This Saturday they will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film Labyrinth at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. This movie has a special place in my heart because it marks the day that I fell in love with The Jim Henson Company and all of its fabulous family members.
I was an awkward 10 year old girl living in the small town of Piermont, NY. One warm day I overheard the local kids talking about how the Muppets were going to be shooting something nearby. I had been a Muppet fan since seeing them perform at a local park as a very small child. The kids told me a lie about how it was going to be happening in the next town and that I couldn’t go with them. I was deeply disappointed and wandered over to the waterfront to sulk. My home was not a happy one and clearly I wasn’t welcome with the locals either. Most of my time at that age was spent alone, sitting on the side of the river daydreaming.
After getting over my disappointment I started walking back toward my house when I noticed an unusual amount of action happening on our main drag, Piermont avenue. Being small and alone it was pretty easy to slip past the throng and soon i was standing next to a tall bearded man who greeted me with an energetic “Hello there!” My frown instantly flipped over as I looked up at this tall man with a gleaming smile. He introduced himself as Jim and told me that he was filming a movie.
“You sound just like Kermit the Frog! Are you Jim Henson?”, I stated enthusiastically.
“I don’t want to bother you but can I have your autograph?”
Jim smiled and signed the little sheet of paper that I had in my pocket. I thanked him and apologized for bothering him again. I was quite used to being in the way and didn’t want him to hate me. He noted my discomfort and crouched down so I could hear him better.
“You’re not bothering me at all. These things can get so boring. I’d much rather talk to you. Do you want to see how the camera works?”, he responded.
For the next five minutes or so he bantered with me and pointed out the lights and cameras. He told me about his daughter whose name was also Heather. Then he showed me how they were making rain. I remember commenting about how silly it was that the girl was wearing jeans under her dress.
“They’re going to see that on camera you know”, I stated.
“You’re probably right about that”, he replied, nodding.
We were standing almost exactly where Jennifer Connelly is standing in this shot. At the time they were shooting a different angle from across the street. They also shot in Grandview and Nyack which are just south of Piermont.
Later in the day I brought my brothers back and he signed autographs for them as well although they were much more rushed at that time so he only had a few moments to sign and had to get back to work. He was the first adult to ever show me that kind of compassion. It has stayed with me to this day as my foremost example of what humanity should be.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet many of the Henson extended family and they have all shared that unique spirit of kindness & acceptance. The first time I met Jerry Juhl he gave up his chair for me in a crowded bookstore cafe. His wife and I chatted about the California coast for 20 minutes before making formal introductions. When I found out who they were I remember thinking who else but a Henson person could embody that unique combination of silliness and love of all mankind.
Jim Henson taught me that love is not just about the friends you have, its about the friends that you haven’t even met yet. Hell, It’s about the friends you may never meet! Bringing joy to the world is infectious. He saw a little outcast girl and befriended her, very much the way that Kermit collected his ragtag gang. Last night I had the honor of watching Brian Henson perform in Stuffed and Unstrung. Before it begins he introduces it with a “straight man” character and I immediately saw his father in him. There he was, bringing muppetry to the 21st century, surrounded by his own ragtag group. Stuffed and Unstrung (video introduction)
I cant wait to see Labyrinth tomorrow. It will take everything in my body not to cheer when I watch Sarah run through Piermont. Happy anniversary Labyrinth!