5 Fun Facts About Jim Henson and His Beloved Muppets

The Henry Ford opens its new exhibit about the puppeteer on June 5
Jim Henson
Jim Henson sits with his iconic creation Kermit the Frog in front of a Muppet mural by Coulter Watt. // Photograph by John E. Barrett. Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company/MoMI

The Henry Ford is home to George Washington’s camp bed and Abraham Lincoln’s rocking chair, and soon the Dearborn museum will welcome yet another great American treasure — the original Kermit the Frog.

This June, the museum will debut a new traveling exhibition honoring Kermit and his fellow Muppets and their genius creator, Jim Henson. The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited opens June 5 and will remain on display through Sept. 6. As a variation of the ongoing The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, the traveling version will capture how Henson and a group of builders, performers, and writers brought the classic and beloved story of the Muppets to life.

“The exhibition features a broad range of amazing artifacts related to Henson’s career, including more than 20 puppets, character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, film and television clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and iconic costumes,” says Donna Braden, the Henry Ford’s senior curator and curator of public life. 

Braden, who first saw the exhibition in New York City a few years back, worked to bring the same experience to metro Detroit. “A brilliant innovator, [Henson] continually questioned the status quo, broke boundaries, and experimented with new ideas. By stretching the known capabilities of both puppetry and the medium of television, he created a new art form.”

The exhibition will explore the full range of Henson’s storied work, including his work on Sesame Street and The Dark Crystal.

Richard Hunt (left), Jim Henson (center), and Frank Oz (right) perform Ernie and Bert, on the set of Sesame Street in the ’70s. // Photograph courtesy of Sesame Workshop/MoMI

Before you visit The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited, check out these five fun facts that you might not know about the Muppets and their creator. 

  1. When Henson entered college in the 1950s, he initially considered majoring in fine arts. But then he found a puppetry class in the home economics course list. “Despite the fact that most of the students majoring in home economics were females learning domestic skills … he decided that would be his major,” Braden says.
  2. Henson never planned on making a name for himself in puppetry. “He considered it merely a way of getting started in television,” Braden says. “He started performing on TV while still in college [at the University of Maryland], a twice-nightly five-minute show called Sam and Friends.”

  3. Henson’s first rough version of Kermit was made from a turquoise coat his mother was getting rid of. “A dissected ping-pong ball was used for the eyes,” Braden says. “At the time, Kermit was just an abstract lizard-type-creature. But over the years, Henson ‘frogified’ him with a collar, a green color, and webbed feet.”

  4. During The Muppet Show’s six-year run, no celebrity guest was allowed to appear
    more than once. “Guest stars on The Muppet Show could request to appear in a scene with their favorite Muppet,” Braden says. “Miss Piggy was the most frequently requested, with Animal a close second.”

  5. The Rainbow Connection,” a song sung by Kermit in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed in the Top 40 for seven weeks. The scene that features the song — Kermit sings it on a log in a swamp — required Henson to crouch inside a custom-made diving bell submerged under water.

For more information, visit henryford.org