Jim Martin has been an actor, writer, director, and even producer for some of the greatest puppet shows of the last three decades, along with numerous Muppet movies. In his talk at C2E2 here in Chicago, Jim gave us a walk through of his long career in puppetry, complete with pictures.
I learned many things about puppetry that I never knew. You would almost expect the people behind sock puppets or marionettes to provide the voices for their characters. But what about when the puppet is almost half your height, it sits on your shoulders? Believe it or not, the pupeteers still did the voices, and Jim Martin was one such dual puppeteer. He told us many stories, giving us examples of that the characters sounded like. Most memorably he told us about how Gary Gnu of The Great Space Coaster went from a very Walter Cronkite like newscaster to a character comparable to Jim Cramer. The director wanted Gary to have a more animated voice, and as Jim got more and more annoyed with the demanding director, they eventually landed on the right tone!
In Once Apon a Tree, Jim played Forest Stump, a gumpy beaver. Believe it or not the voice of Forest was inspired by Wallace Shawn! Jim overheard Wallace on the phone having a little argument with his agent. On his way out, Wallace chose to share his frustration was a total stranger, Jim! The rest is history!
Just like the lives of Hollywood actors, Jim’s career wasn’t without drama, even though the puppets didn’t have agents, trailers, or egos to deal with. DJ Kat was known for saying “What a horrible time in my life!” DJ’s show was a show in conflict. DJ was rude and mean with a sense of humor intended to entertain adults, but it was still a kids show. Jim said, “DJ was the black part of me”. Jim was always fighting with Sky Channel and the studio to make it either a kids show or an adult show, rather than a mix. Ultimately Jim’s contract ran out and the show faded away into TV history.
In recent years, Jim has been traveling. He even gave a puppetry clinic to children in Indonesia! It was a real treat when Jim had us put our right hand in the air, tuck our thumbs into our upper palms, and then fold our fingers down. Then he taught us how a puppeteer uses their thumb rather than their fingers to open and close the mouth of a puppet, and moving as if to throw the words from your hand. It never really occurred to me until that day, but if you take notice of how the puppets speak, particularly characters of Jim Henson’s creation, you will notice this distinctive method in action.
Jim has been touring and speaking at events in conjunction with Toonseum! Check out their website to see if they will be coming to your area!
Want to learn more about Jim and puppeteering? Visit JimMartinProductions.com for tons of photos, and be sure to read about Jim’s Pupplet’s production company, devoted to entertaining kids all across the US.