Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Night to Remember

Looking for inspiration for the next post, I turned to my copy of "Jim Henson: The Works." It is a coffee table book that came out in 1993, so I have had it since I was 5 years old.  Many times I flipped through the pages, first to look at the pictures, then to read the chapters.  I can recognize every single page in the large book, but I was hoping I would find something new this time.  And today, I saw the following page:

Usually, I gravitated to the colorful profiles of the Muppet characters and performers.  This weird black-and-white photo of two people dressed as trees did not interest me in the least.  Yes, it's odd, but Henson was an odd fellow and it wouldn't make sense if there WEREN'T a picture of people dressed as trees in his biography.  But after reading the description on the side, this became my favorite page in the book.

The pictures were taken at the annual Henson Company Masquerade Ball in New York City which was held from 1984-1987.  Jim Henson would host this event for all of his friends, families, celebrity acquaintances, and EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE in the company.  Costume designers, secretaries, accountants, building maintenance crews, everyone who ever worked for a Henson subsidy got an invite.  And, being a Henson employee meant that everyone went all out for their masks and costumes.  With the full Muppet Workshop at their disposal, the costumes could get pretty elaborate.

Jane Seymour, Bernadette Peters, a masked Jim Henson, and giant Kermit and Miss Piggy attend the ball.

It became a personal goal for every guest to try to conceal their identity from Jim during the entire night.  Henson was usually able to spot the craft-making styles of his co-workers, but a few lucky guests managed to make it through the night undiscovered.

Andy Warhol was never very creative.

Because the balls were so high profile, the only pictures known to exist are from one of the final balls.  In the first picture, beneath the picture of the trees, are a lobster and cow ("Surf and Turf").  The lobster was portrayed by Lauren Attinello, an illustrator for Muppet-related picture books.  In the Muppet Babies storybook "Baby Piggy's Night at the Ball," she snuck references to this grand event into the pages.

Lobster Attinello speaks with the trees.

These parties encapsulate a lot of what people loved about Henson.  Not only did he set out to create a grand spectacle, but he wanted to honor the people in his life that meant the most to him.  These balls were about the giant community Henson created and each year, they only got bigger and better.  Personally, I was surprised to learn these events even existed.  But I can imagine that all of those people coming together creatively for one night of fun and merriment would feel so special.  Henson is brilliant for thinking to orchestrate it.  I, too, enjoy throwing parties like these because I not only want to present a memorable night for my friends, but I want to push them to explore their creativity and be a part of something bigger than themselves.  I get a sensation of pride whenever I execute a party like this and it fills me with joy knowing that the loved ones in my life get to share moments like this as one single unit.

That Jim Henson had the same vision is indescribable.

Pictured: Jim Henson (left) and a surprisingly detailed Jim Henson mask (right).

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