Frank Oz and Jim Henson, July 1989
Puppeteers of America National Festival
In July 1989, the Puppeteers of America held their National Festival on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The celebration of the art of puppetry brings together hopeful students and master puppeteers to share techniques and foster new ideas. It is a celebration of the art and the artists who give it life.
When Jim Henson and Frank Oz appeared on stage at one of the festival assemblies, it was an opportunity for everyone to talk with them about their long performing careers. Rowlf the Dog, Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear and Kermit the frog fielded questions too. This puppeteer's evening with Jim Henson and Frank Oz was a memorable event that has been enriched with additional histories by Frank Oz.
Puppeteers of America was never just an ordinary interest group to Jim. As old as Jim himself, it was at their annual festivals Jim would go to meet and be inspired by great puppeteers who came before him, such as Burr Tillstrom (Kukla, Fran and Ollie), Bill Baird (Lonely Goatherd scene in The Sound of Music) and Edgar Bergen (Charlie McCarthy, father of Candice Bergen). It was among these senior puppeteers, at the 1961 festival, that Jim would first be introduced to what we have previously described as Muppets 1.0: Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl and Don Sahlin. Frank was the principal performer together with Jim, Jerry wrote everything Muppet for nearly 40 years, and Don created what became the quintessential Muppet look from that moment on until his early death. Jim in many ways owed the rest of his remarkable career to this organization, and the great talent it had helped him find.
When PoA then asked Jim and Frank if they could host a one-hour discussion at the 1989 festival, they were more than happy to oblige. Nobody could have known that this would be their last chance to do so, as within a year, Jim would have died. This made the appearance all the more remarkable, and no puppeteer or aspiring puppeteer in the audience will ever forget that very special evening.
Clearly an amateur production, with nothing but a few person crew, the appearance was filmed for use in the organization's library. Following an introduction by Frank Oz, filmed in 1993, they printed some VHS copies for exclusive sale to their members. Hard to get even when it was available, this title has been out of print for many years, and was by far their most popular video production ever.
One of those tapes is our source, and even if it's a decently taken care of retail copy, original poor production values made for a rather low quality rip. We've spent countless hours trying to clean this up with the best of our abilities, using several different professional grade players for capturing different parts and assembling it all back together, cleaning up noise, adjusting colors and so on, but unfortunately it still doesn't look very good, and the sound mixing makes it easy to miss a question or two no matter what.
Looking beyond these technical flaws, this is a truly inspiring insight into the minds of two of the most talented puppeteers of the last century. Anyone who can pull a piece of fleece out of a bag, stick his hand up it, and make it immediately come alive in the manner demonstrated here deserves to be called a master of his craft.
As an added homage to the organization that made this all possible, we've included the promo for PoA as seen on the original tape as an extra.
by Aleza Makayla