Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jim Henson's influential Muppets get recognition at Museum

Jim Henson, who created the iconic series 'The Muppets,' is pictured here with Kermit the Frog.

Jim Henson, who created the iconic series 'The Muppets,' is pictured here with Kermit the Frog.

Fans of Jim Henson may already know that the first Kermit the Frog was made from his mom's old coat and a Ping-Pong ball.

But who knew that his kids kept the original Chicken Liver in their toy box? Or that the prototype for Rowlf peddled dog food on TV?

A new exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria reveals interesting facts about the late puppeteer, animator and director, universally regarded as a creative genius.

The Daily News got an exclusive preview of "Jim Henson's Fantastic World," a collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution, the Henson family, the Muppets Studio and others.

Screenings of Henson's films, guest appearances and workshops will complement the exhibition during its six-month run.

The display is particularly timely because the $50 million all-star movie "The Muppets" will be released this fall.

It's also a homecoming because Henson based his corporate and production facilities in New York and "Sesame Street" is filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. Meanwhile, his widow Jane and daughter Cheryl continue to live in the city.

"It's rare to present an exhibition devoted to a single individual," says the museum's executive director, Carl Goodman. "But we are zooming in on one of the industry's most important creators. He revolutionized the field.

"It's a serious exhibition — not a playground — but the content is so delightful that people will have a great time.

"People will come to see the models of Bert, Ernie and Kermit, but they'll be fascinated to learn about the powerful creative force behind them."


Some of Henson's earlier works include the drill team puppets. (Courtesy of Museum of the Moving Images)

The curator, Karen Falk, archivist at the Long Island City-based Jim Henson Company, has supervised the display.

"It's designed to give people a look inside Jim's creative thinking and to get to know how he expressed himself," she says. "We really try to focus on the man."

It begins with a welcoming wave from Kermit and ends with one of Henson's later projects, the TV series "Fraggle Rock."

The show became a global hit in the years before his death in 1990, suddenly of pneumonia, at the age of 53.

Rather than linger on the tragedy, the exhibit celebrates Henson's extraordinary life and anarchic humor.

There are more than 120 artifacts, including doodles and sketches from Henson's 1950s college days and clips from his early TV commercials and appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

One section is devoted to the little-known live-action short film "Time Piece," which was nominated for an Oscar in 1965.

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