This weekend kicks off "Muppets, Music, and Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy," a Jim Henson retrospective at the Northwest Film Center.
Long-time Muppet puppeteer Dave Goelz will be at the Whitsell Auditorium on May 2 and 3 to present two compilations of rare footage covering odds and ends from Henson's career. Muppet History 101 (screening May 2) features early appearances from the Muppets on The Dick Cavett Show, as well as the pilot for The Muppet Show, while Commercials and Experiments (May 3) features "rarities from the Henson vault"—including "Time Piece," a quick dip in surrealism that brought Henson accolades.
The turning point in Goelz's own career, however, was when he learned to say no. In 1976, Goelz began performing for Jim Henson as a "principle puppeteer" during the first season of The Muppet Show. But the young industrial designer felt he was out of his league. "I just didn't think I had any business being there," Goelz told me in a phone interview. Goelz's signature character at this time was Zoot, the cool jazz musician who spoke through his saxophone. But Goelz had started to perform another character—Gonzo the Great, a blue-furred, sad-eyed creature that embodied its creator's insecurities.
"I nearly went through that whole first season without a laugh from the crew," Goelz recalls. "And at one point, on the final show of the year, Gonzo was supposed to say no to someone. At first, I did it in my sad voice. But Jim suggested I try it with more enthusiasm. So then I let out a 'No!'
"After I let out that 'no,' the crew just broke up," Goelz says. It was a revelation for the puppeteer who had struggled with how to make his pet character more dynamic.
The Northwest Film Center's program also includes 1979's The Muppet Movie (May 7 & 9), 1981's The Great Muppet Caper (May 21 & 23), plus 1982's The Dark Crystal (May 3) and 1986's Labyrinth (May 10). Also: an episode of the TV series Fraggle Rock (May 10) and The Art of Puppetry and Storytelling (May 16), a behind-the-scenes compilation of Henson's creations.
For more info, see nwfilm.org.To read the Mercury's exclusive interview with Gonzo the Great, go here!