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Goodbye Arts? Thanks Trump!

President Trump has unveiled his proposed budget plan, named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” and it calls for a sharp increase in military spending with sharp cuts across the rest of the government.

Those cuts include eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Sorry Big Bird, looks like you’re flipping burgers.

While Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying “then, what are we fighting for?” when asked about cutting funding for the arts during World War II (he didn’t say it), he actually did say the below in 1938:

The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them…. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.

The National Endowment for the Arts was started in 1965 by President Johnson, it’s dedicated to “supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and provided leadership in arts education. The organization has made over 128,000 grants totaling over $5 billion. Its funding makes up just 0.004% of the federal budget. 40% of its funding goes to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations. With a budget of about $150 million that’s about two months of comic sales at local comic shops. The NEA generates more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helps to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.

National Endowment for the Humanities also began in 1965 and is an independent federal agency. It too has a similar budget as that of the National Endowment for the Arts. It provides grants for humanities projects to cultural institutions such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars. The “Treasures of Tutankhamen” and Ken Burn’s The Civil War documentary were both funded by this. Its also sponsored 15 Pulitzer Prize-winning books.

Both organizations have funded research and spotlighted comic books at times bringing an academic perspective to the entertainment we love. Check out this podcast with Mike Mignola or essay by Gene Luen Yang for examples.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was founded in 1967 and is an American Private non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide non-commercial, high-quality content. 70% of its funding goes to 1,400 locally owned stations. Its budget is about $445.5 million (in 2014) which is about 0.012% of the federal budget. It helps supports television like PBS and radio programming. Series like NOVA and Sesame Street are available and accessible because of this. Programming that might not be commercially viable, but provides quality and educational entertainment to Americans and programming where you’re not bombarded by advertisements. If you’ve watched Sesame Street, you’ve benefited from this.

This isn’t the final budget that we will eventually get. Congress needs to still pass it, reach a separate agreement over a temporary funding bill, and raise the debt ceiling. But, what this does is lay out the Trump administration’s priorities, and the arts is not a part of that.

This is a wake-up call that we must defend the arts. March 20-21 is an Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. If you’re unable to participate you need to call your Congressman and tell them to support the arts and not defund these three vital organizations.

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Fashion Spotlight: Kirby Monster, Tiny VS The Old, Water Waker

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Fashion Spotlight: Grouch Life, Grand Theft Muppet, Our Lady of Mystery

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Fashion Spotlight: Virtruvian Buddies, Me Want To Believe, Master Peanuts

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Fashion Spotlight: One Punch Bat, Just One Bad Cookie, Bruce or Clark

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Fashion Spotlight: Galactic BFFs, Everything is Awful, X-Four

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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.

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