My Week with MuppetZine, Part Three

Published: August 25, 2011
Categories: Feature

Part 1 – Issues #1-4Part 2 – Issues #5-8Part 3 – Issues #9-12
Part 4 – Issues #13-16  – Part 5 – Issues#17-20

MuppetZine’s third year held lots of surprises.  Surprises like… wait, why am I telling you this?  Just read on, true believers!

Issue #9 – Summer, 1994: Inside the Muppet Workshop

In this issue, MuppetZine gives us a few behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the Muppets, including a puppet building lesson and a glimpse at the Muppet Workshop.  Oh, and a big ol’ ad for this line of merchandise.  (Has MuppetZine sold out??  Say it isn’t so, Danny!)

Starting with the news, the Muppet Treasure Island delays have ended (and it will be reportedly more “Muppetized” and less “faithful” than Muppet Christmas Carol), a new show called “Jim Henson’s Nature Series” is announced (I have no idea what this was, but apparently it’ll be on Fox this fall!), the Creature Shop is busy working on The Flintstones and Babe (the John Goodman movie and the non-Goodman movie), Clifford will be a guest VJ on VH-1, and we’re mere weeks away from the epic release of the “Kermit Unpigged” album!

Puppet maker Tim Nielsen was tasked with the assignment to describe the puppet-building process commonly used by the Muppets.  Which seems to be difficult, since the Hensons used so many different techniques in building their characters.  But Nielsen is up to the task, explaining how to make a mouth hinge, how to turn a piece of foam into a round head, and how to make sure you leave some room for the puppeteer’s hand.  It’s interesting stuff, assuming you want to know how the magic happens.

Next up, MuppetZine reader Tina Iyama recounts her visit to the Muppet Workshop in New York City, an experience not many Muppet fans had the opportunity to have before the sale of the Henson townhouse.  She heard personal stories about Jim, she got to see the studio where Dog City was being filmed, she saw puppets being sewn together, and got a handful of Big Bird feathers as a souvenir.  Muppet “celebrities” like Michael Frith and Cheryl Henson were in the office that day and were happy to say hello to Tina.  And, most memorable for Tina I’m sure, she got her picture taken with Kermit the Frog.  Jealousy abounds!

In part three of the Museum of Television and Radio seminar (parts one and two seen in the previous My Week entry), Jerry Nelson recalls working on “The Cube” (“‘All is all. Is is’ Can you dispute that?”), Frank Oz discusses the origins of Miss Piggy (“She’s a bundle of neuroses”) and the relief of performing a much simpler character like Animal with a much less in-depth back story, Michael Frith talks about being forced to fill 14 minutes in the MuppetVision 3D pre-show, and Jon Stone recalls casting the Sesame Street humans in a strive for diversity (“The Hispanics came in and said, ‘Hey… can we be represented in the show?’ So Maria and Luis were brought in”.  I know I’ve said this twice before, but this really is fascinating stuff.

MuppetZine reader Rose Sage visited the “Muppets, Monsters, and Magic” exhibit in San Francisco (a precursor to the current “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” exhibit).  The show mostly consisted of puppets on display, but isn’t that really all you need?  Sage recalls seeing early photographs, Sesame Street puppets, Fraggle characters, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, Junior Gorg, the Muppets in their “Manhattan Melodies” costumes, Dark Crystal characters, and more.  She also mentions the “Touchwall”, a wall with pieces of Muppet fur and felt and other parts which visitors are encouraged to touch and feel and grope.  It’s the closest most people have come to stroking a Grouch.

Smig Art:

Issue #10 – Fall, 1994: Weird Moments in Muppet History!

If I was walking down the aisle at my local magazine store and saw a cover with the headline, “Weird Moments in Muppet History”, I’d be hard pressed not to buy it.  Not just because of the Muppet references (which amounts for most of my impulse buying), but because of the promise of bizarre facts and big noses.  This should be an exciting issue.

And now the news.  Muppet Treasure Island is still moving forward, as are productions like The Neverending Story III, Babe, and Into the Woods (one of these productions is not like the others…).  Something called “Space Chase” is put into motion, which eventually becomes the more interestingly-titled “Farscape”.  Kermit will be appearing on an episode of Seinfeld. (That totally happened!  No.. no, it didn’t.)  Somehow The Animal Show slipped under the MuppetZine’s radar for the last 9 issues, because it’s premiering soon.  Dinosaurs is officially dead (jeez, can we stop talking about this now?).  And Jim Henson Interactive sets the wheels in motion for the Muppets first CD-ROM game, which would eventually become the clip art-filled Muppet Calendar.

I can’t wait to see what all these weird Muppet moments are!  Some of the best ones: A spotlight on the more violent Wilkins commercials (Wilkins threatens Wontkins with a sharp razor, Wontkins gets blown up by a grenade, Wontkins admits to being clinically insane – “I used to love my raincoat”).  Rowlf the Dog runs for President in 1964 (“Vote for me or I’ll bite you!”).  Kermit, while hosting The Tonight Show, gets to say words on late night TV that he couldn’t say on Sesame Street like “titillate”, “bustline”, “cockatoo”, “stimulate” and “succotash”.  The debut of Cröonchy Stars (which is pretty weird in itself).  And so on and so forth.  Those Muppets are weird.

Danny writes a two-page review of Muppet Classic Theater, and he’s so excited to be seeing the Muppet theater for the first time in 15 years that he accidentally gives it a rave review.  He even ignores his own complaints, like the mis-characterization of Kermit and Fozzie Bear, the over-reliance on Gonzo and Rizzo, and the lack of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt’s other characters.  Danny also claims to have watched it several times and thinks it holds up to repeated viewings.  Now that it’s been 17 years since his review, I wonder if Danny of the present would agree with Danny of the past, or if he’s on my side in thinking that Muppet Classic Theater is pretty terrible.

Next up is an interesting article by Tim Nielsen called “Muppet Trauma”, in which he talks about Multi-Universal Post Popular Entertainment Trauma (or M.U.P.P.E.T. for short).  Some examples of this are being traumatized by Ernie removing Bert’s nose, Cookie Monster’s ferocious eating habits, and simply being terrified by characters like Uncle Deadly or Sammy the Snake.  I’m sure M.U.P.P.E.T. still exists, and if you think you might be suffering from it, please consider seeking professional help.

The fourth and final part of the Museum of Television and Radio’s Jim Henson seminar concludes here.  Michael Frith shamelessly promotes Dog City, an audience member asks the loaded question of whether or not they think the “family” of the Henson Company would be better or worse off with Disney (which Frank Oz deftly bullshits his way out), Frank talks about the importance of Jon Stone and Don Sahlin on the Bert and Ernie dynamic (Jon the director, Don the prankster), and Jerry Nelson remembers some of the more dangerous Muppet stunts (being shot at with a real arrow and Jim performing Rowlf in John Denver’s biplane).  I could read about these stories all day, but sadly, all seminars (and MuppetZine articles) have to come to an end sometime.

Smig Art:

Issue #11 – Winter, 1995: Old Friends Who’ve Just Met

Gonzo and Rizzo take the spotlight in this issue.  It’s interesting to note that this is after Muppet Christmas Carol, but before Muppet Treasure Island.  So while we’ve seen the Gonzo/Rizzo pairing two or three times now, it’s still very much in the middle of their relationship history.  Who knew there’d be such drama between a rat and a… whatever.

It must be a slow time of year for news, as there isn’t much new stuff to report.  Muppet Treasure Island is still on the way, The Muppet Show is still on Nickelodeon, there’s a little bit of merch on the shelves, etc.  There’s one cute bit about Kermit giving the commencement speech at Oxford University’s graduation.  And, uh, that’s about it.  Maybe Muppet Treasure Island will bring some good news in issue #12.

The feature article chronicles not just Gonzo and Rizzo’s relationship, but the histories of both characters.  Gonzo’s story takes him from Cigar Box Frackle to The Muppet Show’s pathetic artiste to excitable daredevil.  Rizzo’s saga takes him from unnamed vermin to Happiness Hotel bellhop to Pete’s Diner waiter to the greedy and hungry rat he is today.  Soon after, the unlikely duo team up as Charles Dickens and Friend in Muppet Christmas Carol.  Gonzo finally finds the friend that can tolerate his insanity, while Rizzo can hang with someone who doesn’t look down on him for being a rat.  The article goes on to describe their relationship through Muppet Classic Theater, Muppet Beach Party, and Kermit Unpigged, and preps us to get used to them as the Muppets’ new post-Jim superstars.  At least, until Muppets From Space.

Due to the ever-expanding audience of MuppetZine, as well as the budding internet newsgroups, Muppet fans began actually meeting in real life.  In “The Future of Muppet Fandom”, some of the readers recount their meetings at two Muppet parties: One in Philadelphia, one in Stanford.  This was long before the Muppet websites could organize get-togethers, the Muppet Vault, or D23 convention meet-ups, so Muppet fanatics must’ve been especially excited to meet other similarly-obsessed people for the very first time.  Nothing brings people together quite like Muppets.

This issue also features a fascinating letter from readers Amy Stavis and Perry Weyser.  In short, Amy and Perry were getting married.  Amy wanted to know if the Muppets ever made a wedding cake topper, so she called the Jim Henson Company offices to ask.  When the Jim Henson Company got back to her, they said that the topper was ready for them.  “What do you mean it’s ready?” asked Amy, who only wanted a bit of information.  It turns out that the Hensons cleaned up the Kermit/Piggy wedding cake topper from The Muppets Take Manhattan and graciously offered to lend it out to the happy couple.  The topper is now a part of the Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit, so don’t try and call them to ask if you can borrow it too.  Just be satisfied in knowing that the employees at The Jim Henson Company are completely and utterly awesome.

The issue ends with the final part of The Muppet Show episode guide, leaving us with a sigh of satisfaction for a job well done (or, read).  But don’t worry, there are lots more episodes of lots more shows that need guiding.

Smig Art:

Issue #12 – Spring, 1995: The Magic of Fraggle Rock!

The beginning of the all-Fraggle issue starts off with a bang: A letter from Muppet pioneer Jerry Juhl.  Jerry thanks Danny for sending along a few issues of MuppetZine and goes on to rave about the genius of Jim Henson.  As far as I know, this is one of the first real connections made between the fan world and the official Muppets, which eventually kicked off in a big way for the Muppet fan community (ourselves especially included).

The news in this issue is mostly dedicated to rumors: Space Chase, Into the Woods, Pinocchio, a second Sesame Street film, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and The Seven Deadly Sins.  Play our home game and guess how many of these actually went into production!  There’s also a lot of merchandise news, but the only one that matters is the announcement of Muppet Pogs.  There is literally nothing more exciting in 1995 than Pogs, especially if there’s an off-chance that Muppets might be on them.  POGS!!!

Over the next three pages, MuppetZine recounts the history of Fraggle Rock, as well as its characters and the interrelations between them.  But it also raises the important question: After 12 years of being off the air, did the show that claimed to want to “bring peace to the world” succeed or fail in its mission?  The short answer: Whoops.

Next up is a review of the short-lived and mostly-forgotten “Muppet Time” sketches that aired on Nick Jr.  The sketches were two minutes each and mostly educational.  Robin was the only pre-established Muppet to appear, though older Muppets were repurposed for the show, like Andy and Randy Pig (as the Two Little Pigs), Little Muppet Monster’s Tug (as Do Re Mi Monster), and The Jim Henson Hour’s Vicki (as Scary Mary).  The final verdict is that the bits are too short to offer any character development, too youth-oriented to be appreciated by adults, and the characters are too unknown to be recognizable as “Muppets” to the casual fan.  So if you’d forgotten about Muppet Time, then feel free to re-forget everything in this paragraph.

Since The Muppet Show episode guide ended last issue, MuppetZine now tackles the difficult (yet much needed) task of chronicling every episode of Fraggle Rock.  Unlike the last episode guide, this one is less likely to contain errors or missing information, as Jerry Juhl provided Danny with a copy of the Encyclopedia Fragglia, a document compiled by Karen Prell, Saverina Allevato, and Janis Daly, written during the production of the show.  The Encyclopedia contains episode information, performer details, song titles, and more.  And because the Muppet Wiki breeds generosity, you can now view the whole thing here.

The back page of this issue marks the first instance of “The Back Page”, which will go on to spotlight interesting or funny snippets from Muppet interviews.  In this one, Kermit (guest hosting Larry King Live) interviews Gingrich the Newt.  I’m sure this was topical back in 1994.

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Head on back here soon for part four of My Week with MuppetZine, which covers Muppet Treasure Island, Christmas, and Miss Piggy’s lost plans for the ’90s!

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by Joe Hennes –

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