Category Archives: NPR

Thought of the Day 9/24/12 Jim Henson

“My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.”
–Jim Henson

James Maury Hensonwas born on this day in Greenville, Mississippi in 1936. Today is the 76th anniversary of his birth.

He grew up  near Leland,  Mississippi exploring the countryside around his home. He was encouraged to pursue his artistic side, but he didn’t see a puppet show until the family moved to Washington, D.C. in the late 40’s. Henson recalled the family getting their first television as “the biggest event of his adolescence.” He enjoyed watching early puppet shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and Bil Baird and Charlemagne the lion. While still at Northwestern High School he got his first TV experience on WTOP-TV where he created and performed puppets for The Junior Morning Show on Saturday mornings. At the University of Maryland  Henson  was a studio arts major with hopes of working that into a career in stage or television design.

As a freshman he worked for WRC-TV on a five-minute long program that ran nightly at 6:40 pm called Sam and Friends. For the show he created a cross-breed of a marionettes and hand puppets  which he called “muppets.” Muppets were more flexible and could express more emotion than traditional puppets. Instead of painted wood he used foam rubber-covered with fabric which gave the creatures soft bodies. He gave them large mouths “that allowed them to convey a wide range of emotions.” [The Mississippi Writers Page]

The Sam and Friends characters were donated to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC [Image courtesy: National Museum of American History]

Here’s a sketch from Sam and Friends

He asked fellow UofM freshman Jane Nebel to help him on the show. Hensen and Nebel married in 1959 and had five children together.

Sam and Friends ran for six seasons and…

proved the stepping stone for a series of commercials that brought him nationwide fame. Soon, he was making guest appearances on such national network programs as The Steve Allen ShowThe Jack Paar ShowThe Tonight ShowEd Sullivan, and The Jimmy Dean Show, and weekly appearances on The Today Show …[The Mississippi Writers Page]

Muppets, Inc. grew. Jim and Jane added puppeteer and writer Jerry Juhl, puppet builder Don Sahlin and puppeteer Frank Oz to the fold. In 1968 they created a special for National Education Television “Muppets on Puppets” a 9 minute mini documentary on the world of puppeteering.

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The next year Sesame Street premiered. Children’s Television Workshop asked Henson and his creative team to develop a family of muppets to populate Sesame Street. They came up with Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, the Cookie Monster and others.

Hensen, center, works on Sesame Street. [Image courtesy:]

Next came  the weekly syndicated variety show, The Muppet Show, starring Kermit. The show included an expanded cast of muppets (like Miss Piggy, Gonzo, the Count, and Elmo) and featured a human guest star. It ran from 1976 to 1981.

Here’s a clip from the show featuring John Cleese…

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Movies followed. Henson found success with both Muppet productions and other puppet enhanced movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Henson won 18 Emmy Awards, 7 Grammy Awards and 4 Peabody Awards in his 30 year career and touched millions of lives. He died from complications of pneumonia in New York on May 16, 1990. Here’s “Just One Person” (one of my favorite Muppet songs) performed at Henson’s tribute.

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3 minute fiction

Hi… and welcome to my writing blog.

NPR recently held a  3 minute fiction contest. The rules were simple: write an engaging, fictional story in 600 words or less that would take about 3 minutes to read. All the stories had to begin with “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.”

Here’s my entry. Let me know what you think.




She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Walked, perhaps, is not the best verb to describe how my how my Great-Aunt Marigold moved through the door. Hobbled is more accurate. She hobbled through the door.

Marigold Ambrose was 86 years old the day she shut the pneumatic door of the Antiquities and Rare Books collection for the last time. She shuffled over to the disrobing station and carefully peeled off her “space suit.” She dropped the gloves, mask, and jumper into the laundry shoot and wondered whether they’d bother to recycle them now. As she stretched down to tug the purple protective booties off her orthotic shoes she felt the familiar zing of pain across her lower back and she thought, why bother?

So for the first time in 52 years of service at Darwin College, Dayton, Ohio, USA, Old Earth, my Great-Aunt Marigold ignored procedure. She’d leave the blasted booties on until she could sit down some where comfortable and take them off.

She returned to the door and fingered the keypad lock. A triple tweet, like that of the blue bird that once lived in the garden behind her childhood home, assured her that the lock was in place.

She allowed herself a last lingering look at the comfortable room where she spent so many years welcoming visitors — those few she had — and reading her books.

Real books. Printed on paper with hard covers of leather or cloth over boards.

She thought about the smell and the sound that greeted her when she opened an old friend. The slightly nutty whiff of mildew and dust accompanied by a whisper crackle as the paper bent to open wide.  “Hello” it said, “welcome back,” “lets snuggle up and read a bit, shall we?”

But that was the past. Her half a century– a mere turn of the page compared to these books– as guardian had come to an end, and no one was coming to replace her.

No one, indeed, would be coming at all.

No amount of arguing, debating, pleading on Marigold’s part had swayed the board of directors from their plan to abandon the Collection to Earth when the rest of the thriving institution moved off planet.

They had taken great strides to protect the books. What had once been a light filled, airy library was enclosed in dome of concrete three meters thick. Every breath Marigold had taken in her professional life had been carefully filtered and monitored through the ever humming HVAC-plus system. Neither dust mites, nor terrorists, nor book thieves could penetrate this modern day pyramid.

One day, perhaps soon, perhaps a thousand years hence, some Howard Carter of literature would crack through this building’s massive outer shell, reopen this door and rediscover this treasure trove of printed gems.

She had taken the trouble of placing her favorite volumes in the bookcase of the Visitor’s Parlor. So when the door beeped again the new reader would be greeted by Shakespeare, Austen, Orwell, Gaskell, Thackeray, and Tolkien.

Marigold touched the handle to the outside door. The digital lock counted down from ten as the air equalized.

She steeled herself for her new life and whispered a paraphrased last line from Vanity Fair…  “Come, children, let us shut up the box… for our story is played out.”

Then she walked into the future.

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