An Edge Hill lecturer has had a rare glimpse into the private archive of The Muppets’ legendary creator Jim Henson to carry out new research.
Andrea Wright, a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, spent a week delving into the unique and largely undiscovered archive to research Henson’s connection to fairy tales.
With permission from Henson’s family through the Jim Henson Company Archive, Andrea travelled to Long Island City, New York, and was granted access to the collection.
Situated on the fourth floor of an inconspicuous office block, Andrea was able to see first-hand famous characters such as the Count and Elmo from Sesame Street. Andrea said:
“It was amazing to see such a large and varied archive, passing famous puppets, eyeballs and props to look at sketch books, photos, storyboards and letters. The head archivist Karen Falk and the Henson family have been very supportive and I was able to meet Jim’s daughter, Cheryl Henson (President of the Jim Henson Foundation).
“Despite Jim Henson’s evident influence on the screen fairy tale there is little academic work on his contribution to the genre. Henson was one of only a few innovators in the production of fairy tale film and television but has often been overlooked because of the dominance of Disney. There has been little done to cement Henson’s place as one of, if not the, most important fairy tale visionaries of the late 20th century.”
Andrea’s research will focus on Henson’s fairy tales, concentrating on those made during his lifetime and also his legacy and continued impact on the genre. She added:
“Henson’s early work in the 1950/60s was very experimental and avant garde. Right from the start of his career, fairy tales and folklore clearly influenced his work and he created pilot television programmes as well as special adaptions of classic fairy tales such as ‘Hey, Cinderella!’ in 1969 featuring the Muppets. In this Henson uses Kermit the Frog as a traditional storyteller figure and continues this in ‘The Muppet Musicians of Breman’ in 1972.
“Perhaps his most well-known association with the genre is through his work in the 1980s with Labyrinth, which mixed fantasy with fairy tale and The Storyteller television series. The series brought traditional storytelling to audiences, retelling often obscure European folk tales using a combination of actors, puppets and innovative visual effects.
“I’m excited to have begun the project and I also have plans to interview Lisa Henson (current CEO of the Jim Henson Company) who helped her father develop The Storyteller series. I’m grateful to everyone who has helped me so far including the Paley Centre for Media whom I visited while in New York to see their extensive media archives.”