Jim Henson, one of Maryland’s most famous alumni, graduated in 1960 with a B.S. in Home Economics. During his time at Maryland, he developed a new and enduring method of providing early childhood education using puppets. He created his own special way of constructing puppet characters and bringing them to life, characters who have since become American icons.
By using foam, rubber and rods instead of wood and string, Henson gave expression and emotion to an otherwise undemonstrative breed. After taking a puppetry class as a freshman and creating and recreating prototypes, Henson, along with Jane Nebel, created the television show “Sam and Friends.” “Sam and Friends,” led by Kermit the Frog, aired on Washington’s NBC affiliate WRC and featured songs, dances, and jokes for children to enjoy. The success of the show earned Henson his first Emmy.
Preparation for “Sam and Friends” show (courtesy of Philip Geraci)
Gradually, “Sam and Friends” evolved in Jim Henson’s mind to become something larger. Kermit the Frog made new friends as Henson created more characters. The Muppets also began to incorporate important lessons into their entertainment styles. “Sam and Friends” expanded and became “The Muppet Show” and the beloved “Sesame Street,” which is still in production. The Muppets also made feature-length films.
A Terp at heart, Henson returned to his alma mater in 1978 to receive an honorary doctorate in fine arts. The following year he was a distinguished guest at the 1979 Homecoming. Sweetums and Kermit also attended.
Sadly, Jim Henson passed away in 1990; however, his memory lives on at Maryland. On September 24, 2003, the university dedicated a statue of Henson sitting with Kermit, which was a gift of the Classes of 1994, 1998, and 1999. The University of Maryland Libraries have also preserved his memory by organizing exhibits and maintaining the video collection now known as the “Jim Henson Works at the University of Maryland.”
Henson and his Muppets continue to inspire and entertain children and adults alike. Their success shows just how far a Terp with a little imagination can go.
A young Jim Henson puts the finishing touches on Kermit (courtesy of Philip Geraci)
Note: compiled with the help of Katelyn Attanasio.