Everything starts out small. A thought blossoms into an idea, which takes shape, becomes physical, and then is made into something grand. Many of the world's greatest creators didn't know they would change history. When Walt Disney drew Mickey Mouse for the first time, he wasn't imagining theme parks, multi-million dollar production studios, and one of the world's largest businesses. He just wanted to pay the bills and entertain some folks while he was at it. Jim Henson was a man of many ideas, and had it not been for the popularity of the Muppets, there is no telling what he would have been known for, or whether he would have changed the industry in any significant way.
It's hard to tell where the exact genesis of Henson's popularity came from. With his Sam and Friends sketches and his commercials to Rowlf's appearance on The Jimmy Dean Show, every part of the Muppets rise to fame seemed like a natural progression from that which proceeded it.
But if I had to choose one creation that defined the Muppets, one act that presented everything the Muppets were and everything they were to become, I would have to go with "Inchworm."
This is going to be HUGE!
The Muppets here just beginning to make a name for themselves as an entity. Some were familiar with their ads and mascots, others were fans of Rowlf, but the Muppets needed a wider audience. They began making variety show appearances, starting with The Tonight Show and when the host Jack Paar left to form his own program, the Muppets were invited as frequent guests.
It was one night in 1964 that Henson decided to resurrect an old Sam and Friends skit, so that more people could see it. It was clear that this night would be special, for this was the night that Henson and his gang left their permanent mark in the NBC studios. People may have thought they knew the Muppets, but they ain't seen nothing yet.
The sketch begins very simply. Kermit sits by himself, humming the tune "Glow Worm" as an inchworm comes alongside him, getting his attention. Being the amphibious predator, he quickly gobbles the worm with pride. Soon, a second worm meets a similar fate. And, as we know, comedy comes in threes.
Feeling particularly malicious, Kermit hastily devours the third worm, yet finds that it is stuck in the ground. He pulls and yanks, only as the worm doubles and triples in size. Eventually, he manages to drag the whole creature out, finding that the worm is not a worm at all.
And the predator becomes the prey.
The worm-nosed beast (Big V) swallows Kermit whole and the audience goes wild. Going from an extremely small to an extremely large puppet in mere seconds is visually and conceptually impressive. In a minute and a half, we have been taken on a silent journey that constantly changes our perception on our hero. First, we see Kermit, who was often the victim of these sketches. Sitting there peacefully, we grow to like him. When he eats his first worm, we are startled and amused, but when he eats the second worm, he becomes our villain. He is no longer a simple frog-like thing. He has become the instigator of pain. When he gets his comeuppance, we are amused once again.
This monster is, in a way, the destiny of the Muppets. What seemed like a small, quirky little venture, quickly snowballed into a large, uncontrollable beast that threatened to consume everything in it's path. As we know, the Muppet company proved to be too overwhelming for Henson to handle, and the stress it caused may have contributed to his early passing. Sure, it provided many great services and entertainments to the world, and was filled with hope and fun. But when things get to large to handle, there is going to be a fallout.
Still, Henson never stopped thinking of new ideas. Even in his later days, he wasn't running out of steam. He did not want to leave the Muppets behind so he could retire early. He wanted to move on and explore a whole new world of innovations and techniques. With Henson, the only way to move forward was to bite off more than you can chew. He aimed high, succeeded, then aimed higher. And that's why the Muppets continue to prevail to this day. Henson wrestled with the monster he created so that there would be hope and inspiration for generations to come. Without his passion for improvement, the Muppets would have faded away to be a mere footnote in the history of the world.
So, while Jim may be gone, his legacy lives on. And it continues to grow without an end in sight.
Henson, pictured with us, the Consumer.