CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE STUMBLED INTO "THE SHALLOW ZONE." WATCH OUT FOR THE ROCKS. SOME OF THEM ARE SHARP.
If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.

About Me

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I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT

MY SHALLOW MISSION STATEMENT
Not that there's any weight to it...
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
VIDEO OF THE MONTH

Friday, September 7, 2012

FOAM RUBBER BECOMES THEM: THE MAD GENUIS OF THE MUPPETS AND THE MAN BEHIND THEM



MUPPETEER JERRY NELSON WITH ALTER EGO COUNT VON COUNT

Sesame Street lost one of its most iconic voices last week when veteran Muppeteer Jerry Nelson died at his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts at the age of 78. Nelson had been a member of the Sesame Street family for 40 years and was the voice behind several of the show's recurring characters, most famously Count von Count, the Dracula-inspired Muppet with a thick Transylvanian accent and a thirst for numbers that equaled Count Dracula's thirst for blood. Although the show will continue (its 42nd season begins this fall), Nelson's death marks the end of an era, at least for me. Count von Count was one of my daughter's favorite characters on the show, which she, like millions of other children, watched every day, sometimes twice a day, from the time she was a toddler until well after kindergarten. And like many other parents whose children were committed viewers of the show, I often watched it along with her, taking equal pleasure in the funny, savvy, well-written dialogue that masqueraded as entertainment while teaching pre-school viewers the basics of math, language, and social awareness.


JIM HENSON WITH SOME OF HIS FAVORITE MUPPET CHARACTERS

But of course, as wonderful and innovative as Sesame Street was...and is...it's not the only place where Muppets congregate on a regular basis. Long before Sesame Street was first broadcast on PBS in November of 1969, Muppets had already made a name for themselves on TV. In the mid-1950s, Mississippi native Jim Henson embarked on what was to be a lifelong career as a master puppeteer when he was asked to develop a show featuring puppets for WRC-TV in Baltimore. A few months earlier, Henson had graduated fromn the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics, not because he aspired to become a chef or an interior designer, but because home economics was part of the university's applied arts department, and Henson's interest in puppetry had prompted him to enroll in the crafts and textiles courses offered within the department. Even as a college student, Henson had very definite ideas about the way he wanted his puppets to move and speak. He wanted them to have "life and sensitivity", and to accomplish that, he began creating puppets out of foam rubber, which he covered with textile, and using rods to manipulate their arms instead of the strings which are used on traditional wooden marionettes. Henson's first Muppet prototypes debuted on WRC-TV on a daily five minute program called Sam And Friends, which featured an early version of one of Henson's most famous and beloved Muppet characters...Kermit The Frog.


MUPPET CAST OF "SAM AND FRIENDS", FEATURING AN EARLY INCARNATION OF KERMIT THE FROG

Still, it wasn't easy being green, even back then, for the young puppeteer from Mississippi. He soon became disenchanted with the limitations of his new show. His newfound financial success aside, Henson felt smothered as an artist, and so, leaving Sam and his Muppet friends behind, Henson took off for Europe on an impomptru sabbatical to decide whether he really wanted to pursue a career in puppetry. Fortunately, for the Muppet lovers of the world, while in Europe, Henson was exposed to an entirely new level of puppeteering, one in which puppetry had evolved from simple entertainment to a true art form. Inspired by his European counterparts, Henson returned to the United States, married his college sweetheart, Jane Nebel, and began pursuing his dream of making his Muppets something more than just characters on a children's television show. For most of the 60s, Henson earned his paychecks making guest appearances on talk and variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, on which he and his Muppets shared a bill with the Rolling Stones (their appearance following an introduction by Sullivan in which he referred to them as "Jim Newsom and his Puppets). There were TV commercials as well, one of which, for the Washington DC-based Wilkins Coffee company, treated viewers to a much darker side of the Muppets than we're used to seeing these days. Even Oscar the Grouch would probably have been appalled by the seven second spot which features a hapless Muppet being blown to bits by cannon fire after declaring that he has never heard of Wilkins Coffee. "We tried to sell things by making people laugh," Henson said, in defense of the inter-Muppet violence. The gambit worked. The commercial was so popular that it was syndicated and reshot for local coffee companies all across the country. Later, the same format was used for commercials touting Kraml Milk.


With the success of the coffee commercials, Henson's Muppets had finally found their own unique voice, and in 1963, that collective voice reached a new crescendo when Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl and puppeteer Frank Oz to replace his wife, Jane, who, until that time, had worked alongside him as a co-founder of Muppets, Inc., but now wanted to retire from Muppeteering to focus on raising the couple's five children. Henson often said that it was Juhl and Oz who were responsible for giving the Muppets the humor and personality that set them apart from other "puppets." In the mid-sixties, the Muppets had their first breakout character with "Rowlf", the piano playing dog, who became a semi-regular on The Jimmy Dean Show. Rowlf's appearances garnered a whole new audience for Henson's work, and he was so grateful for the exposure that he offered Dean a 40 percent share in his production company. But Dean declined the offer, telling Henson that he was the one who deserved to benefit from his own hard work. In 1966, Henson turned his attention to making a short film called Time Piece, which was nominated for an Oscar (of the non-Grouch kind), and in 1969, Muppets Inc. released a TV movie for NBC called The Cube. That same year, Henson met the woman who would allow him the opportunity to take his foam rubber characters to yet another level of fame and, in the process, make "Muppets" a household name.


ROWLF THE DOG, THE FIRST MUPPET "BREAKOUT CHARACTER", AT HIS PIANO

In 1969, Joan Ganz Cooney was more well known for producing television documentaries on America's disadvantaged than she was for her work on behalf of children's education. But having graduated from the University of Arizona in 1961 with a degree in education, that issue was still very close to her heart. According to Cooney, she was at a cocktail party in New York one night when, in the midst of a conversation with a colleague, she realized that in order to truly make an impact in elevating the lives of the disadvantaged, she needed to focus on children. Shortly afterward, The Children's Television Workshop was born, with Sesame Street as its inaugural effort. Cooney had wanted to include the Muppets from the outset, and was thrilled when Henson agreed to participate, but an initial test screening in Philadelphia, in which the Muppet characters appeared in separate segments from those which featured human cast members, was not well recieved. The show was quickly revamped to incorporate the Muppets into the rest of the show, and with that, the show took off, becoming the most successful and influential children's television show in history and earning an unprecedented forty-two Emmys along the way.


THE MUPPETS THAT MADE SESAME STREET "THE" STREET IN CHILDREN'S TELEVISION

The success of Sesame Street catapulted the Muppets and their creator into a heretofore untapped realm of possibilities. Although always reluctant to take credit for the success of the show, Henson and his Muppets were, as far as Cooney and the media were concerned, the heart and soul of Sesame Street. From the beginning, Henson, Juhl, and Oz were determined to write on two levels, one for children, and one for adults, because studies had shown that children learned more effectively educational programming when watching it with an adult. Thus, many of Sesame Street's best sketches include coy references to adult-themed TV shows and movies, such as Mad Men and even Old Spice commercials. In fact, a sketch featuring perennial Muppet favorite Grover, in which the shaggy blue monster voiced by Frank Oz parodies Old Spice spokesman Isaiah Mustfaa while proclaiming the importance of knowing the meaning of the word "on", recently went viral, adding yet another feather to the already feather-laden cap adorning the collective head of Muppets Inc. and the Children's Television Workshop.


Following his success on Sesame Street, Henson was once again concerned that his work had become pigeonholed. Anxious to move on to new ventures, he launched The Muppet Show, which, in turn, served as the basis for a series of successful movies starring the characters from the show. There were other movies as well, such as The Dark Crystal and Tale Of Sand, which had nothing to do with the original Muppets and were designed to appeal to a more adult audience. It seemed that Henson had finally forged a track in both worlds, and was, by all accounts, happy with what he had achieved. That made it all the more tragic when, on the night of May 15, 1990, while visiting his daughter and son-in-law in North Carolina, the visionary puppeteer complained of flu-like symptoms, and shortly afterward, announced that he was having trouble breathing. His wife Jane, from whom he was separated, came to the house and sat with him, after which, concerned that his illness was serious, she urged him to check into a hospital. Henson did so, and was quickly admitted and put on a respirator, which failed to prevent him from suffering two heart attacks within 20 hours after being admitted. Henson died the next day, on May 16, 1990, at the age of 53, from organ failure resulting from Streptococcus pyogenes, the virus responsible for causing bacterial infections. Henson's death was a huge shock not only to his family and colleagues, but to the public who had grown up with the Muppet characters he had created. Following his death, two public memorial services were held, one in New York City and one in London. At both services, the Muppets were in attendance, at least by proxy, as the men and women who voiced them sang a medley of Henson's favorite Muppet-based songs in the voices of their characters. The services culminated with a performance of "Just One Person", the initial verse sung solo by Richard Hunt, who voiced Scooter on the Muppet Show. It was, according to Life Magazine, "an epic and almost unbearably moving event."


JIM HENSON AND FRANK OZ AT THE CONTROLS WITH KERMIT AND MISS PIGGY

As Sesame Street enters its 42nd season this fall, its Muppet cast will no doubt continue to enthrall and educate its pre-school audience. Jim Henson's legacy is clearly one that will live on despite the fact that the man behind the funny, quirky, iconic foam rubber-based characters has been dead now for twenty-two years. But perhaps, even as wide-eyed pre-schoolers watching the show revel in the comedic antics of Elmo, the Cookie Monster, and Big Bird, it would be nice for their parents to mention, if only off-handedly, that the Muppet characters they love are more than just puppets created to entertain and teach them. They are, at their core, the symbol of what it means to have a dream and what can happen when the person who has a dream refuses to give up until that dream becomes a reality.

That's it for this post. Skol! xoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxo

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