Jim Henson’s birthday today

Jim Henson and Muppet Kermit the Frog
Jim Henson and Muppet Kermit the Frog

Jim Henson was born on this day in 1936. I believe he is still remembered as the creator of the Muppets, but it shouldn’t be forgotten what an innovator he was. He was using his puppet creations to entertain adults in the early days of television, and in the 1970s, many audience members watched “The Muppet Movie” in awe as his puppets came to life riding bicycles and other activities never before achieved by puppets.

Jim became a hero of mine for many reasons, not just for the wonderful Muppets he created, but mainly because of the stories I’d heard of what a kind and humble person he was, as well as for his appreciation of nature and what the world has to offer. He worked in the same building as I did when I working for Disney, and one of my favorite memories was seeing him in his office, door open, no secretary blocking your way to him. We named our youngest son Henson, in honor of this remarkable person. To give you a little insight into mind of Jim Henson, I thought I’d share this excerpt from a wonderful out-of-print book called  “Jim Henson: The Works.”

The following is excerpted from some notes written by Jim Henson in 1986. He had been asked to contribute some thoughts for a book that was to be called “Courage of Conviction.” The book was never published.

Over the years, I’ve evolved my own set of beliefs and attitudes – as we all have – that I feel works for me. I don’t feel particularly comfortable telling other people how to think or live. There are people who know much more about these things than I do, but here goes…

I believe that life is basically a process of growth – that we go through many lives, choosing those situations and problems that we will learn through.

I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.

I believe in taking a positive attitude toward the world, toward people, and toward my work. I think I’m here for a purpose. I think it’s likely that we all are, but I’m only sure about myself. I try to tune myself in to whatever it is that I’m supposed to be, and I try to think of myself as a part of all of us – all mankind and all life. I find it’s not easy to keep these lofty thoughts in mind as the day goes by, but it certainly helps me a great deal to start out this way.

I love my work, and because I enjoy it, it doesn’t really feel like work. Thus I spend most of my time working. I like working collaboratively with people. At its best, the film and television world functions creatively this way. I have a terrific group of people who work with me, and I think of the work that we do as “our” work.

I don’t know exactly where ideas come from, but when I’m working well ideas just appear. I’ve heard other people say similar things – so it’s one of the ways I know there’s help and guidance out there. It’s just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that’s there waiting to be heard.

I find that it’s very important for me to stop every now and then and then get recharged and reinspired. The beauty of nature has been one of the great inspirations in my life. Growing up as an artist, I’ve always been in awe of the incredible beauty of every last bit of design in nature. The wonderful color schemes of nature, which always work harmoniously, are particularly dazzling to me. I love to lie in an open field looking up at the sky. One of my happiest moments of inspiration came to me many years ago as I lay on the grass, looking up into the leaves and branches of a big old tree in California. I remember feeling very much a part of everything and everyone.

Working as I do with the movement of puppet creatures, I’m always struck by the feebleness of our efforts to achieve naturalistic movement. Just looking at the incredible movement of a lizard or a bird, or even the smallest insect, can be a very humbling experience.

Jim Henson newspaper clipping 1989
Jim Henson newspaper clipping 1989

At some point in my life I decided, rightly or wrongly, that there are many situations in this life that I can’t do much about – acts of terrorism, feelings of nationalistic prejudice, cold wars, etc. – so what I should do is concentrate on the situations that my energy can affect.

I believe that we can use television and film to be an influence for good; that we can help to shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way. As it has turned out, I’m very proud of some of the work we’ve done and I think we can do many more good things.

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for having been here.

It’s a wonderful life and I love it.

-Jim Henson