and I'm a puppeteer.
He just kept wanting to push the boundaries of what was miraculous and magical and real.
(HENSON SPEAKING) -I want one that fits.
-(CHUCKLES) Is this the best you can do?
NARRATOR: He was an artist of boundless talent and imagination.
Jim was someone of terrific curiosity, ambition and drive.
He was always going.
He was always working.
He was always on.
I was undoubtedly a great deal more comfortable... (HENSON SPEAKING) Hi-yah!
NARRATOR: Jim Henson's Muppets won the hearts of fans around the world.
He created a family of unforgettable characters.
NARRATOR: Yet, while the Muppets were beloved by millions, their visionary creator felt restless and confined.
Jim had to fight against this stereotype of, "Muppets are children's things."
He had to fight that battle constantly.
His idea was always to be more experimental as a filmmaker.
That's what he wanted to do.
NARRATOR: Henson's soaring artistic ambition drove him to pioneering work on the big screen.
Jim's focus became more and more on movies.
NARRATOR: Then, on the verge of a bold, new creative partnership... His life was cut short.
I was just in shock, in shock.
You know, what?
This is like, "Whoa!
The center of our universe is no longer there.
"What's going to happen."
FRANK OZ: What once was can never be again.
It was a Camelot time for us with Jim.
(HENSON SPEAKING) NARRATOR: This is the story of Jim Henson.
(APPLAUSE) Thank you!
Hey, listen, it's another great show, folks.
NARRATOR: With the blockbuster premiere of The Muppet Show in 1976, Jim Henson finally achieves his dream of prime time Muppet success.
-You can take the solo.
-Yes, my love.
-Here are the Muppets.
-(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE) Hey, what are you doin'?
Oh, I'm taking a course on visual thinking.
It teaches you how to visualize your thoughts.
NARRATOR: That dream began during the early years of television.
-Hey, a real watch.
As he brought a hip cutting-edge humor to a new medium.
(VOCALIZING) Gee, I see.
The Muppets were not Sesame Street.
They really did have deep, deep roots in early television, in that kind of off-the-wall, brilliant comedy.
What are the symbols for?
(CLANGING) This is a very symbolic commercial.
Jim was so innovative in television and was in early television, and was such a presence in variety.
The Muppet characters really paid their dues.
-(CAMERA CLICKING) Got that?
He created a family of unforgettable characters.
With real feelings and real problems that audiences could identify with, that children could identify with, and grownups could identify with.
♪ Who said that every wish ♪ Would be heard and answered ♪ When wished on the morning star?
NARRATOR: Among those characters was a quirky green frog with whom Jim Henson became most identified.
♪ Look what it's done so far WILLARD SCOTT: Kermit was Jim's soul.
When you heard Kermit speak, that was from Jim's heart.
♪ What's so amazing that keeps us star gazing All you have to do is, uh, look at Kermit the Frog.
You know, that's Jim Henson.
He was a little frog growing up in a small-town swamp.
And he had a dream of making millions of people happy, so he gathered up his friends and went to Hollywood.
And then he shared that dream with other people.
And it got bigger, the more he shared it with.
♪ Someday we'll find it, ♪ The rainbow connection ♪ The lovers, the dreamers and me♪ NARRATOR: Jim Henson's fertile imagination was cultivated in the farmland of rural Mississippi.
BRIAN JONES: Jim always called himself a Mississippi Tom Sawyer, talked about shooting water moccasins with his BB gun, sort of had this quiet, country upbringing.
NARRATOR: Born in 1936, he spent his boyhood in tiny Stoneville, with his older brother Paul and his parents, Paul and Betty Henson.
The US Department of Agriculture had a big plant and that's who his father worked for.
NARRATOR: Stoneville isn't far from the larger town of Leland, Mississippi which is itself hardly a bustling metropolis.
Leland was about four or five thousand people.
A typical Southern town.
Every Sunday everything shut down and everybody went to church.
Jim was raised Christian Science, his mother was Christian Science, his father wasn't really.
So Christian Science sort of shaped his thinking a little bit.
NARRATOR: The Church of Christ Scientist emphasizes healing through faith.
And while Jim's family will seek medical help for serious injury or illness, they rarely go to a doctor.
He himself did not practice the religion, but he was very affected by it.
NARRATOR: Jim will avoid seeing doctors for the rest of his life.
An attitude that will have profound consequences.
NARRATOR: There's little to do for entertainment in Leland, so young Jim finds creative ways to entertain himself.
Jim, as a kid, loved to draw.
And he had, I think at one point, the idea of being a cartoonist.
Him and his brother were always building something.
They made model airplanes and you name it.
They made a little crystal radio that you could actually pick up the nearest radio station.
NARRATOR: Among Jim's radio favorites during wartime in the early 1940s are ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.
Charlie and Mortimer are beautifully carved characters in wood.
And, it's very shocking that there's no life in their eyes.
And yet, when my father was operating them, you thought there was.
Jim was very respectful of my father, and he dedicated their first movie to the magic of Edgar Bergen.
NARRATOR: In 1948, Jim's dad is reassigned from Mississippi to Maryland.
So 12-year-old Jim and his family move to a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Unlike in the rural south, many homes have a rare and wondrous modern appliance... A television.
In the flickering black & white images, 14-year-old Jim sees his future.
What Jim wanted to do more than anything else was work in television.
He didn't care what it was gonna be that got him through the door.
BONNIE ERICKSON: Jim didn't start out as a puppeteer.
How he came into it is just miraculous.
NARRATOR: Jim looks for work at local stations, but it's not until his senior year in high school that he finally gets his chance.
JONES: I believe there was a newspaper ad in the Washington newspapers looking for young people to perform marionettes on the local CBS affiliate.
ERIKSON: Jim went and got a book, built a couple of puppets, and then went in and got the job.
It was short lived, but it was the beginning of everything that he did from that time on.
HENSON: It's certainly not a career that one would plan.
You know, you wouldn't decide to become a puppeteer, I don't think, in your life.
NARRATOR: 17-year-old Jim graduates from high school in June of '54 and makes his first appearance on The Junior Morning Show at WTOP.
Featuring his very first Muppet, Pierre The French Rat.
Jim's soft, expressive Muppets are a revolutionary departure from TV puppet shows of the time, like Kukla, Fran & Ollie.
JONES: Jim didn't want painted faces with mouths that didn't move, like Kukla was that way.
Jim wanted mouths that opened, he wanted the eyes to look focused.
He figured out the Henson triangle, it's the relationship between the eyes and the nose.
There's a magic triangle.
Jim would always make sure that that was something that would focus when a puppet looked to camera.
I love the notion that a piece of felt and two, uh, ping-pong balls, could turn into something that was alive and seemingly mobile.
LANDIS: Jim gave me this great thing about the Muppets.
Most people when they do puppets, they open their mouth like this, like, "Hello, how are you?"
He said, "Muppets don't speak the words.
They attack the words."
So a Muppet talks like this because he is attacking the word.
Good night, and good luck.
Nobody has ever seen puppets like that, nobody.
Those are completely and utterly new.
NARRATOR: In the summer of '54, Jim works at NBC affiliate, WRC, where he creates new Muppets for Circle 4 Ranch with Cowboy Joe Campbell.
Willard Scott works as a deejay and weatherman at the station.
I met Jim when I was 18, he was 17.
NBC wanted to buy the Muppets.
And I gave him some good advice.
I said, "Jim don't you ever, ever sell these characters.
NARRATOR: Jim and his Muppets are still appearing on WRC in the fall of '54, when he enters the University of Maryland.
The shy, quiet, gangly 17-year-old takes the only puppetry class offered in the Home Economics department.
CHERYL: It actually was a required course for a lot of the mostly women, um, studying art and art therapy and education in art.
Everyone would gravitate to him because he already knew how to do puppetry and he was already on television doing puppetry.
NARRATOR: Among those gravitating to Jim is Jane Nebel a 20-year old senior majoring in art and education.
They really enjoyed working with each other and so they, they started working together.
He hired her immediately to come work for him and that's how their partnership developed.
Creatively they always got along.
She had a kind of unerring eye for talent and in a way, Jim Henson was her first discovery.
NARRATOR: Jane joins Jim at WRC in the spring of 1955.
Their chemistry is immediate.
♪ That old black magic has me in its spell ♪ That old black magic that you weave so well They were young together.
They were explosive together.
They had a really wacky sense of humor.
♪ Aflame with such a burning desire♪ SCOTT: They worked behind this curtain.
I always said, "I don't know what went on behind that curtain."
But... (CHUCKLES) But they ended up getting married and having kids so something went on behind that curtain we didn't all see.
(APPLAUSE) NARRATOR: While still a college freshman living at home in May of '55, Jim creates Sam and Friends for WRC.
Sam and Friends!
NARRATOR: Jim and Jane perform five-minute shows twice a day.
He got to, sort of, create his own show.
Decide what the conceit was.
Sam was this sort of vaguely human character who never spoke, and the friends were these abstract figures that may or may not have been inside his head.
Why don't you just call me Kermit?
JONES: Kermit came out of that cast of Sam and Friends.
But was sort of a vague, abstract character.
Had his little padded feet, um, didn't have his frog collar.
Kermit was built out of Jim's mother's coat, uh, with ping-pong balls for eyes.
NARRATOR: But it's not just Jim's characters that make the Muppets a game-changer in the mid-1950s, it's Jim's use of the TV screen itself.
The difference between what Jim was doing and something like Kukla, Fran and Ollie is Kukla, Fran and Ollie was a puppet show on television.
What Jim realized is if you're on TV, the four sides of the TV screen are your puppet theater.
You can bring a puppet in from the left, from the right, from the top, from the bottom.
It immediately expands the universe that puppet lives in.
NARRATOR: Jane graduates from the University of Maryland in the summer of '55, along with Jim's brother, Paul, who joins the Navy.
Paul is stationed in Florida for training as a Navy pilot.
Meanwhile, Jim and Jane's Muppets are a local comedy sensation.
SCOTT: Everybody watched the Muppets in Washington.
It put a smile on your face and made you happy.
NARRATOR: By 1956, beat poetry, jazz, and rock & roll are shaking up the staid conformity of post-war America.
And Jim's Muppets are on the comic cutting-edge.
There are two young college students, uh, Jim Henson and Jane Nebel.
They got together and they formed the Muppets.
Black Bart is coming in on the next stage!
Mac, what are you doing under the desk?
NARRATOR: They appear as guests on late night talk and variety shows, playing to a sophisticated adult audience.
My next move will be your last, Black Bart!
Just try it!
Okay, here it comes.
My pawn takes your bishop.
Oh, you got me, Marshal.
NARRATOR: But as his professional career is taking off in the spring of '56, Jim suffers a deeply personal loss, when his brother, Paul, dies of injuries suffered in a car accident.
CHERYL: Anytime you're faced with death that life and the time that you have here on this Earth become that much more precious and I do feel like my father felt that this life was precious and that the time that we have is never enough.
And he was always making, making, doing, doing, making.
And I think there was a sense of wanting to live in the present.
NARRATOR: Jim is indeed making and doing, turning to work to cope with the loss of his brother and adding to his ever-increasing workload.
Let's go up to the surface for some Wilkins Coffee.
-I never touch the stuff.
-(GULPS) You should, it's a whale of a coffee!
NARRATOR: Jim makes his first commercials in 1957 for the Washington, D.C. based Wilkins Coffee Company.
When did you have your last cup of Wilkins?
My last cup wasn't Wilkins.
He's had his last cup.
One of the people who was putting together the commercials had seen Sam and Friends, liked it, thought it was hilarious, really wanted to take that sort of mentality and put it into commercials.
-Got your parachute?
-I forgot it.
How about the Wilkins Coffee?
I forgot that too.
You'll never forget this.
Everything always ended with an explosion, something really outrageous.
JONES: Once the Wilkins commercials caught on, people selling coffee in Boston and Louisiana wanted the Muppets selling their coffee.
Want some Red Diamond Coffee with your pie?
No, just give me the pie.
The numbers for Kraml Milk, once the Muppets started selling it, apparently went through the ceiling.
Want some Kraml Milk with your dinner?
No, give me some water.
The commercials are paying the bills.
And it really sort of gave him the opportunity to buy his artistic freedom.
NARRATOR: Eager to move forward in his life and career.
Jim incorporates his company as Muppets, Inc. And on May 28, 1959 he and Jane are married.
He said, we're going to build this company and we're going to get married and you know, sort of laid out their agenda for the next decade.
NARRATOR: Jim is a prodigiously successful college senior in 1960, having earned over $100,000 in the past year.
In May, Jim and Jane's first child, Lisa, is born and later that year, the Muppets make their first appearance on NBC's Today Show.
They're called Muppets because they're neither puppets nor marionettes but kind of a combination.
I'm honored to be in the studio with two very distinguished NBC newsmen.
First we have... Chet Huntley, NBC News, New York.
From my very early childhood I remember the feel and the smells and sounds of the puppet workshop.
Well, what would you like me to call you?
Oh, okay, Chet Huntley.
We could see the latest appearance on a variety show or Ed Sullivan.
This program is come to you from... NBC News, New York.
This program is coming from... NBC News, Washington.
NARRATOR: Flush with early success, Jim drives to his June 1960 college commencement in a Rolls Royce bought with Muppet money.
CHERYL: He had a wife, he had a baby, he owned his own house and he drove that Rolls Royce to his college graduation to pick up his degree in home economics and there you go, he was a self-made man.
I met Jim when I was 17 years old and Jim was in his early 20s.
(CHUCKLES) NARRATOR: In 1960, Jim meets Frank Oznowicz at a puppeteer conference in California.
Jim asks him to join his Muppet team, but the teenager is still in high school.
After graduation in 1963, Frank Oz begins work at Muppets, Inc.
I remember being in front of a mirror with Jane Henson and Jim teaching me how to do the Muppets lip-sync technique.
I didn't do voices for about four years.
I was too scared.
Jim was about to give up on me.
NARRATOR: But he didn't.
Take off that moustache!
Take off that... (GRUNTS) Double... Double-face tape.
Take that tape off.
(GRUNTS) The story of the Muppets is the story of Jim and Frank as this incredible, uh, once in a lifetime comedy duo.
OZ: Jim was the boss, but he was my best friend, too, and I know how devastating his brother's loss was to him.
CHERYL: My dad had an older brother who died and I think that having a younger brother like Frank was just fantastic.
Their relationship was very much like brothers.
They're competitive, they're feisty, they're funny... -Get your hand off me.
-(CHUCKLES) It's the sort of relationship that has highs and lows, and you have times when you work very well together and times when, you know, you're slightly brushing against each other.
It's like a marriage, you have fights sometimes.
(CHUCKLES) But Jim was extraordinary in that we would always allow me to voice my opinion.
I think he should have fired me many times.
He was extraordinarily patient.
(SCREAMS) Now there was such a closeness that I can't explain.
NARRATOR: Another key team member is puppeteer, Jerry Juhl.
Who takes over for Jane on Sam and Friends when daughter Cheryl is born in August of '61.
CHERYL: Most of my childhood memories with my dad are more about making things and also about telling stories.
NARRATOR: Restless to tell new stories, Jim ends Sam and Friends successful 6-year run in December of '61 to pursue more ambitious projects.
He tapes the TV special Tales of the Tinkerdee in 1962 and continues to appear on daytime and late-night TV shows.
All the while, his commercial work flourishes.
Try Purina Dog Chow, right?
NARRATOR: Jim hires puppetmaker, Don Sahlin, who builds Rowlf the Dog for Purina.
The first of countless numbers of Muppets Sahlin will build over the next 15 years.
I'm the Muppets big, lovable, shaggy dog, Rowlf on ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show.
NARRATOR: Rowlf joins country music singer Jimmy Dean on his weekly variety show in 1963.
-Where's that other dumbbell?
And the Muppets make the jump from late night and morning show guests to prime time TV stars.
-Ready, here we go!
-(BELL DINGS) (GROWLING) Would you cut it out?
Rowlf, no bitin'.
You're taking away my best punch.
NARRATOR: With seemingly boundless energy, Jim performs Rowlf every week while directing his expanding empire.
The Muppets have been seen often on such network shows as Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Steve Allen Arthur Godfrey, Today, and Al Hirt's Fanfare.
And this fall we're gonna do The Hollywood Palace and The Perry Como Christmas Show.
NARRATOR: Amid all the Muppet madness, Jane gives birth to their son Brian in November of '63.
Half of the time that I saw my dad when I was a young kid, was being at the studios while he was working.
Or being at the workshop while he was building puppets.
He was always working.
NARRATOR: The mid-1960s are a time of bold experiments in art and movies, and while his Muppet business is booming, Jim is driven to be more than just a popular puppeteer.
Jim always loved film.
He always wanted to do a film.
(COUGHS) He made a film called Time Piece that I saw at the LA County Museum of Art, and I remember going, "That's Jim Henson!"
"That's the puppet Jim Henson."
CHERYL: Time Piece is so much my father.
It is right in where his head was and you watch that and you go "Okay, that is his autobiography."
(GROWLS) (TARZAN YELL) So, if you really want to know about my dad, watch Time Piece.
NARRATOR: Time Piece earns an Academy Award nomination for short film in 1965.
But it's Jim's next project that will change his life.
And the lives of generations of children all over the world.
NARRATOR: In 1966, the Carnegie Institute sponsors a study that leads to the formation of the Children's Television Workshop.
They knew they wanted to do something that kids would respond to, they wanted it to be fast paced, they wanted a children's Laugh-In essentially.
NARRATOR: Led by Joan Ganz Cooney, the Children's Television Workshop is developed amid social and political upheaval.
Martin Luther King was killed, Robert Kennedy was killed, the Vietnam War protests were reaching a crescendo.
It was a really scary time.
NARRATOR: Director Jon Stone recommends Henson to Ganz Cooney for their new children's TV project, Sesame Street.
Jim was very reluctant at first because he was concerned that he would be trapped as a little children's producer.
OZ: His idea was always to be more experimental as a filmmaker, that's what he wanted to do.
We talked about it, that this is not where he wants to be, with Sesame Street, but he will go with it because he sees value in it and out of that value could come other value.
NARRATOR: So, in 1969, Jim joins the visionary team at Sesame Street.
♪ Sunny day Sweepin' the clouds away♪ NARRATOR: His first Muppet characters for the show are a duo played by Jim and Frank Oz.
I'm never going to eat cookies in my bed again.
BERT: Okay, good.
What are you doing?
I'm gonna eat cookies in your bed, Bert.
Ernie and Bert have this funny relationship that has developed over the years.
It has something to do with Frank and I, I'm sure.
OZ: Bert is not me, Ernie is not Jim, but there's an aspect of Jim in Ernie and an aspect of Bert in me.
At that time, I was very neurotic and very uptight, so it fit perfectly for Bert.
Jim was always playful, so it fit perfectly for Ernie.
FRAN BRILL: The chemistry between them was just fantastic.
They were a great Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, whatever team, they were right up there with all of those guys.
You've ruined my whole day!
Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here.
NARRATOR: Other characters are soon brought into play, including a frog who Jim has been operating and voicing since the early 1950s.
Jim had a piece with Kermit telling kids what it's like to be a frog.
Uh, frogs live in apartment houses with, uh, furniture and televisions sets.
And I said, "Well, Kermit, that's, that's not exactly what all frogs do.
"I happen to have a Giant American Bullfrog here..." My goodness.
Jim's head happened to be right below where I was holding the bullfrog.
(CROAKING) Mr. Froggie went a-peeing on Jim's head.
(HUMMING) (CROAKS) And I thought for sure he'd say "cut" but he finished the piece and then we both looked at each other (LAUGHING) and he was dripping and we had an enormous laugh.
And it was a take.
I think Kermit made himself a new friend today.
Getting to know Jim was a really special thing.
He was so, uh, warm and outgoing and understanding.
He was not like a boss.
He told me he wanted me to run two characters.
Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
Everyone on Sesame Street is always talking about love.
Big Bird is kind of a child who hopes people like him.
Oh, it's just silly saying, "Hi, I'm Big Bird."
'Cause people can plainly see that I'm just a big bird.
Jim gave me this little pink puppet that already existed.
She was renamed Prairie Dawn.
That became the first legitimately female puppet character on Sesame Street.
What kind of cookies are those there?
-Oh, well, Cookie Monster, these are oatmeal cookies.
-(GASPS) We were just really encouraged to go for it.
To be as silly and idiotic and stupid as you possibly could.
(GOBBLING) The show was an overnight success.
The country and the world had never seen before anything like these Muppets.
Jim was very proud, of course of the work that was done on Sesame Street.
But you could feel him kind of bursting in his quiet Jim "Hmm" way to take that energy and move it into other arenas.
I said, "Trust me, Jim, it's just around the corner, "you're not gonna be stuck in little kiddie entertainment."
NARRATOR: Determined not be pigeonholed by the success of Sesame Street, Jim continues his experimental projects.
He did shows for NBC, one's called The Cube... Hello.
Sort of this avant-garde Twilight Zone- type episode of a man trapped inside a cube and you don't know what's real and you don't know what's not.
I'm still in the cube!
Of course you're in the cube, but you're healthy and happy.
NARRATOR: But while Jim craves new creative outlets, it's the Muppets who are in demand.
By 1971, Jim is juggling a third season of Sesame Street, guest appearances on prime time variety shows, and a syndicated TV special, Muppet Musicians of Bremen.
In 1973, the Muppet Valentine special tapes at ABC in New York.
It's executive Michael Eisner's first project with Jim.
EISNER: There's some people you call and when they answer the phone it's like, "Oh, I'm so glad you called, "let's have a conversation."
Jim Henson was somebody that you always felt wanted to be engaged.
And if the conversation turned into something creative it was even better.
The Muppets Valentine Show!
And that was really a pilot in disguise for ABC.
For a weekly show.
L-O-V-E. Now what can we say about love?
NARRATOR: When Jim's sweet Valentine's special doesn't lead to a weekly series, he takes an edgier approach with his next ABC pilot, striving for that elusive hit formula.
ANNOUNCER: Presenting the end of Sex and Violence on television.
-(LOUD EXPLOSION) -(LAUGHING MANIACALLY) I thought the Muppets with a provocative title like that would appeal to an adult audience.
Oh, well, uh, I might be able to get you a job on an educational show for kids.
(CLEARS THROAT) That was a much more abstract and a little more unhinged kind of environment and character group.
(GRUNTING) MAN: Oh, no, he bit his own arm!
(GROANING) BRIAN: He called it Sex and Violence to try and tell the audience this is not Sesame Street.
"Look it's called Sex and Violence" and still all the networks passed.
I was with Jimmy Dean but nobody remembers me anymore.
He really wanted to be mainstream television.
That was his great dream, his great goal all of his life.
And, um, it eluded him, uh, again and again and again.
He had a heck of a time convincing the world to let him do The Muppet Show.
He felt like Sesame Street had pigeonholed him.
And it was frustrating to him.
NARRATOR: Ever eager to free himself from the stifling confines of children's TV, Jim signs on in 1975 for the launch of a daring new late-night show on NBC.
What developed was this "Land of Gorch," um, with the king and his wife and his girlfriend and, uh, his henchmen and the mighty Favog.
Nobody had ever seen anything like those characters.
JONES: I remember seeing the first, you know, two or three shows and going, "What in the heck is this?"
'Cause I was looking for Kermit and here's something I'd never seen before.
I remember Jim sort of being there and just sort of this island of calm in the sea of chaos of the early days of the show.
NARRATOR: Adding to the chaos, some cast members have problems with Jim's puppets.
John Belushi called them the Mucking Fuppets.
And they were never really a good fit.
Fortunately, what happened was Jim got The Muppet Show right at the end of the first season of Saturday Night Live, so he could leave after that first season, no harm, no foul.
NARRATOR: Jim says goodbye to SNL and hello to legendary British entertainment mogul, Sir Lew Grade.
Lew Grade called from London and said to him I've seen your Sex and Violence pilot for The Muppet Show, I think it's fantastic.
Bring your people here to London and we'll make it.
Coming to England gave him the creative freedom the resources, the financial wherewithal to make the show he wanted to make.
It's The Muppet Show!
NARRATOR: The show that all the US networks passed on begins taping in London in January of '76.
Jim's dream of a Muppet series for all ages is about to be realized.
Say, what's happening?
NARRATOR: Jim crafts a weekly variety show featuring the Muppets and their human guest stars, presided over by the show's amphibian host and director.
Scooter, get those dancers off-stage!
Beauregard, get that scenery offstage!
Come on now, move it!
BAKER: Kermit the Frog was the leader, Kermit the Frog was the guy that the whole show was built around.
Let's hear it for me!
But you take Kermit away and you've got very humble Jim underneath it.
Kermit's function on the show is very much like my own.
He's trying to hold together this group of crazies.
(ALL SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY) -(SCREAMING) Watch out!
-(GRUNTS) He was able to be controlling and in charge through Kermit in a way that he couldn't ever when he was just being Jim.
It was just a lot of fun.
A lot of hard work, a lot of fun.
AS MISS PIGGY: Oh, Roger!
Because, with Jim, hard work and fun are synonymous.
In order make it look good up there it has to be uncomfortable down here.
There was a scene where Piggy was supposed to slap Kermit and in rehearsals, I don't know quite why I did it, but instead of slapping him I karate chopped him.
-(SCREAMING) He really chopped and everybody was on the floor laughing and we all knew that this was probably gonna be the life of the pig.
Jim encouraged collaboration something fierce.
Like the janitor could come up and say, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if Piggy did such and such?"
And if he liked the idea, he would use it.
OZ: He was not about ownership, he was about quality.
He was about doing the best job possible.
And he valued everybody who worked with him as contributors and not just employees.
I would like to now see, you all starting to march back towards the boat.
You worked with Jim.
You didn't necessarily work for him.
He got the best out of people not from screaming and shouting.
-I think it should definitely be night.
Yeah, it's moonlight and fireflies.
He did it in his own gentle way, and because of the way he treated people, he got it back in bucket loads.
Yes, he plundered his plundering and he... (ALL LAUGHING) NARRATOR: The Muppet Show premieres on US television in September of '76.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Great Gonzo!
-(ENGINE RUMBLING) -Whoa!
Not only did The Muppet Show go on to be the number one show in the world, it was also a huge hit in America.
The Muppet Show was massive.
When I was growing up, there were fewer channels.
And so when The Muppets would be on it was a big giant deal.
Oh, this lever!
-This lever over here... No, this lever!
(BOTH SCREAMING) They were gigantic in the UK, the US and Canada and Japan, all over the world.
The Muppet Show backstage.
It was pretty exciting when my father got the chance to make The Muppet Show in London The only sad thing, in a sense, was that he had to go and spend so much time away from the family.
We were all going back and forth and visiting him there.
NARRATOR: The time spent apart is a strain on Jim's relationship with his wife, Jane.
She had five kids and it's, uh... That's a full time job.
She took care of a pretty large and chaotic family.
My mom's world was the family life.
My dad would be there sometimes, but it was more like he had his world of the making of the shows.
(YELPING) NARRATOR: Henson and his Muppets are on top of the world.
But for Jim, there are always new creative worlds to conquer.
The Muppet Show was the most watched show in the world, and now, next.
Jim's focus became more and more on the movies, first the Muppet movies.
You hadn't really had an entire all-puppet cast carrying a movie out in the real world.
HENSON: Jim Frawley, who was the director, wanted to shoot in studio.
I was really trying to talk him into shooting outdoors and I said, "Come on over" and he brought a Super-8 camera and we shot footage of the characters outdoors.
Frank and Jim went out in the countryside in England, in front of a bunch of cows.
Have you ever been to Los... Have you ever been to Los...
Have you ever been to Los Angeles.
(CHUCKLING) (CHUCKLING) Okay, I think I've milked this far enough, right, guys?
NARRATOR: Jim and Frank's experiment is a success and The Muppet Movie opens in 1979.
Yeah, well I've got a dream too.
But it's about singing and dancing and making people happy.
Jim was always looking for something that could be done simple but leave people saying, "How did they do that?"
Gonzo, what are you doing?
About seven knots!
I remember watching and seeing Kermit riding on a bike and having just no idea how that could be done.
He had an idea and then nothing would stop him from doing it.
If it was impossible, he would make it possible.
The first day I came to visit him on the set of The Muppet Movie, "Where's Jim?"
"Oh, he's underwater."
Kermit was on a log in the swamp, and Jim's like underwater in a tank.
NARRATOR: The Muppet Movie is a smash hit, as is The Great Muppet Caper, which opens in the summer of 1981.
That same year, Jim does the unthinkable.
Despite its soaring popularity, he ends The Muppet Show's five year TV run.
We had a wonderful time doing it.
You know, and I think it was, uh, really, five delicious years in my life.
Jim wanted to stop when we were at our best.
I realize now, that was a golden time.
It was magical and it was a grind.
Anybody who does a series on TV knows it is a relentless thing, every single week and you're working like hell and there's nobody, nobody who worked harder than Jim.
CHERYL: The Muppet Show was fantastic, but he wanted to keep experimenting.
He wanted to keep trying new things.
He said, "You know, we do cute really well."
But then, you know, this whole fantasy world was something that he really loved.
Jim had this dream of being recognized as an artist, uh, and not simply an entertainer.
And this led him into the fantasy world of The Dark Crystal.
Trial by stone.
Trial by stone!
Part of the desire was to create a whole new world.
You know, to start all over and design everything.
There is much to be learned.
And you have no time!
NARRATOR: Jim enlists artist and designer, Brian Froud, to collaborate on the characters and environment for his 1982 feature film, The Dark Crystal.
We just were exploring the possibilities of characters.
I was sketching first, and then I made little models of the Skeksis and the Mystics.
The story wasn't really defined until Jim and Cheryl got stuck in a blizzard at JFK.
We were stuck there for a couple of days and it allowed my dad the time to actually think through a lot of the ideas that he had brewing in his head.
The thing that is incredible about The Dark Crystal, is that everything you see up there on screen is made by hand.
We were, in those days, pioneering.
We didn't know quite how to do this and how to manipulate them, and what scale they were going to be.
NARRATOR: Dark Crystal's complex combination of manual and remote-control puppetry is daunting.
I said, "This is it!"
Jim's optimism has really gotten beyond him this time.
CHERYL: The whole thing was very complex and my father really poured his heart and soul and his own personal money into getting this film finished.
We had such high expectations for what it was going to be, and it's almost as though nothing could live up to those expectations.
NARRATOR: The Dark Crystal opens to mixed reviews and fewer ticket sales than Henson's blockbuster Muppet movies.
BRIAN: People thought it was a little too out there, a little bit too weird, a little too serious, a little too heavy.
They're like, "Where's the Muppets?
"We want the Muppets.
What is this thing?"
OZ: Dark Crystal was not a huge success.
It hurt him that, uh...
Dark Crystal wasn't received as he thought it would've been.
The Dark Crystal was considered to be a bit of an aberration, sort of a a slightly weird cul-de-sac.
But, I could see it was expressing the very heart of who he was.
NARRATOR: After work on The Dark Crystal is over in London, Jim returns to New York, but it's no happy homecoming.
After nearly a quarter century of marriage and five children, he and Jane have grown apart.
And Jim has been seeing other women.
They agree to a formal separation.
Even when at times they didn't get along, very well personally later on, he totally trusted her creative opinion and she had an impeccable taste level, so they continued to have that dialogue always.
-This is the touch wall, right.
NARRATOR: With the prime time success of The Muppet Show, Jim no longer fears being labeled a kid's entertainer, so he launches a new children's show in 1983.
♪ Dance your cares away ♪ Worries for another day ♪ And let the music play ♪ Down at Fraggle Rock♪ Fraggle Rock was his global show.
That was his show for the whole world.
MAN: Fraggles are a noble race.
-(WHOOPING) -Fearless, dignified, intellectual.
He said to us all, let's make a series that's going to stop war.
If we're going to make a series that's gonna stop war in the world, well, you have to start with kids because adults, it's too late.
Well, I know what I'd do, if I was faced with such a tragedy.
So do I.
So do I.
In fact, I've been preparing for it all my life.
NARRATOR: Premiering in January of 1983, Fraggle Rock is the first original series on the new cable channel, HBO.
The Trash Heap knows all.
The Trash Heap tells all.
Let's face it, boys, the Trash Heap is all.
NARRATOR: Fraggle Rock's success reintroduces the Muppets to a new generation of TV viewers.
But Jim hasn't given up on his fantasy film vision.
We were exhausted by the end of The Dark Crystal and we sort of said, "Never again."
But we were at a showing of Dark Crystal in San Francisco.
Jim just looked at me and said, "Should we do another?"
And I said, "Well, why not?"
(CHUCKLING) NARRATOR: Responding to criticism of Dark Crystal as being too dark and without human characters, Jim revises his approach on his 1986 film, Labyrinth.
He brought on Terry Jones to write it and he had that lighter Monty Python-kind of feeling.
-He always lies.
-I do not.
-I tell the truth.
-Oh, what a lie!
(LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY) There were some real actors with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.
Look what I'm offering you.
NARRATOR: While technologically groundbreaking, Labyrinth is not a commercial success.
He did take that hard when Labyrinth came out and the reviews weren't great.
It was kind of devastating.
CHERYL: He felt like he had hit the notes he needed to hit to get people to like it and it still fell flat.
He was uncertain.
He was disappointed.
His confidence was shaken.
FROUD: Jim was disappointed but he was really proud of them as a piece of art, and indeed he was right to be proud that over the years it's not just become a classic, but it became really influential.
I could see over the years how fatigued he looked 'cause he was handling so many projects and trying to keep this going and that going and I began to see it in his face how exhausted he was.
NARRATOR: Between running the company in New York and the company in London, Jim is looking for much-needed relief by 1989.
OZ: He was just exhausted.
And he had a company of 300 people.
So he would be flying everywhere because he had to have his hand in everything 'cause he was the boss and he had the vision.
And so, he told me, you know, he just didn't wanna do that anymore.
He wanted a...
He wanted to just create.
FRITH: There were all those layers of bureaucracy that begin to build up even in a little funny organization or disorganization like ours.
There was just a lot of stuff.
As he saw it, Disney was gonna take over all that stuff.
My dad had a great relationship with Michael Eisner.
They had known each other for many years.
NARRATOR: Jim, who likes to do business on a handshake, begins merger negotiations with Disney Company CEO, Michael Eisner.
He looked forward to a company that would be financing all new products and new movies.
And he loved the parks.
Jim was a tremendous admirer of Walt Disney and what he accomplished.
My father kind of thought it was pointless to be in any theme park other than the Disney parks because they were the best.
He needed to find a way that the Muppets could thrive without it taking so much of his time and effort 'cause he wanted to experiment with other stuff.
He was looking for protection for his characters, knew that I cared desperately about the quality of his work, knew that I understood his work, and that Disney would protect his work forever.
We were starting to work on projects as though the deal had been done.
NARRATOR: Jim begins work on the Muppet Vision 3-D attraction at Disney World.
He was getting to play in the third dimension.
We were gonna make more movies and television shows.
He was gonna be treated well financially.
Then came a terrible negotiation period, then came the lawyers and that was very draining on my dad.
OZ: It did wear him down a great deal.
He was trying to make something work but he had to make it work for himself, for the characters, for the Muppets and for the people around him, and it wasn't working.
He said something about "The goddamn deal," referring to the Disney negotiations.
And I was rocked when he said that.
Because for him to say "The goddamn deal" was like anybody else letting off with a 10 minute stream of expletives.
He was worn down.
His system, I think, was not as strong during this time period and he got sick.
But I don't think he wouldn't have gotten as sick had he not been worn down by the deal that much.
We were in Walt Disney World together.
He and I and his daughter.
And he got the flu.
My dad very rarely got sick.
Um, but he did seem to have a cold and he seemed exhausted.
OZ: He didn't know how sick he was, I'm sure.
Whatever illness he had, he thought he could take care of it, and he didn't think it was that serious.
My dad didn't really like going to doctors much.
And it has certainly something to do with his upbringing and his mother being a Christian Scientist.
He would never go to a doctor and get antibiotics.
Really, he'd just always weather through it.
FRITH: He canceled his sessions on Sesame Street that day, which was unheard of.
Everybody joked about Jim.
Jim the Iron Man, you know.
No matter how lousy he felt he would always turn up.
GANZ COONEY: He came home and was sick, but he didn't want a doctor.
Then he called Jane to come in and stay with him.
They were about to get a divorce, which showed you that he was scared in some way at bottom.
I got called as he was going to the hospital, like, "What do you mean, he's going to the hospital?"
Jim and I shared an assistant.
I came in and I said, "Where's Jim?"
And she said he's in the hospital, he's got a bad flu.
And I said, "Okay."
But then she said he's in intensive care and I said, "Wait a second" and I was thinking to myself something... Something is wrong.
JONES: They put him in the ICU almost immediately and he was unconscious in less than two hours and never regained consciousness again.
NARRATOR: In the early morning hours of May 16, 1990, Jim Henson dies of organ failure, resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
The phone rang, and it was Frank Oz and he said, "Joan, Jim is dead."
And I, you...
I had a hard time staying on my feet.
I would vacillate between profound grief and then anger of why didn't you, why didn't you do the sensible thing?
But it was all too late.
I heard two doctors talking about the fact that he just... That he just came in too late.
They said another hour or two would have helped, would have made the difference.
One shot of penicillin would have solved the whole problem.
It took your breath.
You couldn't believe it.
He was a young man.
He was the heart and soul of the family.
And the idea of him passing was so unacceptable.
NARRATOR: Five days after his death, a memorial service is held at the Cathedral of St. John, the Divine, in New York City.
Six thousand people showed up.
We were all just shattered.
OZ: The loss was so great that I think we just didn't accept it at that time.
Our job was to honor him.
And I think that carried us through.
And I remember the bishop in New York saying, "I've never felt closer to the Kingdom of Heaven, than I feel at this moment."
♪ It's not that easy ♪ Being green♪ Oh, my God, there was not a dry eye in the place.
Thank you, Kermit.
KENWORTHY: It was a company built entirely around Jim.
People said, what would ever happen if... You know, if Jim wasn't here, well... You knew the company would fold.
It couldn't go on.
And then, suddenly out of the blue here was that very situation.
There was kind of a threshold question of like, "Oh, well, should it all just be shut down right now?"
All of us said we wanted to go on.
We just... We saw it as a life's work, and we would like to continue.
NARRATOR: When Jim's hero, Edgar Bergen, passed away, his puppet sidekick Charlie McCarthy was retired.
Now, with Jim gone, the fate of Kermit is uncertain.
When Kermit dies, what message do you want to send?
I think you're trying to send children a message that in some way, life goes on.
Because it would have been unthinkable for kids.
It would have been a death in the family.
A decision was reached that if Jim could have his say, there'd not be a doubt in his mind that Kermit should come back and Kermit should go on.
-Oh, a post card from my uncle, Kermit.
-What's it say?
I forgot to tell you that the big production number is meant to be a tribute to Jim Henson.
An emotional CBS special, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, airs on November 21, 1990, six months after Jim's death.
I remember this Jim Henson fella.
-Yeah, he was always hanging around.
Uh... Down there.
There were some heavy times, but there were moments in which nobody could say anything.
"I feel very sorry that your best friend, Jim died."
We were just starting to get to know him.
I always felt like his presence was around in the characters.
And we'll be seeing you soon with more Muppet stuff because that's the way the boss would want it.
NARRATOR: In September of 2003, Jim's old friend, Willard Scott, speaks at the dedication of a statue in Jim's memory at the University of Maryland, where Jim met Jane Nebel, and their Muppet journey began, half a century before.
Little kids and big kids like me can sit in Jim's arm and have pictures taken.
Anybody that loved Jim Henson has got to see that.
NARRATOR: The next year, 15 years after negotiations began, the Disney deal finally gets made, insuring that Jim's Muppets will live on.
As a family we asked Disney to continue on the tradition of the Muppets.
As a family we put a lot of things into the hands of Sesame Street.
My dad's legacy is being put in a number of museums.
Jim has a legacy like Charles Schulz has a legacy, like Walt Disney has a legacy.
It's the characters that he left behind.
He didn't just open doors, there was in the universe a place where there might be a door that nobody had seen before.
And he recognized that door.
And he opened it.
He went in and he brought a whole lot of people with him who shared a certain kind of vision.
♪ It's not easy being green OZ: He was sweet and tough.
He was free and had strong will.
He had a lot of fun but he was very serious.
He was professional but he was silly.
He was a very good decent person who had flaws like anybody else.
But he always had a higher calling in mind, which is to do good.
Everything about him was to do good, be good, be kind, be caring, help other people.
There's not a week that goes by that there isn't some reason I don't think of "How would Jim handle this?"
So, I carry him around.
I think all of us do.
He's gone, but he's still around.
Jim was someone of terrific curiosity, ambition and drive and talent, and it's extraordinary when someone has a vision and, and realizes it, It's quite something when characters you've created have a life of their own.
It really is remarkable.
♪ I'm green ♪ It'll do fine ♪ It's beautiful ♪ And I think it's What I wanna be♪ "Jim Henson: "In Their Own Words" is available on DVD.
To order, visit shopPBS.org or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.