Monday, March 11, 2013
Pheaturing Jim Martin from "The Great Space Coaster"
Look at me, trying to get free stuff from my readers. LOL. I have to show you this, a Phile reader sent me this picture, and I want it.
My wife would really think I went to far if I got this. I did get "The Great Space Coaster" album from eBay though. Anyway, there were a lot of guest stars on "TGSC", and Gary Gnu got close with some of them. Take a look at this picture...
What's going on here? Alright, so did any of you readers get the new "Sim City" game? I don't know about it, when I saw this ad at the video game store...
I guess they've been having problems. I told you guys yesterday that Disney is gonna make Jennifer Lawrence into a Disney Princess. I think she'll fit in perfect. This is Jennifer...
And this is an actual Disney Princess...
See, she'll fit in perfectly. Told you. Alright, now from the home office on Coasterville, here is...
Noteworthy Similarities Between The Harlem Shake And The Shamrock Shake
5. Wildly popular as we approach St. Patrick's Day.
4. Only idiots get excited about it.
3. Could prove fatal to Gov. Chris Christie.
2. Will be a distant memory by April.
And the number one thing similar between the Harlem Shake and the Shamrock Shake is...
1. Ultimately an insult to the culture it "celebrates".
Who likes comics? Well, part from me. I like to invite my friend Jim Mello who works at Coliseum of Comics in Orlando to give us some reviews of recent comics that came out. So, please welcome to the Phile once again, Jim Mello in a pheature we call...
Hello all, this week, it's... "The Age of Ultron"! Dun nun nahh nah! Dun nun nah nah nah! (Think of the tune to "The Final Countdown") There will be spoilers and make sure you add on anything you think is important. Now... to the comics!
I would just like to say that, even though I had no understanding of what really happened in the story, that this issue featured an Iron Fist and Doop story. This made me extremely happy.
Age of Ultron #1
New York City. Today The book starts in medias res... the city now looks like the Ultimates' Triskelion gave a little somethin' somethin' to the Skynet base featured in the Terminator ride at Universal and their baby was the most dystopian looking thing imaginable. Holed up in the most derelict looking building in town and peddling the Mutant Hormone Drug to the few human survivors remaining -- Hammerhead and The Owl continue running what remnants of organized crime they can. That is, until Hawkeye (one very much unlike Fraction's Hawkeye, which will throw off recent Hawkeye readers) decides to break in with a mind to free his friend... Spider-Man. The two escape and find the remaining superheroes hiding out in central park with a emotionally broken Captain America leading them and the paranoia of an Ultron controlled world corrupting their morality. Overall this was a solid beginning to this many issued story arc and Bendis takes a lot of time setting the world up, and I guess he has the pages to do it. Hitch's widescreen panels shine here, but otherwise he still suffers the problem of everyone having the same facial features. I'm glad he was given time to get his pages done early and hopefully the book benefits from that. I'll be definitely interested in seeing how this plays out.
Detective Comics #18
I'm including this because of its cover treatment as a tie in to the death of Damian. What ties in do you ask? About three panels of him crying at Damian's grave. That's it. Lammmmmeeeee. I was hoping for a masculine screaming at the sky panel.
So, I don't know about you, but I read the black and white preview issue a few months back that was included randomly in one of our diamond shipments and I absolutely dug this book. It mostly had to do with Jones' thick, black lines cutting into the page in such a distinctive and exciting manner that it didn't really matter what the story was. Upon rereading, I still really enjoy the book, but I'm sad to say that I think it has lost a little something with color. The images seem less striking, and some of the anatomy work seems weird, i.e... body types seem all over the place. Anyways... Rikard, son of a Viking chief and awesome warrior, leads the fight to defend his lady friend Bera from the evil Harryhausen viking skeletons. After he is killed in battle, Rikard is resurrected the Dr. Frankenstein way as part of evil Bera's plan to fight back against her enemies. The story is fun and pretty much any regular indie reading sub you know should give it a shot. I know Cullen Bunn isn't everyone's favorite, but his indie stuff is always a little inventive and worth a glance at least. I super dug it, save for my earlier complaints, and will be suggesting it to everyone.
Simon Cooke is the heir to a large company in a neon colored world of rival gangs and sex. Yep, the Sex of the title isn't tongue in cheek... it actually describes the feel of the entire world. Cooke is a retired superhero trying to learn how to enjoy life after the death of his mentor and years of monk like discipline and obedience, and he can't quite seem to do it until he meets an acquaintance from his past crime-fighting life. Overall... yes, this is a book with mature moments, but I could definitely see certain crowds falling in love the visual style and it's innate raw nature. Alright, well that is it for me for this week. Have a great... day!
"Sex"... I might have to pick this one up. Thanks, Jim, good job as always.
The 24th book to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Book Club is...
Noel will be a guest on the Phile in a few weeks.
Today's pheatured guest is a puppeteer, best known for his roles on "Sesame Street". But "The Great Space Coaster" fans will know him as one of the main puppet characters as Gary Gnu and as the villain M.T. Promises. This is a huge thrill for me, please welcome to the Phile, the great... Jim Martin!
Me: Hello, Jim, I have to tell you, it's a great honor to have you here on the Phile for "The Great Space Coaster Month". How are you doing?
Jim: Thanks for having me, Jason! And thanks for remembering "The Great Space Coaster"! I'm doing well, thank you.
Me: Jim, when did you start being a puppeteer? Did you do that since you were a kid?
Jim: When I went to elementary school, it seemed like everyone made a puppet sometime around the second grade. My theory is that when you make your first puppet (usually at the same age that I did... second grade), that is when you fall in love with puppets and are, as I like to say, "bitten by the puppeteering bug" (though there are a few notable exceptions! I'm looking at you, John Lovelady!). Well, I was one of those kids that was bitten by the puppeteering bug at an early age. My parents and grandparents were very supportive of my interest in puppets. They would take me to the library and help me find books on puppetry and theater. They would read the books with me and help me figure out how to make my own puppets. My mother even taught me how to sew so I could make costumes for my characters. I put all of this to use by staging puppet shows in my backyard for the neighborhood kids, and I guess it just evolved from there.
Me: How often did you practice with your hand in the mirror?
Jim: All the time!
Me: You worked with Jim Henson, Jim. When was the first project you worked on for Henson?
Jim: Let me share with you my journey of how I got to work with Jim Henson. It started here in my hometown of Pittsburgh where I was working for the City Parks Department putting on puppet shows in the community parks, recreation centers, and schools. I also performed puppets on a local television show called "The Captain Jim Show" starring Ted Eckman as Captain Jim. Pittsburgh was having a huge celebration one year and had invited the cast of the new children's show "Sesame Street" to perform on a barge stage on one of our rivers. Well, the evening before the event, there was a HUGE storm; boats were washed away, tents were missing... it was a mess! The Sesame Street performers were already here in Pittsburgh, so the organizers decided to move their performance to the Civic Arena. Because it was a last minute change, it was difficult to get the news out (this was pre-internet!), and only about 100 people showed up to see them. It was a wonderful, intimate show! Afterwards, I met Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch) coming out the back door. I introduced myself to him and he very graciously chatted with me. He ended up inviting me to visit him on the set of "Sesame Street" if I ever got to New York. With an invitation like that, I was determined to get to New York (which I did) and visited Caroll on the set. It was Caroll who introduced me to Kermit Love. Kermit was working on the puppets for a new puppet show shooting in New York called "The Great Space Coaster." He suggested that I audition for it. With his encouragement, I did just that, and landed the roles of Gary Gnu and M.T. Promises. This was my first television gig, and it gave me the experience and background I needed to later land a spot on "Sesame Street". It was on "Sesame Street" that I first worked with Jim Henson.
Me: Did you have to do an audition?
Jim: Yes, I did have to audition, but the resume credit of working on "TGSC" also helped.
Me: What was the first main show you worked on, Jim?
Jim: The first television show I worked on was a local show in Pittsburgh called "The Captain Jim Show" starring Ted Eckman as Captain Jim, but the first national show I ever worked on was "The Great Space Coaster."
Me: On "TGSC" you worked with Kermit Love, who sadly passed away. Henson named Kermit the Frog after Kermit Love, right?
Jim: Actually, it is NOT true. Kermit the Frog was named before Jim ever started working with Kermit Love. Because Kermit is such an unusual name nowadays, it's easy to imagine that Jim Henson must have been inspired by Kermit Love's name, but the truth is that back in those days, Kermit was not such an unusual name.
Me: Ohhhh. Do you remember the first time you met Kermit Love?
Jim: As I said above, I was introduced to Kermit Love by Caroll Spinney on the set of "Sesame Street" in the late 1970's.
Me: Jim, where are you from and where do you live now, sir?
Jim: I grew up in a small borough on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA called Mount Oliver. When I grew up, I moved out of the borough and into the big city of Pittsburgh. I have worked all over, including NY and LA, but have always maintained my home in Pittsburgh. It's a great city!
Me: Okay, let's talk about "TGSC", and we'll go back to the Muppets in a bit. You co-created the show with Kermit, Jim, how did you two come up with the concept?
Jim: I'm not sure how this bit of misinformation got out there. Neither Kermit nor myself had anything to do with the creation of the show. We simply worked on it. The show was created by Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal who had a company called Sunbow Productions. They had started out doing animated commercials for "GI Joe", "My Little Pony", and other Hasbro toys. This evolved into them doing full animated cartoons these products and more. Wanting to use characters they created themselves, they came up with "The Great Space Coaster". It was sponsored by Hasbro and Kelloggs and the show was often aired in the early morning hours as kids were getting ready for school. Keep in mind, this was the 1980s, and cable television was just emerging.
Me: Who owns the show now? Do you own the characters at least?
Jim: It's one of the heart-breaking aspects on being a puppeteer on a television show: you embody the character, but you never really own it. Television puppet characters are often created by a team of people (the designer who first imagines it, the builder who physically creates it, the writer who puts the words in its mouth, the puppeteer who performs the character, etc). That character is owned by the show, and you have no rights to use it outside of the show or even after the show has ended. In the past few years, I was helping out a local cartoon art museum here in Pittsburgh called the Toonseum by going to conventions and promoting the museum and tourism to Pittsburgh. It was amazing to me how many people remembered Gary Gnu and "The Great Space Coaster". People would ask for t-shirts of Gary and I would say I had no right to make them because I did not own the character. This brought up the question: who DID own the characters? After an online search, we found that TV Loonland in Germany owned the rights to the show and that they were interested in selling it. So, I ultimately bought the rights to "TGSC" some thirty years after having worked on it and it is in the keeping of a company I started called Tanslin Media. I am looking forward to pursuing all different ways that the show and its characters can be revived. A good way to keep up to date on our progress is to "like" our official facebook page: facebook.com/TheGreatSpaceCoaster.
Me: It was on for five years, which is a good time. Was it a good time? I bet you have a lot of fond memories of the show, Jim, what is the best one you have?
Jim: Just working on a show that was being seen nationally was a thrill for me! While I do have lots of fond memories, I think it was the overall impact of "TGSC" on my life that is the fondest memory of all.
Me: Where was the show filmed?
Jim: The show was shot in New York City, starting at Metromedia (channel 5) for the first season, at NBC for the second and third seasons, and at the Ed Sullivan Studios for the fourth and fifth seasons.
Me: Did you have anything to do with the casting?
Jim: No. Remember, this was my first television gig outside of Pittsburgh. Other than Kermit Love, I knew no one on the production.
Me: Let's talk about some of the characters, everyone who remembers the show remembers Gary Gnu. How did you come up with that character, Jim?
Jim: As I stated earlier, a television puppet character is often created by a team of people. I am given a script and the puppet, and my role is to bring it all to life. The first Gary Gnu puppet had a very small mouth, and since he was a No Gnewscaster, I felt he should have a sort of Walter Cronkite kind of voice and demeanor. One day, while we were shooting, the director kept asking me to perform Gary with "more energy", which was difficult to do because of the small mouth. Out of frustration, I channeled the character Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) from the movie Network (specifically, the part about "I'm as mad as hell and and I'm no going to take it anymore!") and Gary started ranting. Well, the director and producers loved it and wanted me to continue to perform Gary that way. Gary continued his rant and said he needed a bigger mouth in order to do that, and so when the second Gary was constructed, he had a much bigger mouth and the crazier, nuttier Gary was born. So Gary is essentially a mix of Walter Cronkite and Howard Beale... he could be a very sophisticated No Gnewscaster if his crew didn't constantly drive him gnuts!
Me: Was it hard to say words starting with n with a g sound? I bet that took practice.
Jim: It wasn't difficult at all, really. The only tricky part is that some words are not pronounced with the G sound (like "no" which we kept clean because changing it to "gno" seemed too confusing to kids), and that there were words that were pronounced with the G sound that didn't begin with the letter N (like "know" for instance).
Me: You also played M.T. Promises, which was a suit puppet, not a gloved puppet... correct me if I got the terms wrong. What character did you prefer to play?
Jim: M.T. Promises would be called a "full body" or "walk around" character and Gary would be considered a "Hand-in-Mouth puppet with Practical Hands" (some Hand-in-Mouth puppets have rodded hands, like Goriddle). It's hard to say which I prefer, because they are both a lot of fun but in different ways. M.T. has a lot more mobility on a set, but it is often much more difficult to see and it can get very hot inside! When performing a Hand-in-mouth puppet on television, you have a monitor to watch, so I feel I have more control over the performance because I can see exactly what my performance looks like on the screen. It's really amazing if you think of it... television puppetry is the only performing art form where a performer can do it and watch it all at the same time.
Me: I have a picture of you dressed as M.T., Jim.
Me: With all the characters you played, which one is your favorite?
Jim: That's a hard question. There are two that vie for that spot: Ben from "the Puzzle Place," and of course, Gary Gnu from "The Great Space Coaster!"
Me: Jim, I am going to be interviewing Noel McNeal. Is there anything I should I ask him?
Jim: Ask him how his character Leon from the "Puzzle Place" got his name!
Me: Okay, I'll try to remember that. Does the cast of "TGSC" keep in touch? Did you guys ever have a reunion?
Jim: The closest thing we ever had to a reunion was when a gentleman named Eric Greenberg who runs a podcast called "Just My Show" interviewed Emily Bindiger (Fran), Chris Gifford (Danny), Kevin Clash (Goriddle Gorilla) and Kenny Myles (Speed Reader) for his podcast. You can listen to it here: justmyshow.com/11-the-great-space-coaster-cast-reunion. I was unavailable on the day of the call-in, so I did a separate interview with him.
Me: Do you think they'll ever be more "TGSC" episodes made?
Jim: That is the dream! Unfortunately, television shows are costly to make, but I would certainly like to bring "TGSC" back for a modern audience!
Me: Was there ever talk of a movie?
Jim: The closest thing we ever got to a movie was "The Great Space Coaster Supershow." In general, movies are more expensive than television shows to make, so I guess it was just more economical to make one really long TV show compiled from previosuly shot episodes.
Me: "TGSC" had a lot of famous co-stars, like "The Muppet Show" did. Is there a favorite you had on the show?
Jim: Mark Hamill! If there were ever a new "TGSC", I would want him on it!
Me: Currently you work on "Sesame Street", right? What characters do you do on "Sesame Street"?
Jim: On "Sesame Street", there are a lot of background, incidental characters, like cats, chickens, talking hot dogs, etc. Those are the kinds of characters I played. Also, many characters need two puppeteers, one who performs the character's mouth and left hand (usually), and a second puppeteer who performs the right hand (this makes the characters seem more realistic rather than having a right hand that's just pinned to their body). I am often the right hand for Oscar the Grouch, so I get to perform side by side with Caroll Spinney. Because of my directing work on "The Puzzle Place", I was given the opportunity to be the first puppet performer to make the leap to director on "Sesame Street". I have directed on "Sesame Street" for more than fifteen years, now.
Me: You do Oscar when Big Bird and Oscar has to be in the same scene together, am I right? How do you do the voice?
Jim: Sometimes I do perform Oscar when Big Bird and Oscar are in the same scene. Usually, when Oscar and Big Bird are in the same scene together, Caroll will loop the voice (this means he will record the voice either before or after the show and it gets dubbed in) but another puppeteer will perform the character in the scene. I have performed Oscar on the "Sesame Street" float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but that performance is lip-synched to a taped recording.
Me: Hey, did you work on "The Muppets Go to Walt Disney World"?
Jim: Yes, I did!
Me: I have to tell you a story. I was working in custodial at Epcot at the time... I am currently at Star Tours in the Hollywood Studios... I have been at Disney for 25 years. Anyway, they were filming the Muppets Disney special and Jim Henson approached me and asked if they could use a trash can and if I would drag it to the top of the hill. I took the liner out, and did drag it to the top of the hill by the old Wonders of Life building. They filmed the scene with Gonzo and Camilla looking into the trash can and Jim said I can put the trash can back. That is one of my favorite stories in my 25 years at Disney. Anyway, were you there when all this happened?
Jim: Though I don't remember this trash can event, I was there when they filmed the show! As you might recall, the park was open and guests could watch the shooting from a close distance. It was wonderful for me to watch Jim Henson complete a take and when he had a moment talk to the guests who had gathered to watch. It always amazed me the brilliance of Jim Henson to be able to perform, direct and produce all at the same time, and still have the presence of mind to be conscious of his fans, to whom he was always kind and gracious.
Me: Yeah, it was crazy they were filming around the guests. Not long after that Jim passed away. Where were you and how did you find out he passed?
Jim: We all knew that Jim was very ill on the night he passed, and many of us were home praying for him when we heard the news.
Me: Did you go to his funeral?
Jim: Yes, I was there.
Me: I remember they did a TV special which was a tribute to Henson. Were you a part of that?
Jim: No, I was not.
Me: I bet it was hard for everyone. I remember the Muppets reading actual letters from fans, and I remember crying. I watched in on YouTube and still cried.
Jim: It was very touching and a wonderful tribute to such an incredible person.
Me: Do you watch those old shows?
Jim: Yes, I do still watch old episodes of Jim's work like "The Muppet Show", and I especially like to watch his appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. When I teach, I love using Jim's early work to illustrate many of the aspects of television puppetry and to impress them with Jim Henson's creative genius.
Me: Did you see The Muppets, the recent movie? What did you think?
Jim: Actually, I haven't seen the new movie yet. Every time I think of watching it, I somehow always end up watching the original "Muppet Movie" instead.
Me: Alright, let's talk about the preservation of "TGSC"... you are trying to save the episodes, right? Can you tell us what's going on?
Jim: As I previously stated, I recently purchased the rights to "TGSC". Along with those rights, I inherited more than a 1,000 large and heavy video reels of the episodes. These may be the last existing copies of the shows, short of people who may have VHS copies that they taped off the air. The reels I have are labeled only with a number and a date, and there are no logs to explain what is on each episode (if there were, I would go straight to preserving the ones with Mark Hamill!). You know how fast technology moves along... just think of how short of a time it takes for your computer or cell phone to become antiquated. Now imagine... these are 30 year old tapes... the television industry has moved WAY beyond them. It is difficult to even find the right machines to play these tapes anymore. We have found a company locally called The Media Preserve which can take the tapes and digitize them for storage on a hard drive. Unfortunately, the process is very expensive... it costs about $200 for every half hour or so. We did an Indiegogo fundraiser and raised $3500. For that amount, the Media Preserve was able to transfer about 20 episodes for us. There are 250 episodes in all... unfortunately, some have been lost as we do not have reels for them. The other unfortunate thing is that due to licensing fees, performance and music rights, and union restrictions, we cannot legally distribute or post these episodes. We are still looking for ways that we can get these episodes into a place where fans can watch them.
Me: Is there a website so readers could pledge?
Jim: We hope to do another Indiegogo fundraiser this year. The best way to keep up to date on it is to follow our Facebook page: facebook.com/TheGreatSpaceCoaster. There are several different Facebook pages out there that fans have made over the years, so be sure that you are on the official page: our avatar is the "TGSC" drum logo, and the picture on the top of the page has just me and Gary Gnu.
Me: There's 250 episodes you said, so how much money has to be raised?
Jim: A lot! Some episodes are on 2" video, and some are on 1" Type C video, so the cost varies from episode to episode.
Me: Man, I wish I can just pay for it all to be done in one go. It'll be hard to explain to my wife. How is it going so far?
Jim: It's slow going, because in the meantime I am working on other projects that take up a lot of my time. Our focus right now is on getting the Facebook like numbers up in the hopes that it will make networks take more notice of the show.
Me: Are any of the episodes on VHS or DVD?
Jim: "The Supershow" was the only video ever released on VHS. Some people have posted VHS copies they have of episodes they recorded off the air on YouTube. Like I said previously, we are looking for ways that we can legally share copies of the show with the fans.
Me: Jim, I know you are trying to save the episodes, but what about the puppets, and costumes? How are they? Are they well preserved?
Jim: When we purchased the rights, we got the tapes and a cardboard box. The box contained some promotional materials and that's about it. The puppets are long gone... even if they survived the dumpster, they were made out of foam, which deteriorates over time. In the puppet world, we call it "turning to toast" as the foam turns a toasty brown color and just crumbles away. Remember this show is over 30 years old. Television puppets just don't last that long...
Me: Jim, did you ever see "The Family Guy" when they did the spoof of "TGSC"? What did you think?
Jim: I only saw the portion of the episode that pertained to "TGSC"... someone posted a wonderful YouTube clip that compares the original opening and "The Family Guy" opening side by side. It is wonderfully done! Check it out here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNFCzFZxR4E. I feel very honored that "The Family Guy" chose to pay an homage to a show I worked on so many years ago. It's great to be remembered! And their reference to the fish skeleton cracked me up!
Me: Alright, so, this year, which is the 7th year for this blog and the fifth since I started doing the interviews, I am asking random questions, Jim. Which temptation do you try the hardest to resist?
Jim: LEGOs. I love LEGOs. I find it very hard to resist them!
Me: You and my son would get along great then. Jim, I was watching a clip of the show on YouTube and there's this one scene where you are called Yo-Yo and there's you... with a close up. I have a picture of that close up here.
Me: Have you appeared in front of the camera as yourself often?
Jim: Yo-Yo wishes he could remember doing it. After all, your honor, it was 30 plus years ago! LOL. I have been on camera but not "often". Just little bits here and there. On "Sesame Street", many of the Puppet Performers, including myself, have appeared as background characters from time to time. Little know fact, while we were taping "TGSC" at 30 Rock, NBC, I was also working on "Captain Kangaroo". The costume designer for "Captain Kangaroo" worked on "Saturday Night Live". He got me in as an extra on "SNL". Many times I was a background character in a restaurant, movie line and other group scenes. When we worked on Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles 3, there was a whole scene that included the Animatronic Puppeteers (Rick Lyon, Gord Robertson, Noel MacNeal and myself). Unfortunately, I was only seen by the cutting room floor!
Me: Man, there's so much I wanna ask you... the Turtles movie, more Muppet questions, more "TGSC" questions. You have to come back again, Jim, when you start the pledge campaign up again. Okay, give all the websites, Facebook and everything you have got, Jim. I hope this was fun, and I have a million more questions for you, so please come back soon. I hope to do TGSC Month next year as well. We'll keep it alive, my friend.
Jim: Here are my pertinent websites: first and foremost, please "like" us: facebook.com/TheGreatSpaceCoaster and I have a temporary website for Tanslin Media at tanslinmedia.com and if you would like to check out some photos of shows I've worked on, go to the Photo Gallery section of my resume page: jimmartinproductions.com. Also, be sure to check out the original fan site tgscoaster.com run by super-fan Scott Hoy who has put a lot of hard work and dedication into creating a wonderful "TGSC" site!
Me: Take care, good luck, and "TGSC" Forever!
Jim: Thanks so much, Jason! Thanks for keeping "TGSC" alive! Good Luck to you and the Phile!
What a great interview. Man, I have soooo many more questions to ask Jim. Okay, that about does it for this entry. Thanks to Jim Mello and Jim Martin, and to Tanslin Media. Wednesday I go in to have my kidney stone removed, so wish me luck on that. The Phile will be back next Monday with John Lovelady from "The Great Space Coaster". On Sunday hopefully I will be at MegaCon, unless I get hit by an asteroid or something. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye. Strawberry Blondes and The Great Space Coaster Forever!