last November when I met Melissa Creighton, the production manager for The Jim Henson Company, and she invited me to tour their Creature Shop in Long Island City whenever I got to New York City, which I did in mid-December. I’m sure my jaw slacked a few inches when I walked into its lobby, full of historic figures and sets. It got even better as we walked amongst the puppet builders who were hand-sewing various wooly creatures.

I stopped and watched Rollie Krewson, a master puppet builder who was hired by Jim Henson himself more than 43 years ago. She was creating another Elmo, destined to star in an international production of “Sesame Street.” At a stop in the archives, I met longtime company archivist Karen Falk. During our discussion, she explained how the Muppets changed the landscape of children’s dreams when it came to the perception of monsters. “These are all friendly creatures with good genetics,” she told me. “Sure we have monsters, but they are friendly, lovable monsters.” I had never thought about that before, but it made sense. Cookie Monster?

In the 1980s, Henson developed a concept for a new theme park—one that would combine his ideas for live performance, film, design, music, and comedy with audience interaction. One of the rides in that park would be a journey in a carrot-shaped car that would travel into a mouth, get chewed up, enter the blood stream, and end up in a cell. There was also a “Five Senses” ride that went into the nose, eyes, ears, and mouth, perhaps connecting with the food ride, allowing the riders to send messages to the brain. Unfortunately, those imaginative attractions never became realities.

Today, the Henson creatures are featured in interactive attractions at Hersheypark and the Georgia Aquarium, as well as several museums, including the Strong Museum in Rochester, the Hall of Pop Culture at the Smithsonian, and a traveling exhibit set to open in May in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture.

Statler and Waldorf are my favorite Henson creations, in case you were wondering. The two cantankerous old-guy puppets sat in the theater box during “The Muppet Show,” cracking on the production and the talent with (many) double-entendre jokes and silly puns. I leave you with this:

Waldorf: That Lou Rawls is one fantastic singer.

Statler: So am I, want to hear me sing?

Waldorf: Only if you sing solo?

Statler: Solo?

Waldorf: Yes, so low I can’t hear you.

(hee, hee, hee)