Double-Helix Muppet Ballroom: Happy Birthday, Jim Henson!

As it is Jim Henson’s birthday, I hand the pen over for this post to my pally, author Jennifer Susannah Devore. If you know her work, you’ll know that alongside Walt Disney, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain and Woody Allen, Mr. Henson holds a very special place as one of the folks whom inspire her daily. Miss Jenny, take it away!


“All the French I know, I learned from my perfume bottles.”  -Miss Piggy

All I know about being a girl I learned from Miss Piggy. Sure, mix in some stuff I learned from Mom, Scarlett O’Hara, Jane Austen, Wonder Woman, Veronica and Sally Ride. Yet, Piggy passed on to me tenacious lessons of immovable, stalking-love, perfecting the hair-flip, sprinkling one’s conversations with French and always being ready for the camera. She also imbued the beauty of a well-timed karate chop. Hiiiiiya!

Though, it was not just Miss Piggy who helped me become the half-woman/half-TV character I am today; every loyal subject of Jim Henson and Muppetdom guided me through infancy, childhood and into a very cheerful and dorky adolescence, wherein my Muppet DNA ran so fiercely and powerfully through my cells that I was immune to the fear, peer pressure and derision experienced by mere, common teenagers. No fear on Sesame Street or The Muppet Show, no fear IRL. Right?) The Henson clan held my felt hand and steered me straight on course for a ridiculously happy, borderline reality-impaired, adulthood.

~insert Kermit’s The Muppet Show opening cheer, skinny green arms akimbo~

Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, clearly the brains behind the worldwide DNA infusion (Can you see it? A double-helix of Muppet DNA, all made of felt and spinning, laughing, dancing and dipping glamorously to ballroom music? Yeah, I can see it.), exposed the explosive dangers of the lab to me and, accordingly, I kept away from a hard science major in college. Ditto for the Swedish Chef; I fear the kitchen, and knives, to this day: not to mention human hands. Gonzo urged me to love even poultry; I have been a vegetarian for too many years to count now. Gonzo also enlightened the world that labels are unnecessary. Gonzo was, and still is, a creature of unknown lineage and he rocked it. Lew Zealand illustrated that fish don’t need water, just hugs and pets. Beauregard was sweet and chipper, though just a janitor, and with his plaid flannel shirt was Grunge way before Kurt Cobain was. Scooter knew how to focus on a task and how to manage a production with nothing more than a clipboard and a headset, all while sporting that dynamite lime-green satin jacket. Fozzie the Bear. Well, what can one say about Fozzie? Fozzie proved there is no line between comedy and irritation. If a joke doesn’t work, extrapolate another from that failed one and keep on trucking until the giant hook comes for you. (Damn, that thing is hard to dodge.)

Jim Henson & Kermit the Frog Statue at University of Maryland Photo: Shaun Farrelly
Jim Henson & Kermit the Frog Statue at University of Maryland Photo: Shaun Farrelly

Every Muppet was born with a quality worthy of academic study. There isn’t a bad apple in the barrel and Jim Henson knew that. Even Oscar the Grouch isn’t bad; he’s just crafted that way. Every creature is worthy, worthier sometimes, than humans of anthropomorphism. Rats love margaritas and moonlight buffets on Caribbean cruises just like everyone else. Cockroaches, shrimp, peas and cauliflower are people, too, and deserve respect. This is where the deepest and best lessons lie. Like any superhero, there is an everymanimal quality with which all mortals can identify. Like Charlie Brown, Spongebob, Bobby Hill, Winnie-the-Pooh or Anderson Cooper, there is a positive, optimistic charm that flows endlessly and makes us say, “Hey, man. No worries. It’s all good.” Pigs in Space and Veterinary Hospital exhibited humor and gravity, or lack thereof in the former, can go hand-in-hand. They also taught me to listen to bold, narrative voices coming from the skylights. (Was there ever a hotter pig than Link, btw?)

If Piggy, and Mom, taught me a girl can never have too much jewelry and a karate chop is okay if you’ve been offended, and Gonzo showed me love knows no species and chickens deserve pearls and not to be eaten, and Fozzie proved spirit, grit and determination can get you through even the toughest of crowds, Kermit was the real Sensei. What Kermit endowed in me cannot be spoken, written or shared. Like Yoda, Linus, Mulder, Serious Jerry or Daddy, Kermit imparted wisdom that just, is. Honor, truth, patience, kindness, tenacity and love.

Daddy loves to tell of the day Sesame Street first aired. I was two years old and he would become a child psychologist years later. He plopped me down in front of the television and watched with me as we learned a new letter and a new number with the help of a funny, furry, puppet-type thing that morning. He thought it was the greatest thing since pants. From that day onward, 123 Sesame St. was a daily destination and, like a good American child, I soon craved any and all merchandise associated with anything Jim Henson touched. I still have my Grover hand-Muppet and because of Super Grover, I would never be so afraid of the monster at the end of this book, that I would not continue to the end of the book. Wocka, wocka, wocka!


Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?