Jim Henson’s Legacy Continues With ‘The Red Book’

BALTIMORE (WJZ)— It’s a lasting legacy that got its start right here in Maryland. Now you can see how Muppets creator Jim Henson dreamed up his beloved characters.

Jessica Kartalija talks with Henson’s colleague, Baltimore native Kevin Clash, about The Red Book and Elmo even gets in on the act.

A prolific artist with a continuous outpouring of creativity. In 1965, then 28-year-old Muppeteer Jim Henson started documenting his daily activities in what became known as The Red Book.

“He was a genius,” said Kevin Clash, the Muppeteer behind Elmo.  “He was somebody who was always thinking, always creating.”

Clash, a Baltimore native, says the book gives insight into Henson’s artistic process.

“The doodling that he’s done, you see them now, it’s Big Bird, it’s Oscar,” Clash said. “He was always creating, always thinking and coming up with ideas.”

After years of watching his work as a puppeteer, Clash first met Henson in 1979.

“I got to do the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade,” Clash recalled. “And then to actually meet Jim for the first time after the parade was over, of course was a dream come true. I always said ‘I’ll met him across a crowded room.’”

Four years later, Clash was hired for 10 episodes of Sesame Street. He joined the cast in 1985.

“It was a dream come true for me,” Clash said. “It was something that I am still pinching myself about.  I’m 50 now, and I think I started working with him in my early 20s.”

Clash says Henson never acted like a boss; he was a teammate.

“Because he respected everybody that he worked with, everybody wanted to give him more than 100 percent,” Clash said. “Watching what he did and always wishing to be a part of it, and then being a part of it, and then the openness he gave to me to keep creating and show my talent.”

It was this freedom that inspired Clash to create the distinctive voice and laugh that became Elmo.

“Well, Jim was just a nice person,” Elmo said.

Clash’s work as Elmo earned him an Emmy in 1990—the same year Henson died.

“Elmo loves Jim Henson very much and thank you for everything,” Elmo said.

Clash hopes the book will help Henson’s legacy live on.

“It’s been a whirlwind for me,” Clash said. “Not only the fact of growing up and watching and wanting to be with Jim, but then meeting him and finding out what a really cool and wonderful guy he is, then him leaving us with this wonderful legacy, and I had gotten to know him enough to call him a friend of mine is something I will never forget.”

Portions of Jim Henson’s Red Book are posted online. Click here to view them.

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