For nearly 40 years Jim Henson's
Muppets have captivated audiences young and old, whether down the block on Sesame Street
, from backstage on their own syndicated variety show, or even on the big screen. They've earned fans in Kanye West
, and Jason Segel
, who's been commissioned to bring them back to the moviehouse. This is the story of Jim Henson and how he built his beloved empire from a discarded housecoat and a pair of ping-pong balls.
When I lived in L.A., one of my favorite pastimes was walking up La Brea Avenue toward Hollywood Boulevard. Amid the hip boutiques, chain joints, phantom relics of faded cinema, and the few long-empty, barely upright residential houses stands a structure straight out of an old English village. Not surprising, since it was built in 1917 for Charles Chaplin. His studio resembled what wealth must've looked like to a hardscrabble, dirty-faced pipsqueak in 19th century London. The Little Tramp left it in the early '50s, and for years it was home to Herb Alpert's A&M Records.
But there's absolutely no mystery as to its current tenant. All you gotta do is look up.
This is Henson Studios, where the Muppets have resided since 1999. But for some reason I never wanted to go inside. What terrible things would I see? An open-mouthed Kermit dangling from a hook? Gonzo, double-folded on a countertop? Even as an adult I couldn't imagine the Muppets as anything but living, cogent creatures who just happened to be made of fabric and fur.