For some reason I have puppets on the brain lately. I guess it started a few weeks ago when I first discovered Sid & Marty Krofft’s 1961 nudie puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris. The discovery was only enhanced by the fact that the Brothers Krofft would spend the rest of their careers creating product for children’s television programs. In fact (despite the “creepy” factor) there has always been an association in my mind between puppets and children’s entertainment. Growing up with Sesame Street and the Muppet Show did little to disabuse me of that impression.
Sure, Jim Henson‘s creations were always cool enough to appeal to adults but I would never have called the humor deep or sophisticated. My opinion changed as soon as I stopped reading about Henson’s early work and started watching it.
Jim Henson was working in television before he even finished high school, creating puppets for a local station’s children’s show. By the time he was a freshman in college, he was producing a daily five-minute puppet show called Sam and Friends for Washington DC station WRC-TV. The show ran from 1955 to 1961 and it was the birthplace to almost all of the revolutionary developments in televised puppetry that Henson is famous for.
Equipped with the details in the previous paragraph and having grown up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, I assumed that Sam and Friends was a children’s show. That assumption was either wrong or the kids of 1961 were a lot hipper than I’ve been giving them credit for.
Here is a sketch from a 1961 episode starring a primordial Kermit and his friend Harry the Hipster: