Storytime

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The primordial Muppet Show productions are wonderful, almost-lost gems — not at all as famous as the television series and movies that followed. Some reader younger than ourselves may be surprised to learn how old the Muppets are — that that Rowlf the Dog got his start in a Purina dog food commercial in 1962. Rowlf was also the last Muppet performed by Henson on television, in an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1990. Always Henson’s favorite Muppet, he made regular appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show in the 1960s, and if you want to spend the next hour of your day laughing at grainy television footage on Youtube, just start here.

The enormous popularity of Sesame Street was instrumental to the steady rise of Henson’s Muppets, but along the way they appeared in other programs, notably a 1971 version of The Frog Prince which stars Kermit the Frog and his nephew Robin, along with actress Trudy Young. This is our daughter’s all-time favorite record — one that sadly, she have worn with the nylon stylus on her Fisher Price record player. The Frog Prince, like the Muppet Show would be a few years later, a magical combination of wit and whimsey.

The Frog Prince was the second in a “Tales from Muppetland” series produced by Henson for CBS and later sold to ABC. Tthe first had been Hey, Cinderella!, a more network-tinkered tale than The Frog Prince and less distinctly Henson-esque, which aired in 1969. The idea of an ongoing series was scrapped by the network in favor of a contract to air college basketball, leading to the sparse appearances of “Muppetland” fairy tales.

The third and final story appeared a year after The Frog Prince, and delved deeper into Henson’s idiosyncrasies than nearly every other Muppet production, especially his taste in music. The Muppet Musicians of Bremen is based on a Brothers Grimm telling of an old German story, and is re-cast in the Louisiana bayou, providing Henson the opportunity to introduce children to dixieland jazz.

Our old copy of this album is like most children’s records fairly destroyed — it also has the misfortune of having once belonged to the St. Paul Public Library, so it’s seen a lot of love in its long life.

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muppets of bremenWhen Henson’s Muppet Show was finally aired (after two pilots rejected by American and British networks) its cornerstone was musical comedy. We’ve already posted some highlights from the Muppet Show cast albums here, but it is just a tiny sample of the hundreds of hilarious numbers the show produced. The fact that the soundtrack albums for The Muppet Show were called “cast albums” hints at their inspiration in musical theater. Jim Henson was undeniably influential in reviving musical comedy in America, along with the amazingly talented musical directors at Sesame Street, Jeffrey Moss and Joe Raposo.

People don’t always understand that this is our Beatles, or Ramones, or Radiohead, or whatever the all-so-very-important foundation in your musical leanings may be. We will take The Muppet Musicians of Bremen or Grover Sings the Blues over the “White Album” any day.

Sesame Street surprised Billboard by periodically creeping up the charts (we posted some examples here) — some of the albums on the Children Television Workshop’s record label (Sesame Street Records, of course) have become cult classics, like My Name is Roosevelt Franklin, for which Matt Robinson (aka Gordon) provided hilarious rants and raps, and Raposo provided funky beats. Others lived up to Sesame Street’s (then) high standards by teaching us about everything from being lonely (Grover Sings the Blues) to basic skills (the also funky Count Counts), all through great musical arrangements.

Henson, Moss and Raposo were all taken from us by illness at tragically young ages, none of them living to sixty years old. There are many reasons this could make your heart heavy, least of all that the three hardly got to see the generation they spoke to grow up filled with so many wonderful musicians and storytellers.

slim goodbody

Presented by KRAFT!

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co star

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NARRATOR

Several months have passed. Although the emotional shock of her mother’s revelation was a severe one, Allison gradually recovered from it. She has gone to New York to make her way, if she can, as a writer.

Constance is now Mrs. Michael Rossi. This morning she is alone in her dress shop. A man in Navy uniform enters.

You are that man, Lieutenant John Adams.

Sound: Door closes behind you and Constance looks up.

CONSTANCE

Yes?

ADAMS

Are you Mrs. Constance Rossi?

CONSTANCE

Yes, I am.

ADAMS

Do you employ a girl named Selena Cross?

COSTANCE

Yes. Has anything happened to her?

ADAMS

I’m John Adams, Ma’am. Lieutenant, US Navy. I’m investigating the case of Seaman Lewis Cross, who’s been missing ever since last winter. I understand he was Selena Cross’s father.

CONSTANCE

Her stepfather.

ADAMS

They didn’t get along to well, did they?

CONSTANCE

Nobody got along well with Lucas Cross. He was shiftless and bad-tempered. A congenital drunk.

ADAMS

Did Selena ever talk to you about having any quarrels with him?

CONSTANCE

Do I have to answer these questions? Why don’t you ask Selena? I don’t like talking about her behind her back.

ADAMS

My partner is questioning her right now, ma’am, at her home.

CONSTANCE

So that’s why she didn’t come in this morning!

ADAMS

Yes ma’am. And you’re not talking about her behind her back. I told her I was coming to see you.

CONSTANCE

I see. Then let me tell you first that I’ve never known a sweeter, kinder girl than Selena.

ADAMS

She ever talk about having any fights with Lucas Cross?

CONSTANCE

Yes. She did.

ADAMS

When?

CONSTANCE

Oh, many times.

ADAMS

Any particular time?

CONSTANCE

Well, I remember one morning when she came in all black and blue from the beating that brute had given her. I’ve always maintained that’s what brought on her illness.

ADAMS

What illness?

CONSTANCE

She was operated on for an appendicitis soon after. And soon after that, Lucas Cross left town. Nobody here has seen him since.

ADAMS

From information we’ve collected — a driver who gave him a lift one night last winter — it appears he was coming back here on his last leave. But –
SOUND Telephone

CONSTANCE

Excuse me. (Picks up phone) Hello? Yes, this is Mrs. Rossi … Who? Oh, yes. He’s here … It’s for you, Lieutenant.

ADAMS

Thank you … Hello? Oh, hello Paul … What? … She has? Good Lord! … I’ll be right over.
SOUND Hang up phone receiver

CONSTANCE

What’s happened?

ADAMS

That was my partner. Selena Cross has just confessed to the murder of Lucas Cross.

CONSTANCE

Oh, no! Not Selena! Not Selena!
MUSIC Up and out

If you have enjoyed performing with Paullette Goddard in this scene from Peyton Place, we recommend you find a copy of Albert Brooks’ 1973 classic, Comedy Minus One, in which you must perform a classic routine with Mr. Brooks.

True story: Last winter we finally convinced my mother to give our kids the Star Wars guys from my childhood. They had spent most of my adult life in a JC Penny shirt box in my brother’s basement, and we’ll admit it’s been a little nerve-wracking to watch our four year old monster pummel them, bury them in sand, and contort them into horrible positions.

In the box of “guys” was an odd man out – a Black Hole action figure. Do you remember The Black Hole? If you do you’re my age, and you probably remember it as Disney’s creepy answer to Star Wars. My brother Paul and I loved it growing up, and somewhere along the way the movie went out of print and became forgotten to an entire generation. We suppose that’s why they never made a prequel.

So Gus was fascinated by this guy, who clearly didn’t belong. Who was this outcast?! We went to our neighborhood video store (which used to be a family-owned shop and is now a weirdly monolithic franchise) and, kids in tow, ask the clerk if they had The Black Hole.

“Is it a porno?” he asks.

“No, it’s a kids movie.”

And he checks the computer, only to find they don’t have it. We went home and watched the movie online. Learned a lesson about taking the kids to the video store, we guess. Also learned that we’re still afraid of Maximillan.

So the real highlight of today’s post is the Black Hole storybook record. Unlike the Star Wars records we’ve posted (here and here), this one has the film’s cast. It’s a great interpretation of the story, and it kind of captures the Buck Rogers radio program excitement. We really loved this album growing up, in part because it’s less weird than the movie. Here’s The Black Hole:

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Yesterday we posted for the first time a program we produced for KFAI’s Wave Project a few years back. Today’s rerun is a second program we produced this past August about one of our favorite composers and one of his most popular works.

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This program was inspired by the hundreds of recordings of Peter and the Wolf we see pass through the record shop. Some were very, very good, and others very, very bad. All were based on the same score written by Serge Prokofiev just after his return to the Soviet Union 1936. Our goal was to capture not only the enormous variety of interpretations, but also the world in which Prokofiev lived and performed, and the pressure he was under when he composed Peter and the Wolf. In all more than 150 LPs, 78s, 45s, cassettes and CDs were used in creating this program.

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peter and the wolf

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In his own way Don Gillis brought the classical repertoire to millions of Americans. He was the producer for the NBC Symphony Orchestra during the long tenure of Arturo Toscanini, helping to broadcast hundreds of symphonic and operatic performances on radio and television (today you can buy an enormous, 85-disc box set of the complete recordings of Toscanini on RCA/Victor Records which including many with the NBC Symphony Orchestra).

After Toscanini retired in 1954 Gillis helped create the Symphony of the Air, which continued to broadcast orchestral music under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Gillis was also an active composer when not busy with the office work of managing the Orchestra — He wrote ten symhonies (including the light-hearted Symphony No. 5 1/2 “A Symphony for Fun”), several concertos and quartets, and tone poems such as a celebration of the town where he grew up, Fort Worth, Texas (Portrait of a Frontier Town).

The Man Who Invented Music was written by Don Gillis for the U.S. Steel NBC Summer Symphony Series in 1949. It was debuted by Antal Dorati that August. Gillis conducted this recording himself, and it was narrated by Jack Kilty, a minor television star on, you guessed it, NBC.

the man who invented msic

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wilma

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