By the time he filmed this video archived on Iowa’s Public Television’s YouTube channel, Jim Henson was just about to strike gold with a new children’s show called Sesame Street. The year was 1969, and he already had 15 years of puppetry experience under his belt, from children’s shows to commercials and experimental films.
On the cusp of success, Henson, along with fellow puppeteer Don Sahlin (the creator and voice of Rowlf) venture to teach kids how to make a puppet out of pretty much anything you’ll find around the house. Such vision appears easy, but it really shows the genius of Henson, as he and Sahlin make characters from a tennis ball, a mop, a wooden spoon, a cup, socks, an envelope, even potatoes and pears. (There a lot to be said for the inherent comedy of googly eyes, and the importance of fake fur.)
An unknown assistant takes some of these puppets and brings them to life while Henson and partner create more–funny voices, personalities, even a bit of anarchy are in play. Surprisingly, Kermit does not make an appearance, although his sock ancestor does.
The man who saw potential puppets in everything is in his element and relaxed. Check it out, smile, and then raid your kitchen for supplies for your own puppet show. And although Henson promises a further episode, it has yet to be found on YouTube, or elsewhere.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.