From “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street” to fantasy films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth,” his imagination was unstoppable.
Jim Henson and his iconic creation Kermit the Frog. Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.”
For more than 60 years, the genius of Jim Henson has delighted countless fans across the world.
His influence and legacy ran to almost unimaginable depths, from creating “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street” to directing classic fantasy films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.”
Henson’s life was cut tragically short when passed away after a brief illness in 1990 when he was 53 years old. But nearly 30 years later, his influence continues to echo throughout Hollywood and beyond.
“I miss Jim, always. Jim did not just influence us creatively: He changed us as human beings,” longtime collaborator Frank Oz tells GOOD. “In an odd way, the man I speak to you as right now is partly a result of Jim.”
Henson and Oz were nearly inseparable from the 1960s until Henson’s death. Among their nearly countless creations are two of American culture’s most iconic duos: Kermit the Frog (Henson) and Miss Piggy (Oz); and Bert (Oz) and Ernie (Henson).
Photo courtesy of “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited,” used with permission.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]He was a singular human being.[/quote]
Like so many of their characters, Bert and Ernie were seemingly worlds apart yet simultaneously the closest of friends. They had unique personalities and profound differences but worked through those differences in ways that made millions laugh and learn.
“I’ve learned so much from Jim in how one’s reaction is more important than the action that causes it,” Oz says. “If something bad happens, how you react to it is much more important than what happened. And Jim always responded to it with equanimity. He was a singular human being.”
When we spoke with Oz in New York, coincidentally on the 28th anniversary of Henson’s passing, the loss of his friend and collaborator is something that clearly still affects him deeply.
But Oz says Henson himself wasn’t weighed down by his own mortality:
“He was never afraid of death. I was in an airplane with him once. He was in the window seat and I was next to him in the aisle seat. He was working in his notebook.
I look outside and notice the engine is on fire. I said, ‘Jim, the engine is on fire.’
And he looks out and says, ‘Hmm,’ and goes back to his notebook. He knew there was nothing he could do about it. He told me, ‘Either the pilot is taking care of it or they aren’t. So, it’s fine.’
To help celebrate his continuing legacy and influence, the Skirball Cultural Center’s exhibit, “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited,” celebrates his life and those who worked most closely with him, including Oz.
Check out some behind-the-scenes photos of Henson at work throughout the years and some of his iconic puppets from the Skirball’s exhibition:
Henson with puppets from “Fraggle Rock.” Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.
Henson and Kathryn Mullen performing the puppets Jen and Kira on the set of “The Dark Crystal” in 1981. Photo by Murray Close, courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI).
Henson, David Bowie, and Jennifer Connelly on the set of "Labyrinth" (1986). Photo by John Brown, courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/MoMI.
Henson on the set of “Time Piece,” the short film he directed (and starred in), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1965. Photo courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/MoMI.
Jim and Jane Henson on the set during the filming of a Wilkins Coffee commercial in 1960. The nine-second commercials were so successful that more than 200 were eventually produced. Photo by Del Ankers, courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/MoMI.
Jane and Jim Henson on the set of a Wilkins Coffee commercial in 1960. Photo by Del Ankers, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company/MoMI.
Henson takes flight in his 1965 Oscar-nominated short film “Time Piece,” a surreal, symbolic, and satirical look at the human experience. Photo courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/MoMI.
Henson on the set of “The Cube,” a one-hour film that aired in 1969 as part of the NBC
“Experiment in Television” series. Photo courtesy of the Jim Henson Company/MoMI
Installation view of “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.” Photo courtesy of Jim Bennett.
[new_image position="standard large" id="null"]Installation view of “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.” Photo courtesy of Jim Bennett.[/new_image]
Costumes from “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.” Photo by Eric Pfeiffer/GOOD.
Muppet Babies at “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.” Photo by Eric Pfeiffer/GOOD.
Professor Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. Photo courtesy of Jim Bennett.
Grover. Photo by Eric Pfeiffer/GOOD.
Jen and Kira from “Dark Crystal.” Photo courtesy Jim Bennett.
“Sesame Street” educational materials. Photo by Eric Pfeiffer/GOOD.
Aughra from “Dark Crystal.” Photo by Eric Pfeiffer/GOOD.