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Muppets Gone Missing: Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Josh Green: Welcome back to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column focuses on the hidden treasures of The Muppets, Sesame Street, as well as any projects involving Jim Henson. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. For this column, we are going to focus on The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow. The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow was intended to be a Thanksgiving special, written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, but the 13-page script treatment was as far as the project had gone. That is, until it was rediscovered several years ago. Last year it was adapted as an original graphic novel, and now as a TV movie called Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, set to air on Lifetime this coming Saturday, November 21st at 8 P.M. We’ll be interviewing Karen Falk, the Archives Director at the Jim Henson Company, Roger Langridge, the acclaimed cartoonist behind the graphic novel adaptation, and Peter Brooke, the Creative Supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and discuss the origins of the project’s history from past to present.

Karen Falk

Josh Green: Can you please talk about the origins of the conception of The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow 12-page script treatment written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl?

STUMP_CREATURES_HENSON300ppiKaren Falk: The mid-1960s was an especially productive period for Jim Henson and his writing partner Jerry Juhl; their Muppet characters were popular guests on dozens of television variety shows, and they developed numerous concepts for longer-form shows with starring roles for their creations. Along with adaptations of various fairy tales and stories about extraterrestrials, they imagined a series of holiday-themed specials including one for Thanksgiving called The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow. The 13-page typed treatment written in 1968 details the story of two children living in the country with their aunt who encounter a group of monsters that communicate using a range of musical tones harmonizing into one voice. The plot focuses on their efforts to diffuse a plan by a neighboring turkey farmer to take over their aunt’s property.

During this time, an abstract monster named Snerf with sneaky eyes and a head that popped up and down was a regular member of the repertory company of characters that Jim performed on television variety shows. Jim and Jerry wrote out several concepts with this character in mind (including one called “The Snerf-Poof from Planet Snee”). At the same time, Jim and master puppet builder Don Sahlin were experimenting with various puppet designs. The idea for Turkey Hollow included, for the first time, a plan to take the puppets out of the studio and film in the real world. That inspired him and puppet builder Don Sahlin to try a slightly more realistic style with glass eyes and an organic, mossy green fur, creating a group that had not only a harmonious sound but also a harmonious look. So, the concept developed from a combination of the story ideas that Jim and Jerry were discussing as well as Jim and Don Sahlin’s design experiments.

JG: Why wasn’t The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow made into Thanksgiving special by Jim Henson as they had been planning? If the project did get off the ground as originally planned, would Jim have directed?

KF: Jim showed his concept to his representative Bernie Brillstein at the start of the summer in 1968, but within a month, Jim was drawn into the development of what would become Sesame Street. He was still making numerous commercials and variety show appearances, and followed his April 1968 program Youth ’68 for NBC’s Experiment in Television series with another writing collaboration with Juhl, The Cube, taping in early 1969. It was a very busy time, particularly as work with Children’s Television Workshop ramped up, and the Musical Monsters idea got set aside. Had the special been made, I’m sure Jim would have been happy to have the opportunity to direct.

JG: There have been stills released of Jim’s daughters, Lisa and Cheryl, with the monsters from Turkey Hollow that were shot in 1968. What were the purpose of these photos? Was there any video footage of the monsters that was shot around that time? If so, does that footage still exist?

Turkey Hollow_Front EndpaperKF: Jim was eager to take his creatures out into the real world for the first time. In 1965, he had shot footage of his daughters, Lisa and Cheryl, running through the woods behind his Connecticut home among the fall foliage. The effect was delightful and would have lodged in his imagination. Then, in 1966, he shot some Southern Bread commercials out of doors and the puppet blended well with his environment. Clearly, some combination of these experiences fed into the idea behind the introductory note with the Turkey Hollow concept which describes a New England location that would “take full advantage of the fall colors” and puppetry techniques that allow the characters to be seen, “scampering across the country side, just as a real animal would.”

Jim wanted to demonstrate how these monster puppets, designed with glass eyes and naturalistically colored fur, would look in the wooded environment where his story would be set. Shooting them outside was easy and inexpensive and having his children stand in for those in the treatment could give him a good idea of how the puppets looked with actual humans. On top of that, Lisa and Cheryl provided a second service as production assistants, posing and holding the characters in place. No moving images were shot so no footage exists from that day.

JG: While I did read that Don Sahlin created the monsters for these footage, but were they based on his own design or designs from Jim? Are there any plans to restore these original puppets so that they can be presented on display?

KF: Don and Jim started working together in 1962. Jim provided rough sketches of the characters he had in mind (starting with Rowlf the Dog), and Don honed in on the central design elements and, with a lot of latitude, built a puppet. During the process, Jim, who worked in close proximity, would watch the progress, make suggestions and, in some cases, do some sewing or painting. They built several monsters together in the 1960s, including one that would become Cookie Monster, and they would have created the Turkey Hollow characters in a similar fashion. Sketches only exist for the Snerfs, but most likely Jim would have used his pencil or his words to share his visual ideas with Don.

Several of the original puppets have been restored and are on exhibit at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The small exhibit, Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow: Rediscovering Monsters and Magic, includes photos, designs from both Jim and Peter Brooke, current Creative Supervisor of our LA Creature Shop, the old puppets and the new ones from our television special along with some props.

JG: Can you please tell me the story of how this script was discovered? Can you please talk about the creation of the graphic novel with Roger Langridge? Why was the graphic novel produced before the upcoming TV movie? And who was the biggest champion behind getting the upcoming TV movie created?

KF: We have had a very productive partnership over the last 6 years with Archaia, the graphic novel/comic book publishing company, starting with our Fraggle Rock books. The editor there at the time, Stephen Christy, was enthusiastic about the overall Henson body of work and with the strong response to the first efforts, was eager to create additional titles with us. He approached Lisa Henson and Jim Formanek in our licensing department and asked about other projects, with a particular focus on lesser known things that had not been produced but had a close connection to Jim. Lisa asked me to pull materials that could potentially be transformed into the graphic novel format. I went through my database and then the files themselves and found a group of treatments, outlines and scripts that were somewhat fully realized and were long enough to stand on their own. (We have also have a lot of little script bits for brief comedy sketches that would be too short to translate into a book.) Lisa suggested the Tale of Sand script first, and Archaia began work there, collaborating with Lisa to choose the artist Ramon Perez and working with me to gather images and other archival material – with great success. The other project that intrigued Lisa was The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow.

When Lisa expressed interest in the project, I remembered having seen related images in our photo library and pulled those as well. That sparked memories of her dad working on the idea with Jerry Juhl and Don Sahlin. She saw the charm in the story and characters and recommended Turkey Hollow as the second archive project for Archaia. Archaia brought in Roger Langridge who had worked with them before and done wonderful work on the Muppets. Lisa is a film and television producer, so it was natural that she, at the same time, began exploring possibilities for producing Turkey Hollow for television. The two projects progressed simultaneously, but a decision was made to let the Archaia book hew closely to the story and graphics of the original while the TV special was expanded to movie length. The monsters, represented close to their original designs in the graphic novel, were remade for the film to take advantage of the enhanced capabilities of our Creature Shop and technical innovations that were not available to Jim in the late 1960s.

 

Roger Langridge

Josh Green: After finding such success with your acclaimed run on The Muppet Show comic book and your story for Jim Henson’s Storyteller, what made you want to work on another Jim Henson property with The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow?

Musical_Monsters_of_Turkey_Hollow_coverRoger Langridge: Like most things in my career, it wasn’t so much something I sought out as something I was offered; I had time in my schedule to fit it in, so I said yes. But it was nice to come back to a Henson property, since, as you kindly pointed out, my previous Henson-related work had been quite well-received. I enjoyed having another opportunity to see the world through Jim Henson’s eyes for a little while; it’s a much nicer place.

JG: The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow is a decidedly different genre than your vaudeville-influenced Muppet Show comics. As a creator, what different set of creative muscles did you feel you needed to use for this project?

RL: The main difference was sustaining a narrative that builds logically and seems to be moving forward. With the Muppet Show comics, the format was such that digressions and non-sequiturs were not only tolerated, but in some ways were the whole point of the book. Not so with Musical Monsters, which, apart from being one continuous narrative, is tonally a more reflective and lyrical work; there was room for a bit of manic slapstick from time to time, but too much of that could have undermined the whole atmosphere of the story. So I had to tread carefully.

Another difference was that I wanted this book to have a folksy, hand-made kind of quality to it, as it just felt to me like that sort of story. I chose to hand-letter the book in order to enhance this aspect, as I was afraid a digital font might make the pages feel too cold and mechanical. A lot of drawing decisions were made with similar reasoning behind them; directness and honesty were my goals. Probably nobody noticed, which is as it should be; if you were consciously aware of these aspects instead of becoming immersed in the story, I was doing it wrong.

JG: The script treatment for Turkey Hollow was only 8 pages long. How much of the dialogue did you have to create from scratch?

RL: All of it! I think there may have been a line or two of direct dialogue in the treatment (I don’t recall now), but if there were, I took them more as tonal cues than as lines to be literally transcribed. That said, the treatment offered enough of the essential characterizations that I felt I could “hear” everyone’s voices pretty clearly, so it wasn’t too much of a struggle.

JG: The creatures that you had drawn The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow original graphic novel are portrayed more with a typical “Jim Henson” feel as opposed to emulating darker look of the original puppet designs. Why did you go this route? Did you think using the original look of the monsters would have altered the way you approached your take on the story?

RL: Actually, my original sketches stuck extremely faithfully to the original puppet designs, but I received a note from Lisa Henson during the development stage encouraging me to break out from that a little more, to take advantage of the fact that characters on a comic book page could run around and express themselves in ways that puppets would have more difficulty in doing. So I added limbs and made the facial expressions more elastic and all those things that would make them more like cartoon characters and less like puppets. Even after that, if you compare the photos of the original puppets to my versions, the main difference is in the colours; the puppets were all of a similar dingy hue, but we were afraid that wouldn’t stand out on the comic page, so Ian Herring, our fabulous colourist, tweaked that aspect a bit. Facially, my Monsters are still pretty faithful to the originals.

JG: The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow is about to finally air as a TV movie on Lifetime. Without seeing it, what do you think they need to do to properly capture the charm of Jim and Jerry’s original script?

RL: I have no experience in television or film of any kind, so I can only speak to what I did, which is to do your best to listen to what’s on the page. I think capturing the tone is far more important than getting all of the literal details right; that, and making sure the characters stay true to themselves. Above all, try to find the joy in it; if there’s a defining word that should be your guide in adapting this story, “joy” would be that word.

 

Peter Brooke

Josh Green: Given the history behind the creation of Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, what was it like coming onto a project a highly anticipated as this?

TH_06162015_SB_384Peter Brooke: It was a great opportunity and I loved the challenge of designing these creatures. It was truly a great treat to have the chance to re-imagine Jim’s earlier designs.

JG: When creating the monsters for Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, were your designs similar to the original puppets that were created in the 1960’s?

PB: I would say that the new creatures were inspired by Jim’s original puppets. They don’t look exactly the same as the originals but I did try and keep the shapes similar. One creature is somewhat “owl-faced” like one of the originals. One has a long neck and pointy nose like one of the original puppets and so on.

JG: Other than the creatures, what else did you create for the upcoming movie?

PB: We created the Hoodoo masks and helped the Art Department with the wooden Hoodoo statue.

JG: You’ve worked with director Kirk Thatcher on many projects. What is it about you and Kirk that brings out the best out in each other?

PB: Mutual respect. I’ve known Kirk for many years and he is wildly creative and he certainly knows how to design and create creatures. He also has integrity as an artist and that is something I admire. I hope I get to work with Kirk many more times!

JG: If Jim were alive today, do you think that the final result of Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow skews to what would have been his original vision?

PB: My impression of Jim was that he never looked back – always looked forward to the next great thing. I think he would have loved this version of Turkey Hollow.

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Muppet Mystery Solved!

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

clueless morganThe Clueless Morgan puppet is lost no more!

Clueless Morgan is the Muppet that inspired this wonderful column that you are reading! He was only used briefly, mostly as a memorable character in Muppet Treasure Island and in a recurring bit on Muppets Tonight. He was performed by Bill Barretta, who is also the puppeteer for Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear and Rowlf the Dog.

According to Muppet Wiki, Clueless Morgan’s puppeteer Bill Barretta said that, “part of the reason that Clueless has not been used in any productions since Muppets Tonight is that the puppet has gone missing. If anyone out there has seen him, please ask him to call home. His family misses him.”

The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta has opened a new museum that holds a large collection of Jim Henson puppets. While watching a CNN report of the exhibit, I nearly jumped out of my seat when I got to the 40-second-mark! There he is! They found Clueless!

Click here for the video of the CNN report or watch it directly below!

Will this discovery lead to Clueless’ return to The Muppets? We’ll let you know any updates here on “Muppets Gone Missing”!

Clueless Morgan in Muppets Treasure Island

At the 1:17 mark, Clueless Morgan promotes Muppets Treasure Island

Clueless Morgan and Polly Lobster on Muppets Tonight

 

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Matthew Furtado

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Matthew Furtado Headshot High Res with name 5089653489Josh Green: Welcome back to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column focuses on the hidden treasures of The Muppets, Sesame Street, as well as any projects involving Jim Henson. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. I had the pleasure of interviewing puppeteer, Matthew Furtado!

Josh Green: Can you please tell me about your career and how you got involved with Henson productions? Was it Jim Henson himself who gave you your big break into showbiz?

Matthew Furtado: I was never fortunate enough to meet Mr. Henson but grew up loving his work. I was really into puppetry, magic and acting from a very early age, putting on my own shows, performing with the educational puppet troupe, Kids on the Block throughout middle school and later getting hired to play a character who could only speak through a puppet in a regional production of the play Red Noses. I always dreamed about working with the Muppets.

After I graduated with a BA in Musical Theater from Rhode Island College, I was cast in VEE Corporation’s production of Sesame Street LIVE: Elmo’s Coloring Book, also having the opportunity to be involved with the puppetry for their Dragon Tales tour. I was the live-mic human character in Sesame Street LIVE and we got to perform all over the world, on NBC’s Today Show and at Madison Square Garden where Jane and Cheryl Henson came to see us and gave us the opportunity to visit the Henson Workshop. It was a great experience.

Jug Band Read Through

Jug Band Read Through

After 600 shows on the road with VEE, I auditioned in New York for Martin Robinson and the creative team of the world premiere stage production of Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. I had the opportunity to work closely with a terrific group of people including director Christopher Gattelli, composer Paul Williams and veteran Muppet performer Tyler Bunch who, along with Martin, have been so supportive of me as a puppeteer. I was invited back for the following year’s revamped production of the show too. The Emmet Otter experience had so many “pinch-yourself” moments: Jane, Heather and Cheryl popping into rehearsals; Jerry Nelson surprising us with a visit on opening night and holding court afterwards; getting to meet Pam Arciero, Fran Brill, Robert Lopez and Jennifer Barnhart, who later joined the show; co-producer Brian Henson at the cast party saying that his dad was smiling down on us… Everyone was so kind and generous and fun to work with. It was just a dream-job.

Goodspeed Musicals' 9th Annual Gala Honoring: Paul Williams June 12, 2010 Goodspeed Musicals (860)873-8664

Goodspeed Musicals’ 9th Annual Gala
Honoring: Paul Williams
June 12, 2010
Goodspeed Musicals (860)873-8664

After the show closed, Goodspeed announced an awards banquet honoring Paul Williams. I sent an email to the producer pitching the idea of having the four scene-stealing squirrels from Emmet Otter there as part of the event and she invited us to perform a sketch and song in the show, which was hosted by Alan Kalter from Late Night with David Letterman. Now, improvisation with the characters was always encouraged during the development of Emmet Otter. It’s a Henson-tradition and that night, Peter Linz, Anney Ozar, James Silson and I were really in a groove. When I realized from behind our puppet stage that Mr. Kalter’s hair was exactly the same color as the squirrels’ fur, I couldn’t help but have my character, Skippy (originally developed by David Stephens), point it out. I also referred to Mr. Williams’ Oscar-winning “Evergreen” as “the song he wrote with Streisand about the pine tree” which really got a roar from the crowd and remains one of my favorite moments on stage. Part of the magic of working with great puppet characters and great people is that it pulls things out of you that you didn’t know you had, particularly in a live show…things you’d be hesitant to say as yourself or even as a human character.

After that show I was thrilled to be invited by Brian Henson to participate in an initial one-night workshop for Stuffed and Unstrung, Henson Alternative’s Off-Broadway version of their improv show, Puppet Up and later, attend the taping of their episode of The Apprentice to see the veteran performers at work. When your phone rings and someone says, “Hi Matt, I’m calling on behalf of Brian Henson…” your jaw just kind of drops. It’s such a privilege to meet your heroes and then to be asked to join in the fun of working with them.

Matt Sesame Street Puppeteer GreenJG: Can you tell me about any obscure characters that you performed that weren’t used as much as you would have liked?

MF: The characters in Emmet Otter still have a lot of life left in them. It’s a timeless story and the music is terrific. Christmas of 2017 will be the 40th anniversary of the special and it would be great to get it on stage again. Our son was born the day after Christmas and I’d really love for him to see it.

JG: What would you have done with these characters if you had gotten more of a chance to work with them?

MF: I had the opportunity to perform several of the squirrel characters over the course of the two seasons that Emmet Otter ran and there was always the feeling that they could have their own spinoff show. They got big laughs from all ages. It would be interesting to develop those characters further and find out what the rest of their family is like…send them out into the world and see what kind of trouble they could get into.

Also, our director, Christopher Gattelli always talked about adding more puppet characters to the show… more citizens of Waterville, birds in the trees, more acts in the talent show etc. That would be fun. I never got to work with Jim Henson but I felt like I got close to it by working with Christopher. He really embodies that quiet, creative vision and gentle approach that Jim was known for. Jim did things with puppetry that had never been done before and that is what Christopher is doing now with musical theater and dance. It’s exciting to be around someone who is pushing their art form forward; someone who thinks differently.

Matt and Tom Small

Matt and Tom Small

JG: What projects are you working on these days with The Muppets?

MF: I’m not working on anything with them at the moment. Last year, I was thrilled to be invited by Matt Vogel and Martin Robinson to a puppeteer workshop at Sesame Workshop. It was a great experience working with them and with Peter Linz and a talented small group of other performers. I learned a lot and have gotten so much encouragement and support from those guys. True to tradition, each group of main characters (Sesame, Henson & Disney’s Muppets) is performed by a really capable and versatile small repertory company; as it should be. They are really doing a great job keeping the legacy of all of those characters alive. They are in good hands. Going forward, when they need extra hands or additional characters, I’d be thrilled to join in.

JG: What else do you do professionally?

Matt Magic Auto FixMF: I’m fortunate to have never had a non-performing job. Puppeteers are really actors and I’ve gotten to do a lot of voiceover work and on-camera work in commercials (like this improvised spot: https://vimeo.com/74231382), and even had the privilege of hosting and co-producing a series that Newman’s Own Foundation sponsored on Connecticut Public Television called, The Power of Giving, which received two New England Emmy nominations. Running parallel to my interests in puppetry and acting, since I was a kid I’ve performed and seriously studied magic. I have a one-man comedy magic and illusion show that I perform at corporate events, resorts and as a fundraising program for organizations. My favorite project is an annual concert experience combing magic and music that I write, direct and perform in conjunction with a 100-piece orchestra. It is going on its seventh year, with a new program each spring. Being able to work in several branches of show business that I really enjoy has allowed me to achieve my goal of being a full-time performer.

MF: is there anything else you would like to talk about?

BL: If anyone has any other questions, I can be reached at ProPuppeteer@gmail.com or www.MatthewFurtado.com Thanks for inviting me to be part of your Muppets Gone Missing series!

Photo: "Fantastic Mr Fox "; Artspace Shreveport; by Arthur Mintz, Rene and Jacques Duffourc; Puppeteers: Sara Elsberg, Cazes Verbois, Allison Jetton, Noah Scruggs. Additional puppet people: Kelly Mills, Desmond Ellington, Elizabeth Jackson, Chris Armand. Video by Jamal Lahham; photographed: Sunday, December 11, 2011; 3:30 PM at Artspace Shreveport; Shreveport, LA. Photograph: © 2011 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

Photo: “Fantastic Mr Fox “; Artspace Shreveport; by Arthur Mintz, Rene and Jacques Duffourc; Puppeteers: Sara Elsberg, Cazes Verbois, Allison Jetton, Noah Scruggs.
Additional puppet people: Kelly Mills, Desmond Ellington, Elizabeth Jackson, Chris Armand.
Video by Jamal Lahham; photographed: Sunday, December 11, 2011; 3:30 PM at Artspace Shreveport; Shreveport, LA. Photograph: © 2011 Richard Termine
PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Jan Nelson Discusses Jerry Nelson

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Jerry NelsonJosh Green: Welcome back to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column focuses on the hidden treasures of The Muppets, Sesame Street, as well as any projects involving Jim Henson. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. It has been a true honor getting to know and interview the wonderful Jan Nelson, the wife of the late-great puppeteer, Jerry Nelson!

Jerry Nelson was an American puppeteer, best known for his work with The Muppets. Renowned for his wide range of characters and singing abilities, he performed Muppet characters on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and various Muppet movies and specials.

Josh Green: Thank you so much for giving me your time to talk about Jerry, Jan. Can you tell me the story about how you and Jerry met? Was he already involved with puppeteering with Jim Henson and The Muppets?

Jan Nelson: Yes he was. Jerry and I met in 1982. He had just come back from England where he did The Muppet Show for 5 years. He had worked with Jim Henson even before Sesame Street in the late ‘60s.

We met at the apartment of mutual friends in my building in Hoboken, NJ. He had come over to go out with my friends, and I asked if I could go along. That was kind of our first date. I didn’t hear from him for over a week after that, but when he finally called he asked me to go on vacation with him for a couple of weeks in Key West and Coconut Grove. That was our second date. We had a wonderful time and I fell in love with him. I don’t know if he fell in love with me as early as that but he later told me that it didn’t drive him crazy to be with me day and night. Evidently that was some kind of a first for him.

Right after our second date he started doing Fraggle Rock in Toronto.

Jerry and Jan’s wedding on the beach. 1984 Truro (Cape Cod) MA

Jerry and Jan’s wedding on the beach. 1984 Truro (Cape Cod) MA

JG: And how closely were you involved with The Muppets?

JN: I loved the whole Muppet family and it is and was a family. I have never met a funnier and more wonderful group of people. I loved the parties and loved being on the set. Jerry and I got married in 1984 when he was 2 years into Fraggle Rock. I spent the next two years in Toronto, hanging around the set. Some people assumed that I worked there. Those were great times. Jerry’s characters were all major characters; Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg and Marjorie the Trash Heap.

I never missed a Monday morning read-through. There was a lot of improvisation and playing around. It was extremely funny. Sometimes the puppeteers would come up with something that would get written in. Everyone worked together so well. It was magic!

Jerry and I took lots of great vacations when he wasn’t working. We spent a lot of time in the Caribbean islands and summers in Truro on Cape Cod.

Jerry was so creative. Besides music he also did all kinds of art … like the above seashore art, carved driftwood and found shells put together – Cape Cod

Jerry was so creative. Besides music he also did all kinds of art … like the above seashore art, carved driftwood and found shells put together - Cape Cod

Jerry was so creative. Besides music he also did all kinds of art … like the above seashore art, carved driftwood and found shells put together – Cape Cod

JG: Jerry is responsible for performing many iconic characters on The Muppets and Sesame Street, most notably The Count. But I’m sure that there are characters written for him that didn’t last for whatever reason. Did Jerry ever recount any of these characters to you, wishing he’d had have the opportunity to do more with them? And by the same accounts, were there any truly bizarre characters that Jerry didn’t have an affinity to perform that was also performed infrequently?

JN: Jerry had a lot of “one off” characters but that was understood from the beginning. I know that his character, H. Ross Parrot became acclaimed and was interviewed on a network TV show. However, outside people wanted to take the conversation towards politics (this was when H. Ross Perot was running for president) and Jerry (H. Ross Parrot) was sticking to the alphabet. Jerry didn’t like being pushed and certainly didn’t want to talk politics. H. Ross Parrot was Jerry’s imitation of H. Ross Perot and it was a funny character.

I don’t think there was any character too bizarre for Jerry. I loved to hear about how he used a “bad” (his word) imitation of some actor to get the puppet’s voice. For example Marjorie the Trash Heap was a bad imitation of a Russian actress from old films. He said that Count Von Count was based on a rough interpretation of the old “Dracula” movies except Count Von Count has a compulsion to count. He has to do it.

The Muppets did a Christmas Special for Kraft called The Christmas Toy. Jerry played Balthazar, an old teddy bear that was the oldest toy in the nursery. He used a rough imitation of Colonel Sanders who used to say “Buy one get one free” in a KFC ad of the time.

At the beginning of the shoot the puppeteers would assemble on the set in place. In the quiet minute before they started, I would hear Jerry softly say “buy one – get one free” to get his voice.

JG: I’m also curious if Jerry himself had ideas for certain characters that he wanted to do that never got off the ground beyond a conceptual level? And by the same account, were there any truly bizarre characters that Jerry didn’t have an affinity to perform that was also performed infrequently?

JN: I don’t think so. As far as truly bizarre characters, I think that Jerry never had a character that he didn’t want to do. I can’t imagine anything being too bizarre for Jerry. He did a terrific job with every character he had.

JG: Who decided which puppeteer would do a character?

Dave Goelz

DAVE GOELZ has been one of the lead Muppet performers for over 40 years, performing Gonzo, Beauregard, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Boober Fraggle, Uncle Traveling Matt, as well as succeeding the role of Waldorf from Jim Henson.

JN: I think that the writers sometimes had in mind who they wanted to perform the characters. I emailed Dave Goelz this question and here is his response:

“For a long time I accused Jerry Juhl of creating the Fraggle characters for specific performers, and he denied it. Then many years later, he finally admitted that he, Jim, Jocelyn and Michael had indeed done just that. They did ask us to play around with all the characters in the fifth floor rehearsal room at 201 East 67th street just before heading to Toronto, which we all did. But we all ended up doing the characters that had been created for us. That said, I think the writers sometimes had a performer in mind when writing, but Jim always had the final say.”

JG: It would be remiss of me to not ask you about…you. Can you please tell me about yourself, your life experiences, and your passions? I know for certain that you are an accomplished painter, having drawn the cover to Jerry’s solo album, “Truro Daydreams”.

Jan Nelson’s cover painting on Jerry Nelson’s album, Truro Daydreams.

Jan Nelson’s cover painting on Jerry Nelson’s album, Truro Daydreams.

JN: Thanks! I studied fine art in school but was a graphic designer all of my adult life. When I left my last full-time freelance job, I went to the Art Students League in NYC to study painting. I still go during the school year. I paint in oils. Still life and model during the winter and plein air landscape during the summer in Cape Cod.

I designed and used my own paintings in the fold-out jacket for “Truro Daydreams.” I chose the photos that are in it, and made sure that I was in one. Also the kid that’s with Jerry in one of them is our grandson Tolin. I only wish that I had made my name bigger in the credits.

I consider myself a lucky person. I have a wonderful family, my daughter Lovisa and grandson, Tolin. I raised Lovisa as a single parent but had a good full-time freelance gig at an Advertising Agency that was easy-going about hours as long as I made the deadlines. I also raised her in Greenwich Village, which was a real neighborhood in those days and safe enough so she could play on the street from an early age. I had a couple of close friends who were also single mothers and our children grew up together. We took turns looking after each other’s kids, which enabled us all to have lives.

The greatest luck of all was meeting Jerry.

JG: Which characters do you think represent Jerry best?

JN: All the Muppet characters reflect an aspect of the puppeteers’ personality. Jerry had a great deal of the Boy Scout in him – like Gobo Fraggle. He was also the hippest of the hip, like Floyd the Bass Player.

JG: What was outstanding about Jerry Nelson, the man?

JN: He was so good at comforting people in their time of need. He said what was in his heart about the person. After so many of the people he loved had died, Christine his daughter, Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jon Stone, Matt Caldwell (a close friend), he wrote an angry song called “Eye of the Storm”. Then Jerry Juhl died (head writer for the Muppets) and Jerry sang it at his memorial celebration. I was uncertain about this because it was supposed to be a celebration, but everyone was moved by it.

He was very wise and had a Zen attitude towards life. He was a gentle man yet watched some of the most violent shows on TV.

He was always writing “be happy” songs but he could be really pessimistic sometimes. He did consider himself very lucky in life so I told him that he should write a book, “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

We had fights of course, but they always ended in laughter. One of us would make the other laugh and then we would both laugh and it was over.

He cared about his fans. He never felt famous. We both had the capacity to walk into a bar and make friends with everyone there in ten minutes. His personality was larger than life. He walked into a room and had everyone enchanted right away, with his stories and music. He was very much loved.

He said in Muppets he was always the “straight man.” He said he married me because I was HIS straight man (the person who sets up the joke.)

JG: It has been just around three years since your husband’s passing. Knowing him best, what do you think he’d want to ultimately be remembered for?

JN: He wrote his own memorial speech. I’ll quote from it: “I am above all else a Professional, so I like to be on time (or maybe even a little early) and prepared.”

My own feeling is that he would want to be remembered for everything that he was, including being a professional. For being hip and funny, for caring about people, for being stubborn and hard-working while still being “the laziest man on earth” (my words) and proud of it.

I’d like to mention that along with the memorial speech, he chose two songs to be performed. One was “Tides” – everyone’s favorite, and one was “In My Life” by the Beatles. At the time I was not thinking straight. I remember being puzzled by the choice. Yes, he liked the Beatles but he had written so many good songs himself. It was only a year later that I realized that that song was for me. I still tear up, thinking of that.

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

“Muppets Gone Missing” Comes to Graphic Policy

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Today I’m happy to announced that Josh Green‘s column, “Muppets Gone Missing” has found a new home here on Graphic Policy. The column is focused on hidden treasures of The Muppets and Sesame Street including segments and characters that never made it to air, and interviews with some of the legendary staff that brought these wonderful creatures and characters to life.

The column has already launched with interviews with a two part interview with Joe Bailey, a writer of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, legendary designer Bonnie Erickson, writer Norman Stiles, and writer Emily Kingsley.

The “Muppets Gone Missing” logo is designed by award winning artist Roger Langridge.

With a new series coming to ABC this fall, as well as numerous recent big screen movies, the Muppets continue to be a beloved institution.

Josh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Join us in welcoming Josh as a regular contributor and the column to the GP team! I know I look forward to the amazing insight into the Muppet world.

“Muppets Gone Missing” joins the increasing special features on Graphic Policy including “Demo-Graphics,” “By the Numbers,” Graphic Policy Radio, and Comixstravaganza Live.

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Muppets Gone Missing: Emily Kingsley

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Josh Green: Welcome back to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column focuses on the hidden treasures of The Muppets, Sesame Street, as well as any projects involving Jim Henson. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. This interview is with the legendary Muppet writer, Emily Kingsley.

Emily-Perl-KingsleyJosh Green: How did you get your start writing on Sesame Street?

Emily Kingsley: I was one of the earliest writers on Sesame Street, starting in Season Two! I spent the entire first season trying to get them to hire me! I had never done any writing before: EVER. I had worked in television in many other capacities but never writing.

When Sesame Street came on the air, I was out of work, having just been on a game show (as Associate Producer) that was cancelled. So I was home with nothing to do when Sesame came on: with lots of publicity: and so I watched it twice a day and fell in love! I was determined to get a job on that show in some capacity, it didn’t matter what I’d do! I’d have done anything.

I found out that the studio technicians on Sesame Street were guys I had worked with years before on another game show (Supermarket Sweep, but that’s a whole other story!!) so I wangled an interview with the floor producer and begged for a production job.

JG: You were determined.

Everyonemakesmistakes2EK: But Sesame Street was brand new and fully staffed. They didn’t need anybody else. They knew me and knew that I was bright and experienced: but they didn’t need anybody. They did refer me, however, to the director of Research. I had worked on other shows doing Research (EAST SIDE/WEST SIDE, the Dick Cavett Show, etc.). So I got an interview in the Research Dept.

Well they didn’t need anybody either. They were fully staffed too. They liked me a lot but didn’t need any more people. So they sent me to the Production Department.

I had worked in Production on several other shows. So I had several other interviews in various parts of the production area of this new show called Sesame Street – regular production, editing, tape, film, etc., etc., etc. But nobody needed anybody!

JG: How long was this going on for?

EK: This process was taking months and months. Every few weeks I would have another interview! (I sometimes say they ended up hiring me because it was the only way to get rid of me! I was such a pest! But I was determined to get onto the show somehow!)

One day I heard that they needed people to work on the Muppets: to pin and sew and paste and glue. I went over to interview over there. Diana Birkenfeld said they had just hired somebody and didn’t need anybody there … but she had heard that over at Sesame Street they were about to start a Writer’s Workshop to train people to write the show. They simply could not find people who could write this stuff!

Apparently writing comedy for three-year-olds was very difficult. To write educational stuff, that was funny. But that was no longer than three minutes long which was comprehensible by a three year old and they couldn’t find people who could do it well. They were going to start a workshop to train people to do it right.

Jon_stoneSo I rushed back to (legendary Sesame Street director, producer, and writer) Jon Stone and begged him to put me on the Writer’s Workshop. He said, “You can’t afford to do that. That’s for kids out of school. You’ve been working in the business for several years. We’re not going to pay these kids anything.” I said, “Give me a production job for a couple of days a week and on the other days put me on the Writers Workshop and train me to write this stuff.”

So he asked me to write two audition pieces: a Kermit piece and a Bert & Ernie piece. I ran home (7 blocks away) and had them back on his deck in one hour.

The next day he called me up and said, “Emily I looked at your two audition pieces with great care and we don’t want to put you on the Writer’s Workshop.” My heart sank. I said to myself, “Where do I go from here?” He said, “Those two pieces are right on! They can go on the air exactly as they are! We want to put you on as a full time writer immediately!”

hqdefaultJG: That story is incredible, Emily! Do you remember the specifics about these sketches?

EK: The two pieces that I did for audition were a Bert & Ernie Quiet/Loud piece and I think the Kermit piece was about Heavy and Light. The Bert & Ernie was the classic situation where Bert is explaining the difference between Quiet and Loud (“This is quiet, Ernie.”) and Ernie keeps saying, “What did you say, Bert? I can’t hear you.” Bert keeps saying it again, upping the volume until he is finally shrieking “I said THIS IS VERY VERY QUIIIEEETTT!!!” to which Ernie replies, sweetly, “That’s not quiet, that’s loud, Bert.” and laughs his Ernie-laugh. Bert groans.

JG: Before we talk about your greatest accomplishments on Sesame Street, let’s tackle the heart of this column, Muppet magic that has gone missing. Can you tell me about stories that you had written for Sesame Street that weren’t used as much as you would have liked?

EK: Some of the pieces that I’ve enjoyed most over the years have been parodies. We have research evidence that kids who watch the show along with someone learn three times as much as kids who watch alone. This is the basis for much of the “adult” humor, the “double level” of humor that has been the recognizable characteristic of Sesame Street which differentiates it from other kids’ shows. I have loved writing parodies and they are some of the bits I’m most proud of.

Mpiece.fiddlerMy favorite one of all is the Monsterpiece Theatre bit which was a takeoff on Fiddler On the Roof. They built a very wonderful set showing a shtetl with a house with a thatched roof that had a guy playing the fiddle up on top. A Tevye-looking Muppet came in and sang:

“Each morning I wake up with the rising of the sun
I check the roof for fiddlers and see there’s only one
But when I look around, another’s come in view
And when I count the fiddlers, then one and one make two!
Addition! Addition! Addition!”

And a bunch of Russian-dressed Muppets come dancing in to a very-close takeoff on “Tradition” and sure enough, there are now two fiddlers up on the roof of the house. It goes on that way until there are four fiddlers on the roof and the whole thing collapses in a heap. It was very funny and taught addition.

JG: What were the most famous characters that you had created for the show? Who did you enjoy writing the most?

EK: I invented the character Polly Darton, country western singing sweetheart, who sang a parody song called “1 to 5″ (“1 to 5, didn’t think that I could do it, countin’ 1 to 5, now I know I can get through it,” etc.)pollydartonJG: What would you say is your most important contribution to Sesame Street?

EK: The contribution to Sesame Street that has been the most meaningful to me has been my involvement with the inclusion of disability content on the show. This goes back to Season Two and has had profound importance to me ever since.

During Season Two (1970) I was asked to check out a performance of the Little Theater of the Deaf and report back on whether I thought they would do well as guest performers on Sesame Street. They were charming and wonderful and I enthusiastically recommended them for the show. They were performing short segments in public schools to entertain and to demonstrate sign language. In the course of their performance, hearing children could learn some basic signs and could understand something of the deaf experience. It was seamless and delightful.

The National Theater of the Deaf have appeared many times over Sesame Street’s long run.

The National Theater of the Deaf have appeared many times over Sesame Street’s long run.

I wrote some short simple pieces for them to perform on Sesame Street: including our hearing cast: showing some inclusive activities (acting out building a fire engine together, for example) and teaching some very basic signs, some letters, and modeling warm interrelationships. We received an avalanche of enthusiastic positive mail! People loved learning the sign language and people loved seeing the deaf actors interacting with the hearing cast. We decided to use them more often and starting using Linda Bove, a very attractive actress in the company, on a regular basis.

During this period that I was writing the material for the Little Theater of the Deaf, I was socializing with the deaf actors privately and getting to know them and becoming educated and politicized about some of their disability issues. I learned about the pain of their experiences of exclusion and discrimination. I felt good about being able to use them on Sesame Street to model comfortable inclusion in a neighborhood of friendliness and normalcy.

Shortly after that, in 1974, my own son Jason was born with Down syndrome. Overnight the issues I had been discussing with the deaf actors became a harsh reality in my own life. Suddenly I was struck with the grim absence of people with disabilities in the media. Television shows were not reflecting my family any more. Magazines, television and print advertising never depicted any children with physical or intellectual disabilities. It was extremely painful to feel so completely excluded from all mainstream media.

Jason with Will Lee

Jason with Will Lee

I started to wonder whether I wasn’t in a position to do something about that! Within a short time it became apparent that my son Jason was quite bright. He was beginning to understand letters and numbers, was, in fact, beginning to read simple words when he was only three years old. This was in stark contradiction to what we had been told to expect from doctors and educators. The supposition was that children with Down syndrome were profoundly retarded and incapable of academic achievement: ever. And here was my son: reading at three!

I thought: wouldn’t it be exciting to show the world that a kid with Down syndrome is breaking the rules and is actually learning to read! I asked the Sesame Street producers if we could tape Jason doing some simple letter identification segments and basic word identification bits and put them on the show. They were enthusiastic and supportive and we went ahead and put Jason on the show. Jason went on the show for the first time at the age of 15 months (the first person with Down syndrome on Sesame Street and, I believe, the first person with DS on any kids’ show). It has been my proudest accomplishment on Sesame Street over the years.

4072aThe mail response was amazing! People were astonished: to see a child with Down syndrome at all! And reading!! It was astonishing!! And incredible! People wrote to thank us for showing a child like that at all. People wrote to say that they had a child with DS and that they never knew that academic work was possible and that now they were going to try to work with their own children! It was phenomenal!

We were so encouraged by the response, we knew we were onto something wonderful. And, of course, we realized that it didn’t have to stop with Down syndrome. We realized that all kinds of children deserved to see themselves represented on Sesame Street. So we started casting children in wheelchairs, children with braces and crutches and helmets and all sorts of situations. We did segments about blindness, demonstrating Braille, service dogs, all sorts of things.

And we have continued this kind of comfortable inclusion throughout the years up to the present day.

There are two facets of the disability content of Sesame Street. On the one hand, I believe that children are entitled to solid hard information about disability, to have their questions answered. Too often kids are told, “Don’t look, don’t ask, don’t stare.” This is wrong. Kids should ask, should know, should have their questions answered. For that reason, I wrote many segments for the show which dealt with disability head on. I talked about why a person used a wheelchair, how the chair worked, why a kid had braces on her legs, how a dog was trained to help a person who was blind, how devices were designed to accommodate deafness, how ramps help people who can’t get up steps, etc., etc., etc.

ItzhakPerlman_with_girlI also wrote several bits for the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman who uses crutches as a result of having had polio as a child. He spoke plainly about how he hates the obstacles presented by steps everywhere. He talked about how some things are easy for you but hard for him.

JG: Can you tell me about the segment that was done with my personal hero, Christopher Reeve, on Sesame Street?

EK: I spent a lovely day with Christopher Reeve planning a segment on the show for him. He was very gracious and agreed to talk plainly about his accident. When Big Bird asks him why he is using this wheelchair, Chris explains that he had an accident and now his legs don’t work. Big Bird asks him what’s that tube in your neck? Chris explains that he needs that in order to get the air he needs to breathe. It’s very straight and clear.

Reeve-SesameI told Chris I wanted to use his son Will in the segment. Chris said no, he never permits his son to be used, and asked me why I wanted to use him. I explained that I wanted to show our audience that people with disabilities, even very significant disabilities, have families, families who love them, stand by them and continue to have normal relationships. Chris immediately changed his mind and said that it would be OK to use Will.

In the segment when Zoe expresses sadness that Chris had his accident, Chris says, thank you Zoe, it’s OK, there are some things I can’t do any more but with my friends and my family to help me, I can do lots and lots of things! (And Will gives a big grin and gives Chris a kiss.) Then Chris gives Zoe a ride and off they all go to the library.

I’m sad that they can’t air that segment any more, now that Chris Reeve has died. It’s one of the segments I’m most proud of in my career. It had tons of hard solid information in it, showed a person with a disability living a regular life and integrating into the community with warmth and humor and spirit. (You can watch it here)

ChrisReeve.ErnieSo, as I said, one aspect of the disability segments was to give the audience information about disability and answer their questions. The other aspect is simply to SHOW THEM, without even mentioning anything about disability, just to show them as ordinary members of the community, going about their daily lives, as regular neighbors and friends, in there with everybody else. Use them as extras, in the background, or participating in segments that have nothing to do with disability, just as people. For example, the other bit I wrote for Chris Reeve had him reciting the alphabet with Ernie. It had nothing to do with disability whatsoever. It was just an alphabet bit. We need to show the audience that people with disabilities are just “folks.” That’s important too.

And fortunately, the casting folks have been very good about that, casting kids with disabilities as extras, just hanging around in the background along with the other kids. I believe, with all my heart, that Sesame Street has a better record of comfortable inclusion of people with disabilities than any other television show in history.

People with disabilities are America’s largest minority group. Larger than African Americans, larger than Hispanics, larger than Asians, larger than any other group. About 58,000,000. And then you add to that number the non-disabled people (the parents, spouses, siblings, relatives, teachers, friends) who care about them and their welfare, the number swells enormously. They deserve to see themselves represented in the media!

I’m proud and grateful that Sesame Street has been in the forefront of making that happen.

PrairieTyneJG: What are your other favorite moments writing Sesame Street?

EK: I have a wonderful friendship with the actress Tyne Daly. She was in a movie I wrote for CBS-TV about my experience raising a son with Down syndrome [Kids Like These: which was on CBS in 1987]. Tyne and I have been good friends ever since. When Tyne was on Broadway starring in Gypsy, I wrote a parody song about body parts called “Everything’s Coming Up Noses.” She loved it and agreed to come sing it on Sesame Street.

The day before the taping, she called Jule Styne, the man who had written the original music for Gypsy, and told him that she was coming on Sesame Street to sing “Everything’s Coming Up Noses” with the Muppets and wasn’t that fun … and he became furious. He was outraged that somebody was making fun of his song and couldn’t see the humor in it. So at the last minute we had to cancel that and Tyne sang some other song for the show and my song was shelved.

Many years later, Jule Styne passed away and Bernadette Peters was on Broadway in a revival of Gypsy. I asked whether my old song could be resurrected and offered to Bernadette Peters. They sent it to her and she loved it but her vocal coach said that she was under a lot of stress and they didn’t want her doing anything besides her show: so she passed.

4124yThey then asked me how I would feel if they offered it to Harvey Fierstein!! Wow! I said that would be fantastic. Harvey came on the show and sang the song and it was fabulous! That one went:

“You’ll be great,
You’ll be swell
If there’s something that you wanna smell
Starting here, starting now
Honey everything’s coming up noses!”

A whole bunch of noseless Muppets came along and Harvey stuck a nose onto each one. It was really funny.

I wrote a takeoff on CaraNome from Rigoletto which was performed by Renee Fleming, the famous opera star, along with a bunch of pigs, sheep and singing bananas. She was absolutely charming and elegant and did the whole thing in one take. It was written to teach counting forwards and backwards and went:

3977x“In this opera we will strive
To sing and count until we’re done
Forwards 1-2-3-4-5
Backwards 5-4-3-2-1
Here’s some pigs from Galveston
Count them quick before they’re gone
Forwards 1-2-3-4-5
Backwards 5-4-3-2-1…” (and so on)

Andrea Bocelli came to sing a lullaby to Elmo which was new (my) words to his iconic song which was topping the regular charts at the time. I think all the writers loved to write new words for visiting celebrities and I particularly loved those segments.

Character.gilbert-sullivanI’m also a big Gilbert & Sullivan fan and I wrote about six or seven songs in the G&S style. They actually built a Gilbert puppet and a Sullivan puppet for these segments (that is: they took two “anything muppets” and dressed them up as Gilbert & Sullivan for these bits). The songs were fast patter-songs in the G&S style and were lots of fun. They took a lot of production. One was a huge production number called “You Are what You Eat” about all the different food groups. There was a verse about meat, a verse about vegetables, a verse about fish, one about cheese and dairy, etc. At the end everybody came together for a huge banquet chorus about if you eat the proper food and water, you’ll know you’re eating exactly as you oughta.

Another Gilbert & Sullivan song was called “At Your Library” and was about all the different kinds of books you can find at the library. Oscar’s looking for books about junk and Gilbert & Sullivan keep directing him to different sections of the library which feature all kinds of other types of books. He finally finds books about Trash and is very happy.

JG: Do you still write for Sesame Street currently? Regardless, how has the show changed over the years in its format?

EK: I’m still writing for Sesame Street but much less. There is less writing going on than there was. We are doing fewer shows and the show has been cut down from an hour to a half-hour format. There are new younger writers who need the money more than I do. I am content to write fewer scripts and let the other writers carry a larger portion of the material. I am about to turn 75 years old.

LetterDanceBreakWe are experimenting with new format elements all the time. Our research department is always working to keep us fresh and keep us current with the newest educational philosophies. We keep meeting with educators and parent groups and we keep getting the results of research being done on our material to determine what works and what doesn’t, what the kids learn from and what they don’t. There is so much new technology and the kids are getting the show from all sorts of different places nowadays. There is also tons more competition from many more other shows.

JG: Any last words that you want to say regarding your legacy at Sesame Street?

EK: I still believe that Sesame Street is the best thing out there, that we offer something that is research and curriculum based, that is unique and has a basic integrity of content and purpose. We really care deeply about what is best for the kids, what they really need and we will never sell out to commercialism or shallow flashiness. All of the writers believe in what we do and it is not “just a job” for any of us. I’ve been so proud to have been part of Sesame Street for 45 years.

Bill William’s caricature of Emily Kingsley, as seen in the book ‘What Do You Do?’

Bill William’s caricature of Emily Kingsley, as seen in the book ‘What Do You Do?’

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Norman Stiles

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Josh Green – Welcome back to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column focuses on the hidden treasures of The Muppets, Sesame Street, as well as any projects involving Jim Henson. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. This time I talked to the wonderful writer of Sesame Street, Norman Stiles.

normanstilesJosh Green: Why don’t we start with a quick rundown of your professional highlights?

Norman Stiles: Well, I wrote for Sesame Street for twenty-five, thirty years. I came in at the end of the second season.

I also worked on one of the pilots for The Muppet Show, which was called The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. It was one of the first things I did that was not Sesame Street. I’d been on Sesame Street for a few years as their head writer and Jim called me in asking me to work on it. I took the assignment, but I was a little intimidated by working on this project. First of all, Marshall Brickman was the head writer of the pilot. Marshall had written with Woody Allen as his co-writer on all the early movies. I was really intimidated.

I didn’t really write that much on the show and I have very little memory of it. I do remember that somebody once asked Marshall Brickman what he thought of me, and he said that I was a nice dresser. But I was never asked back on future The Muppet Show episodes. I guess you can use that as a yardstick to how well I did as a writer on the pilot.

I then left Sesame Street for a bit when I moved to Hollywood to pursue other projects.

JG: What kind of projects?

NS: Initially I worked with Mel Brooks and my writing partner at the time, John Boni on a thirteen episode sitcom called When Things Were Rotten, a parody of the Robin Hood Legend.

JG: Was the show at all similar to Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights film that would come years later?

NS: It preceded Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Other than the kind of tone of the movie with the same characters and the fact it used anachronistic humor, it wasn’t the same.

20140420123740-norm_and_puppets_for_indieJG: What came next?

NS: Well, after that I worked on The Captain & Tennille variety show, America 2-Night and Fernwood Tonight. Fernwood Tonight was a precursor to shows like The Daily Show. It was a fake talk show. It was a lot of fun and I’m very proud of the work we did. I would eventually return to Sesame Street around 1980 and stayed there until I left.

JG: Since you are most well-known for your work on Sesame Street, can you tell me about the lost treasures that you had written which didn’t make it on screen?

NS: I can tell you one that made the final cut but then disappeared.

There was a character named Harvey Kneeslapper. He was the first character I’d ever created and it was, I believe, in the first year I was there. He was always laughing. Frank Oz played the character. You might be able to find some segments still somewhere online. It was all puns, which technically you are not supposed to do because kids at that age don’t understand.

harvey-kneeslapperIt could be Ernie standing behind at the wall, or any other puppet was standing just behind the Muppet wall and Harvey would come saying, “You know where I wanna be?” He’s laughing to himself. After that Ernie would say, “No, I don’t know where you wanna be.” “I want to be here,” and he would put a “B” on Ernie’s chest, the letter “B”. Then he would go, “[LAUGHING] that’s where I wanna be.”

It was a blatant pun, but what I felt, and I think the research department felt the same thing, was that the kids didn’t have to get the pun because they saw this laughing guy put a letter “B” on somebody’s chest. To them that was what was funny. The pun didn’t matter to them.

It worked on two levels, which is what Sesame Street is supposed to do. It’s supposed to have one level that the parents would think is funny and another level that the kids would appreciate or laugh at. What happened was the character annoyed some people and also Frank was straining his voice doing all that laughing with that character. Eventually people felt that Harvey should take a long vacation.

JG: Any other examples?

character-deenaNS: Yup, there was a character that I created named Deena who was named after a very close friend of mine. The character was a monster whose main obsession was play; turning everything, every situation, into an opportunity to play. At the time, the significance of play as a critical element of brain development wasn’t being promoted as avidly as it is today. We know now that free play, encouraging children to play, is, if anything, one of the most critical things that children do and that parents can do with their children that will help their brains develop.

Play for Deena was like cookies for Cookie Monster and counting for The Count. For whatever reason, as we tried the character in a few sketches, Deena’s insistence on playing was more annoying than amusing. I guess I have a penchant for creating annoying characters.

JG: But you created The Count and Forgetful Jones! They’re not annoying.

NS: Yeah, they’re not annoying, but this character was. Creating a character is always a delicate balance. It’s the writing. It’s the concept. It’s the puppeteer. It’s the voice the puppeteer does. You just don’t know whether something is going to click. This one didn’t. I don’t think that we did more than one or two sketches.

sam-the-robotThe other character that we did that just didn’t work in the long run was Sam the Robot. This was a character we all tried to do at a time just when technology was starting to take off. We tried to do this robot character and it just didn’t work. Sam used to try to talk to other machines, like toasters for instance. It just didn’t work. Most of the writers had a hard time coming up with ideas for him, which is a sure sign that the character we created didn’t have legs… or wheels, in this case.

There was a song, “The Loudest Lullaby (You’ve Ever Heard)”. My writing partner Christopher Cerf and I decided it would be fun to have Grundgetta, Oscar’s girlfriend, sing a lullaby to him. What kind of lullaby would a grouch like? Well, it would be a loud lullaby, right?

Check out the sheet music for the deleted song here: CBC-NS.LoudestLullaby.LeadSheet.SSt2704-Item3.1989

Also read the internal lyrics memo for “The Loudest Lullaby (You’ve Ever Heard)” here: CBC-NS.LoudestLullaby.Lyrics.10-04-89

We wrote this great song, “La la la, la la la, it’s the loudest lullaby you’ve ever heard.” It had sound effects of garbage trucks, traffic and horns. It was loud. Jon Stone, the director, absolutely hated it! He had power at the time to change things that he really felt strongly about. The bit that ended up on the show is nothing like the one I wrote, Grundgetta singing it at nighttime to Oscar in his trashcan, who falls asleep while everyone else on Sesame Street, who had been sleeping, yelling and complaining about all the noise that woke them up. It ended up being Grundgetta alone, on Sesame Street at night, singing for only fifteen to twenty seconds of the lullaby to nobody. It had no purpose and made no sense, but I loved it. It was so the perversity of Oscar that he would fall asleep to this while everybody else was saying, “Keep quiet!”.

The main thing about Oscar was that he really was helpful in showing kids something about differing perspectives. When you are a kid, you don’t understand that there may be another perspective, that someone else may see the world differently than you. You might like chocolate ice cream but somebody else might like strawberry. It’s a critical thinking skill. Oscar was helpful in demonstrating that particular aspect of emotional development because he clearly has a different point of view than everybody else. By in large others on Sesame Street understood this and made an effort to include him in spite of his unique preferences and dislikes. They also expected him to return the favor.

bettylougrover-sesameworkshopOther than “The Loudest Lullaby (You’ve Ever Heard)” there was a song by Grover called “Oops!” that Chris and I wrote, which had the same message as “Everyone Makes Mistakes,” which Big Bird sang, but made more personal, from Grover’s point of view. Children make mistakes all the time and they need to know that it’s okay. More importantly, trial and error is the major way that children learn. They shouldn’t be made to feel bad when they try something and fail. We didn’t feel bad when they decided not to record the song. Well, maybe there were a few tears.

Check out the sheet music for the deleted song “Oops!” here: CBC-NS.Oops!.Lyrics.12-05-93

One other song that Chris and I wrote was shot, aired and then pulled. John Candy, as his Polish Character, sang “The Alphabet Polka”. Slimey, Oscar’s worm, accompanied him on a full sized tuba, his whole head inside the mouthpiece. Chris loves to tell everyone how I wrote the lyric in 5 minutes. Not hard. “A” and “B” and “C” and “D”. Hey, do the Alphabet polka. “E” and “F” and How ‘Bout “G”, “H”,” I”, “J” and then comes “K”. Hey, do the alphabet polka!”

However, the Workshop got complaints from Polish organizations complaining that we were making fun of their heritage, asking to have the segment pulled. Which ended up happening.

JG: Let’s talk about your most famous creations – The Count and Forgetful Jones. Were they big hits right away.

NS: Well, not Forgetful Jones, but The Count was a hit right away. It was just one of those things where all the elements were so perfectly together- the name, the character, which was an homage to Bela Lugosi, the famous film Dracula, complete with cape, monocle and that Transylvanian voice. Jerry (Nelson) played it perfectly with such energy and commitment. The character worked for everybody right away.

forgetful-jonesForgetful Jones also worked, but I think it is a more subtle kind of a character, specifically intended to teach children strategies for how to remember. Because that is one of the things we all do. We forget something and what do we do? We go back to the moment before we forgot. What song was playing when she told you her name? Where were you when you last had your keys, pants, whatever? Remembering helps you solve problems, and it is obviously an important skill. Richard Hunt played the character brilliantly. Forgetful was so “Richard” that when Richard died, we just couldn’t pass the character on to another puppeteer.

JG: Are there any other highlights from your work on Sesame Street that you’d like to discuss?

NS: I came up with the title and premise for the Sesame Street special, “Out To Lunch.” I collaborated on the sketch I wrote for the special with Robert Frost. Actually, he wrote all the words, I just came up with the scene. Grover drove a Muppet horse drawn sleigh into a snow filled wooded country setting, stopped and recited, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”. It’s one of my most favorite scenes.

putdowntheduckieI also came up with the idea for song “Put Down the Ducky” one night while eating dinner by myself at a restaurant. The phrase, “You’ve got to put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone,” came to mind after one vodka on the rocks. Chris Cerf and I wrote the whole lyric around a week later and then he wrote that great tune. The idea to include cuts of celebs came soon after it was recorded and shot. Any celebrity who came to do Sesame Street did their version. I got goose bumps when Ladysmith Black Mombassa did it.

JG: What did you do after you left Sesame Street?

NS: After that Chris Cerf and I started the company, Sirius Thinking, and we, with Michael Frith, Cathy Mullen, Lou Berger and Louise Gikow, created Between the Lions, a show designed to teach beginning reading. We produced 10 seasons with WGBH for PBS. Lions didn’t have Muppets per say. It wasn’t a Jim Henson show. The puppets were designed and by Jim Kroupa and John Orberg (3Design). You can still go online and see it. Then Chris and I did a thirteen episode show with puppets for PBS Plus called Lomax: The Hound of Music.

title-betweenlionsJG: What projects are currently keeping you busy these days?

NS: In April 2014, I launched a crowd funding campaign for an online video series, The Baby & Toddler Parenthood News Network, with my wife Ellen Dillon and child development expert Amy Hatkoff. Did we raise our money? Well, we didn’t raise what we wanted to raise, and realized that we’d have to start a not-for-profit company to get the kind of funding we’ll need from to go to organizations that are foundations and private individuals who have foundations we started the First Years First Foundation. We’ll start doing some new production after the first of the year, and use the completed videos as part of another pitch to raise foundation money to move the project forward in a much bigger way.

If you want to learn more about the project, you can search it on parentingsmarts.org, and you can see what I mean about how it’s done.

writers-stiles-cerfThe way it all started, my wife, Ellen, she was a teacher for a long time, starting with teaching sixth grade. When she came in the first day, she noticed that some kids were ahead, some kids were behind. After that she said, “Alright, next year I’ll go to fifth grade and see what’s going on there.” She slowly worked her way down and finally ended up in kindergarten, realizing that children in kindergarten were coming in with vastly different abilities and a readiness for school.

She started doing some research and what she found was that the parents’ influence on children from the years from zero to three on their brain development is determinative of how well prepared they are going to be when they get to school. The big headline is that by age three, approximately eighty-five percent of the structure of the brain is built! What we discovered is that the cognitive readiness to learn, social and emotional skills that are necessary to function in school, some of the executive functions which have to do which with being able to delay gratification and manage your emotions are built by the time you are age three.

When she was in school, there were all different parents from all different socio-economic backgrounds always asking for help, “What can I do?” One of them came to her at one point and said, “The only thing I have time for is to watch a few minutes of Supernanny.” Ellen got the idea that probably what would be great to do is to give parents some information in short segments that would be videos. She thought it should be entertaining in some way to grab them. Something that could watch that was short because they don’t have a lot of time and easily accessible when they need it.

After a while we came up the idea for what is now called The Baby and Toddler Parenthood News Network, which has more baby and toddler puppet anchors, correspondents and pundits than any other news organization in the business. The idea is that they report in short segments what is going on in the lives of real parents. We use real families and parents who are doing all these little things that parents typically do with their kids in their every day lives, and showing how there are ways to do those things that maximize brain development and make your life easier with your kids.

It’s not complex; it’s a very simple process. Parents have been doing a lot of this stuff for centuries. Only now has the brain science come into play to prove and show what all these little things that we should do with our little ones, what kinds of big results these things have. It has to do with how you are responding to your children in the everyday moments that you have with them from birth to age three, and the kind of interaction that is responsive, that understands baby’s point of view, and builds a kind of bond and trust that is necessary for the brain to develop properly.

We treat these little things just as big new stories and we have a puppet news team. One of the anchors is Todd Lerr and Di Perr and Anderson Pooper and Terry Biltooze and Andrea Bassinette. We have segments like Access Babyhood that looks a lot like Access Hollywood. There’s a newsroom. These are done like real news stories. Terry Billtooze, it’s the No Baloney Zone. He interviews experts and he doesn’t trust anything that they’re going to say. The name of his show is the O’Really Factor, named for his repeated skeptical reply to a guest’s statements, “Oh, really!?”.

Huge thanks to Norman Stiles for his time and contribution!normanstilestelly

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Bonnie Erickson

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Josh Green: Welcome to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column will focus on the hidden treasures of The Muppets and/or Sesame Street. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. This week’s interview is with the legendary Muppet designer, Bonnie Erickson.

bonnieJosh Green: It’s a pleasure speaking with you, Bonnie. You are historically well-known as designer for The Muppets and Sesame Street, but you have a different full-time job now, don’t you Bonnie?

Bonnie Erickson: In my capacity as executive director of The Jim Henson Legacy, I am still very much involved with Jim Henson’s work and with many of the people who collaborated with him on the worlds he created.

JG: I actually did go to the Jim Henson’s Fantastic Worlds exhibit presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and I absolutely loved it. The original art and documents written by Jim Henson were certainly the highlights, but also seeing the actual Muppets on display was awe-inspiring.

BE: Thank you. It was a pleasure to work with the Smithsonian on that exhibit. It toured for four and a half years and was seen by almost one million people. We were happy to be able to share the power of Jim’s art, his imagination and his positive view of life with so many.

JG: So can you tell me about Muppets that weren’t used as much as you would have liked?

BE: Well, first things first. It would be difficult to think of anything we built that didn’t get used! Once a Muppet was out of the prototype stage it was used and reused as needed. If you look at Jim Henson’s sketches and the characters that inhabited his on-camera worlds, you will see how ideas, shapes and sketches were never wasted and would pop up in new places. We would take The Muppet Show Whatnots and Sesame Street Anythings, which were rather generic Muppets with interchangeable parts and make them into whatever characters we needed….so everything was used one way or another. For instance, on Sesame Street the character that is always waited on in the restaurant by Grover is Mr. Johnson, also known by many fans as Fat Blue, a rotund, round-headed, blue rod puppet shape used often. A change of eyes, nose, wig and costume and you have a totally different character.

xmast04_r_cJG: Do you have any rarely used favorites of yours?

BE: As I said, nothing was wasted. Take Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy, for instance. That was a wonderful special that ran in 1986. It was so well regarded that it was made into a spin-off series in 1994 called Jim Henson’s Secret Life of Toys, using some of the same Muppets that we had used almost a decade earlier.

But in terms of specific characters that I wish were used more, I guess I would say George the Janitor. I designed George the Janitor for one of Jim’s Muppet Show type pilots called The Muppets Valentine Show which aired in 1974. He is a curmudgeon of a character whose only love is his mop. He’s been in bits here and there, and was a regular on The Muppet Show in season one. From that point on, he wasn’t used as much as I would have liked. But he still made appearances in backgrounds occasionally. He was the precursor to Beauregard. I always thought there could have been two custodians in The Muppet Show. That crowd certainly made enough of a mess on the set! (Laughs)

f6982-mtmgroupJG: Was there anything that you designed for Jim that was never seen by the public?

BE: Well, Jim always wanted to do a Broadway musical with The Muppets. Over time the workshop built many of Jim’s designs for this project. It was an experiment with a very different approach to style and content than what we did on television. It featured larger characters and other worlds. It’s a shame that the musical didn’t materialize during his lifetime.

JG: Now, before I let you go, you have had such a diverse career, can you give me a timeline of some of your professional highlights?

BE: Sure! I worked as a costume designer on and off Broadway before my first job with Jim in 1970. I was hired by Jim to costume the puppets on Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince. I went on to design and build characters for The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, variety shows and TV specials. Much of my work was on characters that were eventually used on The Muppet Show.

In 1977, my husband, Wayde Harrison and I formed our own production, design and marketing company, Harrison/Erickson, Inc. We created characters for television commercials and the stage, and found a niche business developing mascot and merchandising programs for major league sports teams. I continued to consult on productions for The Jim Henson Company and on licensed products for Jim and Children’s Television Workshop as Sesame Workshop was called then.

phillie-phanatic-db56a27d523604c0_largeJG: Yeah, we have to talk about that for a second, because I live in Philadelphia, and you designed the holy grail of mascots, the Phillie Phanatic, the mascot for the baseball team the Philadelphia Phillies!

BE: Always generous and always a friend, Jim recommended Harrison/Erickson, Inc. for the job of creating a mascot for the Phillies and the Phillie Phanatic was born. Initially we leased the Phanatic to the team for appearances and paid a royalty to them for the licensed products we did. The first year of licensing we did over two million dollars in sales in the Philly area. Eventually we had a number of successful programs with teams who wanted to be able to control of the characters and were able to enforce the copyrights so we sold the Phanatic and then others to the teams.

JG: Do you realize how popular the Phanatic is?

BE: (Laughs) I do! The Phillies came to us before mascots like ours were out there and they are still our clients and we attend games every year.

JG: When I was growing up, the Philadelphia Phillies were always lousy. But it didn’t matter, because the Phillie Phanatic always provided me with more than enough entertainment.

youppi-11BE: That is the idea behind a mascot. They are an important part of a team’s community relations and they act as cheerleaders and figureheads no matter how the season is going for the organization. Behind each successful mascot is a good design and performable costume, a talented performer and a team that supports and promotes the character.

JG: So in 1978, you created the Phanatic. What was next for you?

BE: In the sports world the next mascot was Youppi!, originally the mascot for baseball’s Montreal Expos. But when the Expos left Montreal and became the Nationals, Youppi! stayed in Montreal and became something like a free agent. He is now the mascot for Montreal’s hockey team, The Canadiens. I love that story. In all we created sixteen mascot character programs. We have one with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, The Washington Wizards, The Jacksonville Jaguars, The Kansas City Chiefs, and The Orlando Magics. The Phanatic and Youppi! Are in The Baseball Hall of Fame.

At the same time we were doing TV commercials for McDonalds, Burger King, HO Oats, Budweiser and other products in the states and Nutella, Flik Flak Swatch watches and more in Europe.

3f453-beanbunnyBut I never was too far from Jim and in 1983, I oversaw the build of Fraggle Rock. In 1986, I worked on The Tale of the Bunnie Picnic, a TV special which introduced the character of Bean Bunny. And in 1987, I was a consultant on Muppet Babies Live. Then, in 1989, I went back to focus on Harrison/Erickson, Inc. and consulting on Sesame Street products

After years as a trustee on The Jim Henson Legacy and then president, I became the executive director in 2011. The establishment of permanent exhibits of Jim Henson’s work at The Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and the Center of Puppetry Arts in Atlanta has been a major part of the work of the Legacy during that time. The Henson family has donated over seven hundred objects to these museums as well as to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. making Jim Henson’s legacy available to the public for years to come.

JG: What an amazing career!

BE: Thank you. I’ve been very lucky.

JG: Of course. Thank you for filling me in on so many pieces of Muppet history that many people might not be aware of.

BE: My pleasure, Josh.6a00e553a80e10883401a73d88ebcd970d-500wi

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Joe Bailey, Part 2

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Josh Green: Welcome to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column will focus on the hidden treasures of the Muppets and/or Sesame Street. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. This week’s interview is with the wonderful writer of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Joe Bailey. Thanks to The Muppet Show Comic Book artist/writer Roger Langridge, who designed the incredible logo for this series. Be sure to check out Part 1!

300px-joe_baileyJosh Green: Now, do you have any memories of The Muppet Show bits that didn’t make it to air?

Joe Bailey: No. But I’ll tell you about one that almost didn’t make it and became one of Jim’s favorites.

When Jim and I discussed my writing The Muppet Show, he asked me to write some audition material. I took two weeks and wrote a complete Muppet Show script except for the guest star spots.

One of the pieces in the script was a Swedish Chef sketch. I knew the Chef’s premise was that he was always at odds with whatever he was cooking. So I dreamed up a sketch where he was cooking lobster. The lobster resisted. But Chef finally wrestled the lobster into the pot and started cooking.

At this point we hear galloping hooves and charging Mariachi trumpets! Three lobster puppets, dressed as Mexican banditos with sombreros and bandoliers, crash into the kitchen, guns blazing and rescue the lobster in the pot. The lobsters do a little Federales dialogue, mount up and ride off, guns still blazing.

When Jerry Juhl, The Muppet Show Head Writer, saw it, he immediate put it in the current script. But Jim cut it. He just couldn’t see it. I don’t know why.

Jerry put it in the next week’s script. Jim cut it again. Jerry, to his credit, continued to put it in each week’s script. It became a running joke between Jim and the writers.

lobstersThen one week Jim’s daughter, Cheryl, was in London visiting her father. An accomplished puppet designer at 17, Cheryl saw the piece in a script and decided she wanted to make the lobster puppets. In fact, one of the lobsters has the handlebar moustache I was sporting at the time.

Once it was shot, Jim loved the piece. You can judge for yourself. Google Swedish Chef Lobsters.

By the way, there are also a few of my other Muppet pieces on the net: Pigs in Space: Independent Heating (Edgar Bergen episode); Muppets At The Hop; The Muppet Show Peter Sellers Massage, Gonzo Motorcycle and Sam’s Discourse on Nudity.

JG: Who were your favorite characters to write for on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show? And could you tell us why?

8ab0f-biff-sullyJB: I wouldn’t say I had favorites. But, I would get hot on a character for a while and then I’d be on to another one. Since Caroll Spinney was available for every episode of Sesame Street, I wrote a lot for Big Bird and Oscar, two wonderful characters.

But if Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt were available, I might get into Biff and Sully. They also played the Snuffleupagus. And in those days, Snuffy was Big Bird’s imaginary friend.

Then there were what I think of as the ids: Cookie Monster and Animal.

I made Miss Piggy a lady wrestler and matched her with Kermit who was wrestling in drag. I had Gonzo recite the seven times multiplication tables while standing up in a hammock and balancing a grand piano on one finger. When he said, Seven nines are sixty-four, they booed him off stage. I made Sam the Eagle naked on television.

1f5ba-themuppetsatd232JG: What are your thoughts on what Disney is currently doing with The Muppets? Same question goes with Sesame Workshop and Sesame Street. Do you think that both properties are honoring what came before?

JB: Disney puts out a quality product. Generations of Americans have trusted their children to Disney and were never disappointed: including my own. But the Muppets were really Jim’s art. Most of those characters came out of Jim’s head. It’s difficult to duplicate an individual artist’s work. Disney has to move the Muppets on to the next generation as they did with the original Disney Characters.

JG: Take me through a day in life of Joe Bailey these days. What do you do with your time?

memoirsofamuppetwriterJB: Well right now I’m having dental surgery and getting the apartment painted. But I assume you’re talking about a work day.

I’m about to go back to work on a book I started before Memoirs. It’s called, Saloon Brat (Why Can’t We Take the Kitchen to the Track!?) My formative years were spent growing up in the completely adult, Guys and Dolls world of my father’s “saloon” business. “Saloon” was his catch word for the many bars, night clubs and restaurants he owned and operated. It wasn’t Little House on the Prairie.

But back to my work day. Writing doesn’t have great visuals. Picture a grey beard staring into a computer screen and yawning occasionally and that’s about it. I work at home and have for a lot of my career when I’m not traveling. Once faxes and then e-mail became popular, producers saw no reason to rent office space for writers.

I like to ease into the day. Basically, I write light stuff and comedy so I like to start off in a good mood. Since I’m an afternoon writer, I spend from 10:00 to 12:00 doing business, answering e-mails, etc.

After lunch it’s “dream time”, when I work on whatever project is at hand. Sometimes I like to start with a crossword puzzle. It’s a writer’s trick to get your mind working with words.

I don’t know how deep in the weeds you want to get here about my writing technique. The last chapter in my book is called, Everything I learned About Writing in 50 Years: The Hard Way. But I think the most important thing about writing is an outline. Whatever I’m writing I always start with an outline.

If you get your characters and story line straight, it’s a lot easier to write the actual scenes. You should also work out your locations and visuals on the outline. Boy can meet Girl on the Champs Elysees or the Lexington Avenue Express. Which is better for your story? I always think a big part of screen writing as Feeding the Director. I try to create the most interesting visuals to carry the story line. If you give a director great visuals, he’ll want to shoot your script.

I lay the story out scene by scene in the computer. I number the scenes and describe them in one or two sentences. Then I print it out in big type and hang it on a cork board.

Now I can point scene by scene and talk my way through the entire show. I can also see how a “B” story line is fitting in, if music numbers are balanced and where the slow parts are, among other things. So, I change and rearrange scenes.

Only when I’m happy with the scene by scene outline do I start to write dialogue. That way, I always know where I’m going.

Is anybody still awake out there?

e2182-kermitandfozziepalJG: You’ll always have my attention, Joe. Do you ever get new story ideas for new Muppet or Sesame Street stories that you wish you would have pitched in the past?

JB: A few years back I was doing the Sunday Times crossword and the answer was, Man of La Mancha. A light bulb went off in my head and I wrote a proposal called Frog of La Mancha.

Kermit was a medieval blacksmith who dropped an anvil on his head and dreamed he became a knight, Don la Rand de La Mancha, The Frog of La Mancha. But, in order to win the troth of the fair Porcinea, played by the divine Miss Piggy he must slay a dragon.

With his faithful squire, Tuck, played with great nuance by Fozzie Bear, he travels across Spain in search of a dragon. But in his altered state, he keeps mistaking windmills for dragons and tilting at them atop a French restaurant, a catapult factory, a bee keeper and a fish factory with predictable results. The real dragon had four heads and sang barbershop harmony. I know Jim would have loved it.

JG: Indeed! Well, thank you so much for taking the time to let me interview you. It has been an absolute pleasure!

JB: Second star on the right and straight on ‘til morning!a9712-muppetpeterpan-cast

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.

Muppets Gone Missing: Joe Bailey, Part 1

Roger Langridge - Muppets Gone Missing

Josh Green: Welcome to “Muppets Gone Missing”. This column will focus on the hidden treasures of the Muppets and/or Sesame Street. Examples of this will consist of segments or characters that wound up on the cutting room floor, or were used, but not to their fullest extent. This week’s interview is with the wonderful writer of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Joe Bailey.

300px-joe_baileyJosh Green: Thank you for talking with me today, Joe. Before we get into the nitty-gritty about the bits that you had written that have been lost in the ethers of time, can you give me a rundown of some of your professional highlights whether they involved Muppets or not?

Joe Bailey: I started life as an advertising copywriter. I was a Mad Man on Mad. Ave. in the Mid-60’s, writing the praises of Beefeater Gin, SAAB automobiles and Heineken Beer.

The first TV show I wrote was a children’s show called, Jabberwocky. It was produced by WCVB-TV in Boston.

Then I was a staff writer on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I also co-wrote specials with Jon Stone, who was the Executive Producer of Sesame Street. Jon and I wrote Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and Big Bird in China. We also co-wrote a special for Jim with John Denver and the Muppets and a lot of Sesame Street Live! scripts.

I also wrote collateral material for both Sesame Street and the Muppets — record albums; videos and special appearances in Carnegie Hall and the White House.

Additionally, I’ve written other children’s television shows and for comedians like Robert Klein. I also wrote paint can warnings and Radio Shack catalogues. But, over the years, I seem to have morphed into “Muppet Guy”.

memoirsofamuppetwriterJG: I also understand that you wrote a book about your career, Memoirs of a Muppets Writer: (You mean somebody actually writes that stuff?). Tell me about the experience of writing an autobiography reminiscing about your career.

JB: Nice segue! Check it out on Amazon and on Kindle!

Even though I did it for years, in looking back, writing comedy was a weird way to make a living. When you sign a contract to write a comedy show, you basically signed a contract to be silly on cue.

What that means is you’re constantly chasing the next bit. When I started on Sesame Street, I wrote close to 25 scripts a year. At a minimum of five sketches a show, that’s over 100 sketches a year; or one every three days including Sundays and holidays. Deep down I guess I knew I was burning up my pituitary gland. But it was worth it.

And, of course, Jim and the Muppets were incredible people: bright, creative, multi-talented and genuinely nice people. But since we were creating lunacy for a living, we were all a little manic most of the time. But the real truth is I ran away with the circus and got away with it for 20 years.

86d2a-themuppetshow2528album2529JG: Writing for The Muppet Show must have been a decidedly different experience than writing for Sesame Street. One is an all-ages family show for everyone to enjoy and the other aimed towards a much younger demographic. How do you get in the mindset to write two such different television programs, despite both shows featuring similar rambunctious Muppet characters?

JB: Well, every writing job is a little different. But, since Sesame Street was and is considered an educational experiment, every sketch had to meet one of a series of educational goals. For example: the alphabet.

And since we were writing for two and three-year-olds, the material had to be as visual and as literal as possible to get through to the kids. But the show still had to have adult appeal because another goal was to get parents to watch with the kids.

So, for example, to explain the concept of subtraction, I set up a Muppet piece with two Muppet cowpokes and four Muppet mules. The boss wants to know if he takes three mules away from four mules, how many mules will he have left?

The smart cowboy knows that four take away three is one and solves the problem in his head.

The dumb cowhand had to wrestle three ornery Muppet mules from one corral to another. Then the boss then wants to know if he takes two mules from three mules, how many mules does he have left? So, the subtracting and the mule dragging starts all over again.

But The Muppet Show was written strictly for laughs. I got to work quotes from Senator Joe McCarthy and Nixon Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, into one Muppet Show piece. That wouldn’t have flown on Sesame Street. But I did once reveal that Oscar the Grouch had an autographed picture of Benedict Arnold.

3866b-bigbirdearlyJG: Can you tell me about stories that you had written for Sesame Street that weren’t used as much as you would have liked?

JB: Well, every Sesame Street script had to be cleared by the CTW (Children’s Television Workshop) Research Department which, in those days, were not renowned for their sense of humor, if you get my drift.

JG: Do tell.

JB: In one piece, to teach the various climates in the United States, I made Cookie Monster a weatherman, complete with a U.S. map and pointer. Cookie explained how it was snowing in Maine and raining in Alabama and very hot in Texas. But then, Cookie’s baser nature took over and he started to eat the map.

I guess it was when he proclaimed that, “Chicago is delicious!”, that we lost it. Research declared there was a possibility that somewhere some kids would think Cookie really had eaten Chicago, and the piece was bagged. I will admit I spent several days working on a sketch where Cookie really did eat Chicago but to no avail.

JG: Hah!

4c744-bigbirdbookJB: However, my all-time favorite Sesame Street reject was disqualified over a point of Theoretical Physics.

We had been told by the Research Department that there were two benefits of teaching the alphabet to a two-year-old. Firstly, the alphabet is an essential building block of education. But secondly, the approval and positive feed-back that the child receives for reciting the alphabet strongly reinforces his or her desire to learn more.

One day, it occurred to me that if a kid got applauded for reciting the alphabet, what would happen if he recited something a little more sophisticated. So, I created “Tips for Tots!”

The piece opened with a corny theme song and a “Tips for Tops!” logo. Then we cut to Big Bird in front of a blackboard. He writes on the blackboard as he speaks.

Big Bird says: And, now it’s time for “Tips for Tots!” Okay, tots! You know this! This is the letter, “E,” right? “E?” And, these two lines, one on top of the other mean, “equal.” Can you say, “Equal?” Equal means, “the same as”.

And these are your old friends, the letter, “M.” and the letter, “C,” right? Okay. Let’s review. “E” equals, “M,” “C.” Right? “E” equals “M,” “C.”

Now, we need a number. So, here’s the number, “2″. But here’s another new word, just like, “equals.” This little, and it has to be little, number, “2,” means, “Square.”, just like the shape with four equal sides. Hey, there’s that word, “Equal,” again.

So, let’s review. “E” equals “M,” “C,” squared. Try it again. “E” equals “M,” “C,” squared. Once more, “E” equals “M,” “C,” squared. He repeats and encourages through a fade out.

I turned the bit in to Jon Stone. He loved it and gave Big Bird the closing line: “When anyone asks, you tell them you learned that on Sesame Street.”

We just thought it would be great fun to have three-year-olds across the country running around spouting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It probably would have been a great PR angle for the show, too.

The Research Department rejected the piece, saying I really didn’t explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Really? I fired off a memo to Research asking them to show me exactly where I went wrong. That was around 1975. I’m still waiting for an answer.

JG: That’s such a shame.

Jcount-batsB: If I remember, there were a few other things that didn’t involve the Research Department. For a while on Sesame Street, I became obsessed with destroying pianos on camera. I play piano and love mine. Still, there’s something so satisfying about the sound a piano makes when it hits the pavement after falling from a five-story window.

Sketch after sketch ended with pianos being destroyed on and off camera. I think one involved the Count counting crashing pianos. Finally, Jon Stone sat me down and revoked my piano privileges. And for the rest of my Sesame Street career, I was limited to one piano per season.

I also remember submitting a song for Bert called, “I Don’t Have the Blues, I’ve Got the Grays”. Mercifully, that never saw the light of television. It was awful.

Finally, I recall something about the special, Big Bird in China. When Jon Stone and I wrote it, we had a running gag story line with Grover doing a travelogue from China’s major tourist sights. Except, as Grover explained, say, the history of the Great Wall, an enormous Chinese water buffalo would enter behind him and completely block out the Wall. The same thing was to happen in front of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and several other sites driving Grover to increasing frustration.

We even had some hapless production assistant scouring every zoo and animal park on the east coast looking for a matching Chinese water buffalo: Jon and I had conceived a closing scene when the gang returns to Sesame Street including Grover, followed, of course, by the water buffalo.

But when they got to China and set up the first scene, Jon discovered that water buffalos stink to high heaven. They also aren’t field-trained. So Jon said he didn’t have the heart to ask Frank Oz, Grover’s puppeteer, to lie down in that slop. So he canned the story line. I understand why. But it would have played like gangbusters.

JG: That would have been hilarious!

Check back next week for Part 2 of Muppets Gone Missing with Joey Bailey!

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josh-lauren-caroll-spinney-and-oscar-the-grouchJosh Green lives in Philadelphia, PA with his lovely wife Lauren. Having worked at Dynamite Entertainment and TV Guide, Josh is now a freelance writer for Graphic Policy and the creator of the “Muppets Gone Missing” column, so that he can still dabble in pop culture. While he is not dabbling, Josh lives a simple life, where his main enjoyment is spending as much time possible with his wife, whose very existence gives Josh purpose for everything.