Welcome back to Disney Stuff. As always, thank you for all of your responses and please keep them coming. This time, I’m going to focus on one particular item in my vast accumulation of stuff. I’ve said before; the things we collect remind us of moments in our life. They can transport us back to a moment in time when we received that item, especially if it’s something special. I have an item hanging on my wall that’s sort of Disney Stuff but sort of not. At the time I acquired it, it wasn’t yet a Disney item. Since then, it has jumped into the Mouse hole, so to speak. I’m talking about one of my most prized possessions, my autographed photo of Jim Henson.
Worth a thousand words. © Henson Associates 1987.
Now, I’m not an autograph collector. I have a few that I’ve mostly stumbled upon. My wife walked into a bagel store and saw Bababooey from The Howard Stern Show doing an appearance. Knowing what a big Howard listener I was, she got his autograph for me. The day I was laid off from VH1, a good friend of mine in the music business was working with John Sebastian (The Lovin’Spoonful). He told John I was feeling down about losing my job and John proceeded to sign a CD for me with some colorful comments directed at my now former employers. That one is certainly a keeper.
Back in my TV business days, if I was working on a shoot with a celebrity it was pretty much an unspoken rule not to hound them for autographs. If I hounded everyone I’ve met on a job for his or her signature, I’d have a pretty diverse collection. From Ringo Starr to Penn and Teller, from Regis Philbin to Joey Ramone and all sorts in between. However, I kept to the rules and behaved professionally. There were only a few instances where I wasn’t leaving without a picture or an autograph. On a job for AMC, I made sure to take a picture with Marty Scorcese. That was a must. What lifelong film buff wouldn’t? Soon after that, I was working on an interview with Jerry Garcia. After trailing The Grateful Dead around the country for so many years, I really wanted Jerry to sign my copy of The Dead’s Europe ’72 album. I had such a nice conversation with Garcia during a break in shooting that I really didn’t want to spoil the moment by asking for an autograph, but he was very gracious and I’m sure quite used to it.
Which brings me to meeting one of the biggest influences in my life, Jim Henson. I grew up with Jim’s creations, The Muppets. Having been born in 1968, I was part of the first Sesame Street generation, and was head over heels for all things Muppet for the rest of my life. There’s a short list of true idols in my life and he’s pretty much at the top.
So imagine my utter rapture to find myself as a college intern for Jim Henson Productions in NYC. I worked in their small production studio mostly on photo shoots and editing projects. It was an absolute thrill to be in the studio for a shoot with Jim, Frank Oz and longtime creative director Michael Frith as they discussed Muppet design. Watching Jim hold and perform Kermit is something I’ll never forget. It was an even bigger thrill when I found out what they were shooting was being produced for the Imagineers as sort of an instructional tape to assist with the then upcoming Disney/Henson acquisition.
When the internship was over, Jim, being the cool down to earth guy that he was, wanted to meet with the interns as a group before we left. With much excitement, I boarded my Manhattan bound train that morning for my meeting with my hero, only to find myself marooned in a Long Island Railroad tunnel plagued with track work. When I emerged from the depths of Penn Station, an hour late, I called my supervisor and explained my delay. She told me to come in anyway and maybe I could still meet with Jim. Next thing I know I’m in Jim Henson’s office, just the two of us, having a wonderfully silly and yet meaningful conversation with this gentle genius. Thank you Long Island Railroad!
I had become friendly with Jim’s personal secretary, a fellow Deadhead, so I asked her if he could sign something for me. Anything would have done really. She said she would leave him something to autograph and she would send it to me.
That was Friday morning. A few days later, Jim Henson would be gone.
I’ll never forget my best friend calling me that morning to tell me that Jim had passed away, and asking me, “Didn’t you just meet him?” It was a moment of disbelief for me as it was for the world. What a day that was. When I was finally able to peel myself away from the TV that morning to check the mail, what to my utter disbelief did I find? My autographed picture of Jim, waiting for me in the mailbox…delivered on the day he died.
For all I know, it could have been one of the last things he ever signed. It’s made out to me from him, which, as any autograph collector will tell you, diminishes its monetary value. But that doesn’t matter. It’s not going anywhere. It will always be hanging there to remind me of that precious 20 or so minutes I got to spend with one of my all-time heroes. I went on to work some more for The Muppets after graduation. I’ll always be able to say they were my first real job and my brief time there is rife with memories, but none so special as when I got to sit there with the man himself and soak in a little bit of his magic. Each time I look at this picture, I’m brought back to that meeting and… I smile, knowing that despite the fact that he was probably not feeling well, despite his crazy schedule, he took the time to talk to little old me. Those 20 minutes have been a constant positive influence on me, and this picture always reminds me of how good and special some things can be, even some little piece of Disney Stuff hanging on my wall.
I’ll see you next time with some more of that great Disney Stuff that means so much to all of us.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.