Hundreds Remember Muppets
Creator With Statue Dedication at UMD
|An inflatable Kermit the Frog greets the
dedication crowd. The university renamed Campus Drive "Sesame
Street" for the day. (Maryland
Newsline photo by Stephen E. Mather)
By Stephen E. Mather
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2003, 3:30 p.m.; photos added Sept. 25, 2003
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Jim Henson
and Kermit the Frog appear locked in conversation, perhaps discussing
Kermit’s rocky relationship with Miss Piggy.
The duo, cast in 450 pounds of
bronze, sit on a bench at the University of Maryland—the latest tribute to
Henson, a Maryland alumnus and creator of the Muppets, whose characters have
been enjoyed by audiences around the world.
The statue and a memorial
garden were dedicated Wednesday as Henson’s family joined several
hundred students and officials to celebrate the film and television
puppeteer, who died in 1990.
Before the ceremony – which
featured a giant inflatable Kermit and the singing group “Colours” from
Northwestern High School – Henson’s wife, Jane, remembered the old days with
NBC’s Willard Scott.
Scott, the master of
ceremonies, said he knew the couple when they were students at the
University of Maryland and worked with Henson on early NBC shows. “I never
saw Jim when he wasn’t wearing a long plaid shirt,” Scott said, laughing.
During the ceremony, Henson
said her husband “expressed his joy with life through his puppets.” She said
the Adele H. Stamp Student Union was a “fitting place” for the memorial
because Henson had designed poster art there as an undergraduate.
|Sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter's rendering
of Henson and his most famous creation, Kermit the Frog. (Maryland
Newsline photo by Stephen E. Mather)
Wednesday’s dedication was
scheduled to coincide with Henson’s birthday; he would have been 67.
The idea for a Henson statute
came from the Maryland class of 1998, whose members wanted to remember
Henson with a gift for the important influence he had over children’s lives.
The classes of 1994 and ’99 later joined in on the $217,000 project, along
with the university and the student union, according to university spokesman
Project backers selected
sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter in a national design competition in December
2000. Carpenter was a sculptor for the Washington National Cathedral,
creating more than 500 sculptures of gargoyles, saints and angels.
Fans of Henson’s Muppets, such
as Dr. Lawrence E. Mintz, an associate professor of American studies
at the University of Maryland and director of the Art Gliner Center for
Humor Studies, have described the characters as edgy but fun.
"What Henson gave the Muppets
was a sweetened sharpness," Mintz said in an e-mail interview before the
ceremony. "The Muppets could be a little tougher, more cynical, sarcastic,
combative, but without being mean or nasty.
"I don't know of any
children's show per se that was as funny as the Muppets."
|Jim Henson and his future wife Jane
Nebel performing "Sam and Friends" in 1957. (Courtesy
the Hearst Corp.)
Henson got his start in
television in the 1950s, performing puppets on Washington’s WTOP-TV while he
was attending Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md. He worked for an
NBC affiliate, WRC-TV, while in college.
His twice-daily five-minute
NBC show, “Sam and Friends,” which he performed with fellow student and
future wife Jane Nebel, featured an early version of Kermit the Frog, the
famous Muppet character that helped propel Henson and his creations to
television fame in the 1970s.
Audiences in more than 100
countries watched "The Muppet Show" from 1976 until 1981.
Henson also worked on Muppet
feature films, early “Sesame Street” shows, creating characters such as
Cookie Monster and Big Bird, and other non-Muppet movie projects.
Other area events are
scheduled to remember Henson. The American Film Institute's Silver Theatre
and Cultural Center in Silver Spring is holding a tribute to Henson on
Thursday, at 8:15 p.m., and is planning a month-long Muppet movie festival.
The university is currently
exhibiting Henson's artwork at Hornbake Library.
Copyright © 2001, 2002, and
2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
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