27 November 2005 | Chip_douglas
Birth of the Muppets
Having only seen clips from Sam and Friends on Muppet specials and retrospectives, here's some background information I dug up at the Li-Li-library: 17 year old art student Jim Henson wanted to break into television and answered an add from a local TV station in Washington (WTOP) asking for puppeteers. At the time his interest lay more in designing and building, and Henson saw puppets merely as a way of combining his two greatest talents: art and television. When the job let to a kids's spot on NBC owned WRC-TV's 'Afternoon', Jim asked class mate Jane Nebel to help out with building and performing. This in turn led to their own local show, Sam and Friends, which was only 5 minutes long but broadcast twice a day in very lucrative time-spots: 6.25 (leading into the The Huntley Brinkley Report) and 11.25 pm (before the Tonight Show with Steve Allen).
Sam and Friends featured a collection of abstract characters lip syncing to records by the likes of Louis Prima and Stan Freberg. The titular Sam was a bald, cartoonish character in a sports jacket with a permanently surprised look on his face. He was one of the few puppets that vaguely resembled a human being. Other memorable figures included a purple skull named Yorrick who devoured anything and everything in his path, and of course the lizard-like Kermit, made out of mother Hensons coat, two halves of a ping pong ball and a piece of cardboard to give the mouth shape. The show ran from may 1955 till December 1961 and gave Henson the opportunity to experiment with camera techniques (allready using monitors to watch their own performances) and puppetry in all shapes and sizes. He also started writing sketches, doing all the voices and performing guest spots on other shows. Still, in those days there were only two endings to every sketch: either the Muppet's ate each other, or everything exploded.
Gratuating in 1958, young Henson did not plan to play with puppets for the rest of his live, so he traveled to Europe to be a painter with money earned from doing commercials featuring his creations. Jane and High School friend Bob Payne took over the show. However, in the old countries Jim-lad met traditional puppeteers who saw the building and performing of puppets as an art. Having discovered he could channel all his dreams of film-making, theater, set design, writing and performing into puppetry, Henson returned to Washington a new man. In 1959 Sam and Friends won an Emmy for Best Local Entertainment Program and Jim asked Jane to marry him and become his business partner. Soon Jane was pregnant and Jerry Juhl replaced her as Muppeteer (he eventually became the Muppet's head writer). By this time the show was drawing to a close, but the Muppets career had just begun, with regular guest shots on variety shows and their own prime time specials around the corner. Many ideas and sketches first performed on Sam and Friends later resurfaced on Sesame Street and the Muppet show.
10 out of 10