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The Friday Flashback: Jim Henson's Early Short Films

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 10, 2012 11:00PM


Muppets creator Jim Henson began keeping a journal in June 1965 that eventually became known as "The Red Book." An entry from last August looks back at Henson's introduction of a new character, SAM (an anagram for "Super-Automated Machine") the Robot to Sesame Street in 1972. SAM was voiced by longtime Henson performer Jerry Nelson, who is best known for voicing The Count von Count.

But SAM's origins actually date back to 1963. Henson was hired by The Bell System to make a short film for a business seminar in Chicago. The organizers of the seminar, a company called Inpro, was very active in its organization. One of the company's principals, Ted Mills, wrote a three-page memo to Henson that envisioned the relationship between mankind and technology as a tense one. As anyone who's had trouble setting the clock on a television or had to reboot a computer and lose open files can attest: it's a troubled relationship to this day.

Henson took Mills' memo and ran with it. Mills wrote:

"He [the robot] is sure that All Men Basically Want to Play Golf, and not run businesses — if he can do it better."

Henson not only created a robot that conveyed what Mills had intended, he also added his unique personal touches to the robot.

The same robot, but with a different voice, appeared in a second film for the seminar, and was named Charlie Magnetico. The voice for Charlie was provided by Jerry Juhl, who was Henson's first employee. Juhl was a friend of Henson's most famous collaborator, Frank Oz. But Oz was still in high school at the time. One wonders how Oz would approached voicing Charlie.

Henson later created a slightly different version of the robot for the 1964 World's Fair.