“My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.” -Jim Henson
Have you ever known someone who was literally “larger than life?” People who were mere mortals with human flaws just like the rest of us, but somehow, through their accomplishments and contributions to society, completely changed the world from the way it had been before, leaving an indelible mark on the world as we know it?
September 24th marked the birthday of master puppeteer – Jim Henson. If you’ve ever seen a Muppet movie, watched a Sesame Street show or if you’ve only heard of Miss Piggy or Kermit the Frog – then you know Jim Henson. I did some research on who the guy was – and the more I read about him the more amazed I became on what a wonderful inspiration this guy was. He was exceptionally kind, humble and never wanted to intrude or bother people. Even when he was sick at the end of his life, he didn’t want people to fuss over him…
In honor of his birthday, someone tweeted his above quote and when I read it – it resonated with me. If you were to ask me who my heroes are – I can assure you, Jim Henson would not be in my top 20 – but when I read a bit about his life, I couldn’t help but be moved by what he really had achieved and when I think for a moment, I came to realize the effect Jim Henson’s Muppets had on me and my childhood.
When I was a kid – anytime I felt scared or upset, my mom would put on “The Muppet Caper” for me to watch – and instantly it would make me feel better. Miss Piggy, Kermit, Gonzo and the rest of the gang through their songs and humor – always brought a smile to my face and somehow with the Muppets, all was right with the world again. The innocence, the love, joy and laughter – this is what the Muppets aim to spread to children all across the globe.
Sesame Street is now viewed by millions of children (and adults) across the world. I especially love the specific Muppets created for that culture and country. Many of you may have heard of “Moishie Ufnik” from Rechov Sumsum – the Sesame Street in Israel – which educates and encourages mutual respect and understanding among Israel’s culturally and religiously diverse communities. It also seeks to provide a safe haven for children experiencing turbulence and unpredictability as they learn to respect and appreciate other people. “Rechov Sumsum” launched in 1983 and has been in Israel ever since.
I remember seeing a report about a new Muppet that was designed to help children in South Africa deal with the growing epidemic of HIV / Aids. They named this Muppet “Kami” meaning “acceptance.” While most American children won’t relate to the discussion of Aids – it is prevalent in South Africa – and Sesame Street helps children face those issues.
And to think, Jim Henson was the mastermind who led the explosion of puppetry in Children’s’ television and entertainment. So sure, I guess I never thought of Jim Henson as a “hero” of mine – but when I stop and think, I see that my blog avatar is my favorite image of Miss Piggy and Kermit!! Even today, when I watch my Muppet Caper movie – I still get those warm and fuzzy feelings (kind of like Fozzie bear :)) and I STILL laugh at all their jokes….!!
Sure you can say “What’s so important about a bunch of dumb puppets – it’s just kid’s stuff.” (although there was certainly that adult subtext with Burt and Ernie haha) Sure, you can say that …. But when I think of Elmo (and not the “tickle me” kind) – but the 5 year old Elmo (the age he plays) – how he learns (along with his audience) what to do in different situations, how to express his sadness, or his confusion – these things are so important for children today (and some adults! :)) So sure, when I ask people if they know who Jim Henson is – and they blankly look at me and say “who?!” – just remember that the next time you watch Uncle Pinchy, or Itchakadoozy – or any kind of Puppeteering, just remember that there was a giant of a man who created the whole industry that aims to mold and teach the children of today to become loving and compassionate adults of tomorrow.
And to think, his one wish was to “leave the world a bit better” than when he first got here … I think he got his wish.
Fun Muppet Trivia:
Did you know?
– The voice of Miss Piggy – is done by a MAN – Frank OZ?
– The voice of Miss Piggy is also the voice of Yoda from Star Wars?
– Oscar the Grouch was inspired by a nasty grouchy waiter who once served Jim Henson at “Oscar’s Tavern”
– Miss Piggy’s full name is actually “Piggy Lee”
– What exactly is Gonzo? The performer of Gonzo, Dave Goelz responded: “Nobody knows except his parents, and they’re not talking. It was always one of those taboo subjects around the dinner table.”
You gotta love them Muppets !!!!!