Wednesday, July 30, 2014

C Is for Clodhoppers

One of the things I've always thought was interesting about Jim Henson is that he never really set out to become a puppeteer. He wasn't really that interested in the art of puppetry. In fact, there were times in his life when he rankled at his reputation as "the Muppet guy." He was interested in so many other aspects of art and entertainment, and wanted to do so many other things besides just doing the Muppets. And yet, when he realized that puppets were his way in to the entertainment industry, he studied everything he could about them, went to Europe and delved into the art and history of the form, and became very interested in finding new ways to create puppets that would advance the art.

The Clodhoppers began their short life in 1972, designed for a Broadway show that never happened. The performer's feet are the puppet's feet, and then the performer controls the head and hands (though you'll notice the hands don't really have any movement; I wonder if the performer just sort of angles the arms). The performer dresses all in black against a black background and the right lighting, and that's how you get a chorus line of Muppets.

The Clodhoppers, like most of Jim's ideas, didn't just get thrown in the bin when their planned appearance didn't work out. Instead, they made their debut in the 1975 TV special Julie Andrews: My Favorite Things. They then appeared on two episodes of The Muppet Show. Here's their most prominent appearance, dancing in a sketch with Valerie Harper (performing "Nobody Does It Like Me," from the musical Seesaw) on a first season episode.

They later appeared as a Dixieland band on a third season episode in a sketch where Cheryl Ladd danced with Timmy Monster. They appeared one more time, in 1997, in a sketch on the Paula Abdul episode of Muppets Tonight, and were never used again.

They're not very sophisticated, true, but they're an interesting experiment in puppetry. Not all of Jim's experiments were truly great, but they were always intriguing and they almost always led to advances in the operation of creatures and puppets. Jim's imagination was limitless.

ABC Wednesday


Roger Owen Green said...

You may know about Muppets than anyone I know, by FAR.


Arnoldo L. Romero, MLA said...

I love Jim Henson too and totally agree with you about his limitless imagination. Blessings!

Joy said...

The puppeteers are superbly synchronised.

Susan Moore said...

The Muppets - classic! The Clodhoppers are definitely new to me though.

bettyl-NZ said...

Wow, I sure didn't know that!

Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil said...

OK, first, loving the message above this comment box. LOVing.

You are a Henson dream come true. Are you, in fact, a Muppet blogging as a human being? (that's a compliment of the highest order, by the way. I do a mean Grover)

Never heard of these little fellas before. The effect reminds me of a movie, The Bandwagon, in which Fred Astaire and two cronies perform "Triplets," with their baby shoes affixed to their knees. They leap about of their high chairs and all. Probably on You Tube. You'll get a kick out of it. Meantime, thanks for this fascinating look into Hensen's career, and yes, many famous people end up hating being known for only one thing. He died too young, but he left a legacy of love. Peace, Amy

SamuraiFrog said...

I didn't even think about The Band Wagon, but that's what it reminds me of! I saw that movie in a theater design class in high school. You saying that brings it all back and I can see the influence.

Reader Wil said...

I am so glad Jim Henderson did this! Thanks for sharing your information about the Muppets. I really loved it!
Wil, ABCW Team

Ann said...

The Clodhoppers are so cute--however like many, I hadn't seen them. You are a wealth of info.

Autumn said...

They used something similar to this in The Labyrinth with the Fireys and I always loved the effect. It's really neat to see where that idea originated!

Leslie: said...

That was fun! My kids were the right age to watch The Muppet Show, so I saw a lot of it, too. But this was new to me.

abcw team