I came to know Big Bird and his Muppet friends due entirely to a former work station. So trust me when I opine that Jim Henson’s characters are all about education and almost zero about federal spending.
Republican Mitt Romney said in his first debate with President Obama that if elected he would take a sharp knife to such programming. He used Big Bird as the scapegoat for the supposed spending spree by the public broadcasting network.
According to hosts of federal spending followers, this is the amount of money that is assigned to each American for support of public broadcasting:
$1.35. Twenty-seven nickels a year per citizen per year.
Is such a campaign of frugality enough to carry Mr. Romney to the White House? He may well win the election, but it will not be because of his snide attack on Big Bird and, by association, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.
Jim Henson, who created the Muppets and died in 1993 after building an entertainment empire rivaling that of Walt Disney, would not take offense to Romney. It’s far too laughable.
By the time I arrived in 1978 in the small town of Leland, Miss., to run a weekly newspaper, Henson had long since departed that Delta cotton town where he had been raised. His father, Paul Henson, was an agronomist with the Department of Agriculture’s vast research farm in the heart of one of the world’s most prominent crop growing regions.
The Henson family for several years occupied a cottage on the research facility’s campus. Flowing nearby and then on to Leland two miles away was Deer Creek, a picturesque stream home to all sorts of creatures.
It was on the banks of that little waterway and in the Promethean mind of the young Jim Henson that Big Bird, Miss Piggy, Kermit, Rowlf, Scooter and Dr. Teeth’s band came to be. He and his closest friend, Kermit Scott, spent countless hours along those banks playing with those critters.
This creative energy came flowing back to Henson in his late teens and early 20’s while a student at the University of Maryland (his father had been transferred to a research unit in that state). Henson began formalizing his characters, one he named Kermit the Frog in honor of his best boyhood buddy. Kermit Scott, who held a doctorate of philosophy and taught at Yale and Purdue universities, has gained a modicum of fame as the distinguished frog’s namesake.
Leland has capitalized on the notoriety of Jim Henson, Kermit the Frog and the other Muppets about as much as a little town can. I am proud that I was an early backer of the Jim Henson/Kermit the Frog Museum that today attracts thousands of visitors to its Deer Creek location along U.S. 82. The Henson family has been very generous to the facility with donations of early Muppet artifacts and financial backing.
When Leland celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1982, Jim Henson wrote a letter to the newspaper expressing his love for the little town that nurtured his mind and gave him a solid “early childhood education.”
Mr. Romney should be ashamed for attempting to sully an institution that has provided millions of American children with the same schooling.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.