Monday, December 10, 2012

Muppet Show - Jim Henson's Pre-Production Designs

I've recently come across Jim Henson's original Pre-Production sketches, designs and photos for THE MUPPET SHOW.  They provide and amazing insight into the man's thoughts and work methods.  The now-legendary Muppet Show was not an easy sale.  Puppets were for the most part, considered children's entertainment and certainly not primetime fare.

Created by Jim Henson for the first, pilot episode of the ''Muppets'' TV show, this fantastic collection includes Henson's hand-drawn ''Muppets'' illustrations, handwritten story ideas, and the very first introduction of several new characters, including ''Piggy Lee,'' who would make her cinematic debut as ''Miss Piggy'' in the episode -- which aired on 13 October 1974 as the ''Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.'' These nine illustrations were sent to ATV in London, to be used at a pitch meeting for the show.

The collection includes: 

(1) ''The Pigs'', with two Polaroids of them, described by Henson as ''Life size -- Piggy Lee and Hamilton Pigg. She is delicate and lovely. He is cigar smoking -- epitome of grossness.'' Piggy Lee would of course become Miss Piggy, who appeared for the first time on this special. The Polaroids that Henson includes of Miss Piggy are an exact likeness of her, although she is perhaps depicted here as a little more demure.

 (2) ''Puppet Comedy Piece / 'Give Me Five Minutes More''' shows a Polaroid of Gonzo, who made his first television appearance outside of a cigar box in this special. Henson handwrites, ''In which a big ugly female monster pursues a meek little guy trying to hug & kiss him, and singing to him, 'Give me five minutes more' etc. At tag - she runs into H. Alpert at band & chases him off. Done against cyc - no set or foreground.''

(3) Henson describes another character ''The Guru [also known as ''Brewster''] / life sized - speaks with slight Indian accent - known to fall asleep while talking.''

(4) A character sketch of ''The Musician / Life size - slightly inebriated - could be part of band'' (Seen here with Muppeteer RICHARD HUNT).

(5-9) Five different sketches, with detailed illustrations by Henson, of ''Muppet Dance Pieces''. In Dance Piece #1, Henson describes, ''Snerf dance - (5 Snerfs) 'In a Little Spanish Town'. Piece starts with one - then 2, 3, 4 & 5 - then Dwight uses technical effect and we get 10 then twenty for big finish.'' Henson continues with staging instructions, ''Can be done on our 6' wall by using risers for puppeteers / puppeteers (5) in black hoods against black background...'' Two Polaroids of Henson with one of the Snerfs are affixed to the story board.

 In Dance Piece #2, Henson writes, ''GAZELLES 'Solace'...Two Gazelles do graceful flirtation - male & female around H. Alpert as he plays solo - do a series of runs and leaps in air...Puppeteers all in black with black hoods / Puppeteers will show - but not very clearly''. Henson sketches the entire scene and also shows himself in 2 photos maneuvering the Gazelle puppets. 

  In Dance Piece #3 called ''Whipped Cream'', Henson draws elaborate color sketches of a ''Cool Cat'' and then ''Cool Cat Freaking Out'', alongside ''Slinky the Vamp'' and a green Groucho looking character called ''Heap''. He writes, ''Three new characters do dance - start with Cool Cat - enter Slinky the Vamp - finally Heap - There is a stand-off between Cool Cat and Heap - Slinky gets them both. Would be done at Muppet 6' wall - actually 6'1'' high. Background could be cyc - any color''. 

 Finally, in Dance Piece #4, starring ''Boss Men'' in ''Love Potion #9'', Henson describes ''Two gigantic feather guys each about 14' tall - work in front of band with H. Alpert. Same kind of set-up as Gazelles - dark background & floor - Puppeteers show, but in silhouette only.'' The two ''gigantic feather guys'' are sketched by Henson, shown towering over the Puppeteers in fuzzy, crazy costumes.

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