Quick, think of a talking frog! Did you immediately picture Kermit? What about a famous pig? Miss Piggy, most likely. These two characters are among dozens created by one of the world’s most beloved entertainers: Jim Henson. This puppet master attained a global audience of both kids and adults for his colorful characters and charming wit.
When Henson passed away suddenly at a relatively young age, friends, family, and fans were shocked. He left a legacy that would last forever, but the most fascinating part of his passing was the letters he left to his family and friends. His thoughts touched the hearts of everyone, whether they knew his work or not.
Throughout the history of beloved entertainers, Jim Henson has solidified himself as one of the greatest of all time. He was a puppeteer, cartoonist, inventor, director, and screenwriter, but there’s one thing in particular he’ll always be remembered for.
Of all the amazing accomplishments, he brought the Muppets to audiences everywhere. It was with these puppets that he garnered a global audience and gained mass appeal. Soon, popular shows were reaching out to him, eager for his creativity.
His educational and amusing use of puppets brought him to the enormously successful Sesame Street to help develop new intriguing characters, and he worked with the show for two decades. But, that wasn’t all.
He also created and directed the hugely successful Fraggle Rock, which featured characters with frizzy hair who dwelled underground. When he wasn’t on television sets, you could probably find him on film sets.
That’s because Henson partnered with massive names in the movie industry, like George Lucas. He played a vital role in the film Labyrinth, helping to bring Lucas’ surreal vision to life. And if that’s not proof of Henson’s impact, the viewership he garnered sure is.
At the height of its popularity, The Muppet Show was attracting weekly audiences that topped 235 million people worldwide! It was shown in over 100 countries, and eventually, several feature films were made. Henson was dedicated to his craft, but he couldn’t have done it without his family.
Henson had five kids with his wife Jane. Although he and Jane eventually divorced, his children all remained close, helping their father with the puppets whenever they could. But, in 1990, after years of success at The Jim Henson Company, tragedy struck.
At 53 years young, Henson developed a viral infection known as “toxic shock syndrome” and died 20 hours after being admitted to the emergency room. The loss was deeply felt by family, friends, and the millions of viewers who eagerly tuned in every week.
Still, few were aware he wrote two touching letters four years before his passing to be read after he died. The messages reflected the values Henson held close: humor, positivity, and love.
The first letter was directed to his five children, comforting them: “First of all, don’t feel bad that I’m gone. While I will miss spending time with each of you, I’m sure it will be an interesting time for me and I look forward to seeing all of you when you come over.”
He went on: “If on this side of life I’m able to watch over and help you out, know that I will. If I can’t, I’m sure I can at least be waiting for you when you come over. This all may sound silly to you guys, but what the hell, I’m gone — and who can argue with me?”
He emphasized life should be fun and enjoyed to its fullest: “Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. May each of yours be that — having each of you as a child of mine has certainly been one of the good things in my life.”
Henson’s second letter was addressed to “friends and family.” “I’m not at all afraid of the thought of death,” he wrote, “and in many ways look forward to it with much curiosity and interest.”
He continued, “I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of my friends who have gone on ahead of me and I will be waiting there to say hi to those of you who are still back there.”
Finally, detailing his funeral requests, he wrote, “It would be lovely if some of the people who sing would do a song or two, some of which should be quite happy and joyful. It would be nice if some of my close friends would say a few nice, happy words about how much we enjoyed doing this stuff together.”
His requests were honored in a joyous celebration of his life and work. The funeral had an array of celebrities in attendance, and many gave heartfelt speeches about the beloved entertainer. There were even performances by… you guessed it, Muppets!
Afterwards, when all tears had been shed, he posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with the Muppets as a whole and several individual characters, like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
Henson’s children will always remember the passion their father had for entertaining both children and adults. In fact, his son, Brian (second in from left), actually directed a 2018 movie called The Happytime Murders using a slew of new Muppets.
The dark comedy starred a foul-mouthed Muppet detective trying to solve a string of killings in a city where Muppets were considered second-class citizens. It was an adult take on the Muppet franchise and an entertaining watch.
Jim Henson’s legacy will be matched by few. Fans took one particular phrase from his letters and adopted it as a kind of mantra to live by: “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” We will, Jim Henson.
Of all the characters Henson played a role in creating, two of the most iconic ones were Bert and Ernie, two best friends who lived together on Sesame Street. However, even though the show was geared towards kids’ education, the besties didn’t come without controversy.
For decades, Sesame Street has served as a source of entertainment and education for children everywhere. But even with its lovable characters and lighthearted themes, the people behind the puppets have never been afraid to address more difficult issues with their viewers…
Though the show has generated controversy as a result of its forward-thinking approach, critics continue to praise its progressiveness to the tune of 167 Emmy awards. Even so, there’s one remaining point of contention about Sesame Street that continues to elude audiences.
Rumors have swirled for years that the characters Bert and Ernie were designed as a representation of a gay couple. This theory has been accepted pretty widely by many viewers of the show, and the pair has even come to be used to highlight issues in the LGBT community…
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage, The New Yorker published an image of Bert and Ernie snuggling on the couch, watching the news. While some people approved of the depiction of the characters as a couple, a number of others – including the producers of Sesame Street – did not.
The New Yorker
In response to a 2011 petition to marry the puppets, Sesame Street issued a statement saying that Bert and Ernie were just friends. “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation,” the studio relayed.
Despite the show’s maintaining of Bert and Ernie’s strictly platonic relationship, Mark Saltzman, a former writer for the show, has a different take on the matter. In a September 2018 interview, Saltzman – a gay man himself – revealed new information about his time spent working with the characters.
Entertainment – Metro
During his tenure as a writer for Sesame Street, Saltzman wasn’t shy about his sexuality, having shared a relationship with film editor Arnold “Arnie” Glassman for 20 years. Saltzman had even tried to pitch an episode about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but was turned down by producers.
But when asked about whether or not he viewed Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, Saltzman recounted a story of a preschooler asking her mother if the pair were lovers. “That got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it,” he recalled. “And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were.”
According to Saltzman, envisioning the puppets as gay allowed him to contextualize their relationship, and the similarities between him and his characters grew to be quite striking. “The other thing was, more than one person referred to Arnie & I as ‘Bert and Ernie’.”
Saltzman continued: “I was already with Arnie when I came to Sesame Street… so I don’t think I’d know how else to write them but as a loving couple.” Saltzman even noted that many of the sketches he wrote involved the kind of dynamic that he and Arnie shared at home: he was the chaotic one, and Arnie was organized and uptight.
When asked if Bert and Ernie became analogs for he and Glassman’s relationship, Saltzman was straightforward with his response: “Yeah. Because how else? That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate? The things that would tick off Arnie would be the things that would tick off Bert. How could it not?”
But despite this overwhelming association between his own relationship and that of his puppets, the writer never directly brought it to the attention of his colleagues. For Saltzman, it wasn’t about pushing his agenda on the unsuspecting: he was simply writing what he knew.
Following the interview, people everywhere immediately began debating the relationship between the two Muppets once again. Sesame Street was also quick to issue a response – one nearly identical to their 2011 statement – reiterating that Bert and Ernie are puppets designed to teach children that very different people can still be best friends.
The interview also caught the attention of original Sesame Street puppeteer Frank Oz, who seemed to rebuke the notion of using sexual orientation as a label in general. “Why the need to define people as only gay?” Oz tweeted. “There’s much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness.”
Oz later added: “If Jim [Henson] and I had created B & E as gay characters they would be inauthentic coming from two straight men. However, I have now learned that many view them as representative of a loving gay relationship. And that’s pretty wonderful.”
Just mere days after his first interview, Saltzman again made headlines with comments in an interview with The New York Times. Though he never intended to put forth the characters as gay, he simply wants people to view Bert and Ernie as “two guys who love each other.”
Saltzman went on to express that if Sesame Street did ever introduce an openly gay couple, he’d personally want them to be humans, not puppets. By presenting children with a same-sex couple that they can physically identify with, Saltzman believes that these kinds of relationships will appear more natural.
Given Sesame Street‘s progressiveness, it’s only a matter of time before showrunners decide to incorporate a gay character or couple into the program. The show has received acclaim for its racial diversity since its inception, and it’s even begun to incorporate characters with disabilities into its regular lineup.
In fact, Sesame Street even introduced a character with autism in 2017 as part of their “Sesame Street and Autism” campaign. The new Muppet, Julia, is the first ever autistic children’s character to be introduced into a mainstream television series.
Although there are no openly gay characters in Sesame Street yet, same-sex representation in popular media is certainly on the upswing. When the producers of the beloved children’s TV program do inevitably introduce such a character, we can only hope that they do it right.