Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jim Henson: The Biography

I finished Jim Henson: The Biography this morning, and highly recommend it. Author Brian Jay Jones has done a superlative job of researching and writing about Henson's life, and there are many fascinating things to be learned in the book. I was especially surprised and pleased with the many insightful quotes from Richard Hunt, who died only two years after Jim. Jones was able to draw from an unpublished interview Hunt gave in his final years.

It's sobering to realize that of the early Muppets crew, only Frank Oz is still alive. Jane Henson, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, Don Sahlin — all gone. It's wonderful that Jones was able to interview Henson and Nelson for the book; it was written "just in the nick of time", so to speak.

Jones quotes most, but not all, of Jocelyn Stevenson's beautiful words from her speech at the London memorial service for Jim, which were published in It's Not Easy Being Green, and Other Things to Consider.
Here's the rest of that quote:
He changed our lives. He changed the world. And we'll continue his work, because that's how inspiration operates. People die, but inspiration lives and grows. Inspired by his gentleness, we'll fill the world with gentleness. Inspired by his vision, we'll fill the world with vision. Inspired by his chicken imitation, we'll fill the world with laughter.

Thanks, Jocelyn. Thanks, Brian. And thanks, Jim.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I have a bunch of videotapes of old theatrical performances I've done. I've transferred most of them to DVD. But the existence of such recordings is problematic...There aren't really supposed to be recordings of theatrical productions, except (I believe) those made strictly for the theatre's own archival purposes. There are all sorts of problems with union rules and copyright restrictions.Yet for a while there, it seemed that every show I did was videotaped, and the cast was offered copies.

Then there's the problem of sharing them with others...because after all it's not just your performance you're sharing, it's everyone else's too. And it might have been a bad night for them, or they might just rather forget about the whole thing. So I've pretty much refrained from posting anything online.

I made an exception though with Forbidden Broadway, since there are lots of solo numbers in there, and I could post chunks of my own performance without anyone else's being included. that is.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Scrambled Abbreviations

I love animating Laurie Keller's work. I've done two of her books for Weston Woods, plus a video for Ralph's World that utilized her characters, plus the book trailer for her latest Arnie the Doughnut book.

I also love rewarding an audience for sitting through a film's credits. So I took a hilarious bit from the endpapers of The Scrambled States of America Talent Show and animated it underneath that Weston Woods film's credits. Here's the sequence, shorn of the credits:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Harper Lee Ever After

Probably the best present I ever got my wife was a personalized, autographed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, signed by Harper Lee herself. It's the 35th Anniversary edition, and there are a lot of autographed copies of that edition going around. People now seem to be asking a minimum of $600 for one.

First, I do believe these copies to be authentic. Why are there so many? Here's why:

Back in early 1998 I noticed a lot of copies appearing on eBay, usually for around $150. I contacted one seller, asking where they got it, and why there were so many. They kindly explained that two bookstores in Monroeville AL, Beeland's and Magnolia Cottage, were selling them. Harper Lee was spending a lot of time in Monroeville caring for her sick sister, and she had agreed to come in to the stores periodically and sign copies of the book for people to order.

I contacted Beeland's, confirmed this story, and was shocked when they said they were selling them for (if I remember correctly) $21, only $3 more than the cover price of the book. I asked for one, personalized for my wife, and sure enough it arrived promptly.

So, either two bookstores in Harper Lee's own hometown were running a wide but very low profit scam, or it's real. The signature certainly looks authentic, compared to those I can find on the Internet.

But this apparently didn't last long. Laura and I visited Beeland's on our "babymoon" in 2000, and they said that when Harper Lee got word of copies being sold on eBay for exorbitant prices, she quit signing them. So I got very lucky with the timing, I suppose.

The inscription, in blue pen, says:

Merry Christmas, Laura!
Harper Lee

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tick-Tock Sick/The Countryside

It's not really known why Jim Henson recorded two songs and released a single in 1960. But here it is!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wormwood Forest

Wormwood Forest was a WSM radio show written by (and starring) Nashville puppeteer Tom Tichenor. I've got some old recordings of shows on my webpage here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Jon Stewart Show

As insomniacs may remember, Jon Stewart had his own late night syndicated show before becoming anchor of Comedy Central's The Daily Show. At the behest of staff writer Tom Hertz, Brian Maffitt and I created animations for a segment called "New Screen Savers". The segment was such a hit that we did a follow-up later in the season. Here's my webpage, with clips!

Monday, September 9, 2013 far

I made it! It's my birthday! It's 2013. It's now.

This is my 18,263rd day to be alive. In case you were counting.

So, what's happened in this year, thus far? Some neat stuff:

I finished I Want My Hat Back.

I contributed animation and title screens to String City, a show sponsored by the Country Music Hall of Fame (and Museum!), the Nashville Public Library Foundation, and Wishing Chair Productions. Very fun project.

I've done a bunch of smaller animation projects, including a book trailer for Laurie Keller's new Arnie the Doughnut book. (I also got to voice Arnie!)

I recorded the role of Doctor Dozous for a musical about Bernadette of Lourdes, written by Brian Hull and Sarah Hart.

We had a big screening of eight of my Weston Woods films at the Belcourt Theatre here in Nashville. It was almost sold out! This included the world premiere of I Want My Hat Back. Wonderful to see the films looking so fantastic on the big screen, and for such a large and appreciative audience.

We completed the first scene of Cosmo Kimball and the Perfect Hat, as a tool to get funding to finish the rest of the project.

And Laura and Burton have hardly been idle either! Laura has opened Whites Creek Flower Farm, with beautiful results. And Burton shot a zombie movie with his friends, which is still being edited! We're hoping for a Halloween release.

Our cat Dash died...that's been the only downer. That makes our running total, as I type, 6 cats (Keypot, Petunia, Indy, Shadow, Mary, and Sparta), 2 dogs (Cornelia and Missy), and 2 goats (Buddy and Milo).

And so, that's the first two thirds of this year! What's going to happen in the remaining third? I have my hopes and wishes...but who knows?

It's been an interesting experience trudging back through my life like this. Doing a year a day is kind of like living your life all over again, at 1:365 scale. I know that I began my life being so lucky to have such generous and supportive parents. My father continues this, to this day. I can take only slightly more credit for having the great fortune to marry Laura. And together, we've helped make Burton the awesome 13 year old that he is.

I have had a wonderful life thus far, and am so fortunate to have been in a situation that I could try to do what I wanted with my life. I pledge to try to be even more productive in the years to come, and to try "to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here", as someone once said.

Help keep me on track, okay?

Sunday, September 8, 2013


2012? Heck, that was just last year. This shouldn't be too hard...

Well, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend got finished up. And I'm Fast! largely got done in 2012, since we were only beginning it at the end of 2011.

For the SSMAF DVD, we did a special feature, The Making of Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend. It was great to be able to "play Walt Disney" and demonstrate exactly how the films get made!

The same day we shot that special feature, I also shot some bits for the NPT 50th Anniversary Special. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to that, since the shows on NPT were a huge influence on my childhood.

Another nice puppetry gig: For Everywhere Fun Fair, I performed a beautiful bird puppet, built by Scotty Shoemaker. Great to work again with the good folks at Gemini Production Group.

We got another dog, named Missy.

We saw Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band's concert on July 7th, Ringo's birthday! Our "live Beatle" count was now up to 2, which is where it is going to have to stay.

I turned 49. Burton turned 12. And Laura turned into a flower farmer! The prep work for Whites Creek Flower Farm began this year.

I went to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, where I got to actually meet Laurie Keller and Ralph Covert in person! Our My Magic Trick video screened there, as did All the World, so it was great to hang out with Ralph and Laurie and Scott Mack. Good times.

Immediately after that, I met Jon Klassen here in Nashville, as I was starting production on a film of I Want My Hat Back with Weston Woods. It was great to have so much input from the author/illustrator at this early stage of the game.

The app idea I began at the end of 2011 turned into Cosmo Kimball and the Perfect Hat. I found a fantastic illustrator named David Vordtriede to do the art, and we were able to begin to figure out what the world of Cosmo Kimball would look like.

On December 14th, I was able to throw Laura a surprise birthday party! It was a very nice affair, and many who couldn't make it were able to send video greetings to Laura, which I edited together for her.

It was a calmer year than the last few. But that's not so bad.


Saturday, September 7, 2013


For the third year in a row, something bad happened in January. My college friend John Dye passed away in San Francisco. The last time I had seen him was at the MSU reunion in 2001. This hurt. It still hurts. There's a lot I don't understand, and never can. We were thick as thieves in college, as I've written about before in this 50-year, navel-gazing travelogue. He had no computer, nor any interest in having one, but I sure do wish I had kept in touch with him better, through other means.

His brother Jerre asked me to sing at the memorial service in Tupelo. I picked "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin, which was John's audition song back in college. Kermit Medsker played the song for me, just as he had for John all those many years ago.

In April, my favorite cat Jack died, hit by a car. We got a new kitten, Sparta.

Lots of work. We finished Scaredy Squirrel and All the World. By the end of the year, we were working on Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend and just gearing up on I'm Fast!. I also did ten spots for Kroger, which were shown on the Jumbotron at Titans football games. There were some smaller animation projects too; I did some animation for a shadow puppet piece for Brian Hull, and a motion comic music video for Trace Adkins.

I went to two reunions: My 30th high school reunion and a 20-year reunion for the Beauty and the Beast show at Disney World.

There were also some puppetry gigs: A little more for the Quaver project, some promo appearances with the Brown Chicken Brown Cow puppets for Trace Adkins, and a fish character for Operation Overboard.

We took a trip to Chicago in the summer, so Burton could go to Brickworld, a Lego convention there.

We got our Honda Element.

I turned 48.

Towards the end of the year, I start to work out an idea for an interactive app.

And that was 2011.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend's life also, in our own, to the world. — Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 6, 2013


2010: Wow, I cannot believe everything that happened this year. Insane. A great, great year.

But it started badly: Laura broke her right heel showing Burton how safe it was to sled down the slope in our backyard. This is while I was going in to Magnetic Dreams to work on Iron Man: Extremis. So I became our family's sole driver while she recuperated.

After that project wrapped, MD began work on a Thor & Loki motion comic. I only worked on the first episode of that, since I began to have two more Weston Woods films to do: Scaredy Squirrel and All the World. Work on those lasted through the year.

My friends at the Nashville Public Library and I made a whirlwind trip to Atlanta to do a video puppetry workshop with Steve Whitmire.

I did a great number of animations for Quaver's Marvelous World of Music, those also lasting throughout the year. Plus, there was just a little bit more puppeteering of Beethoven too.

I created Astaire Unwound, my deconstruction of Fred Astaire's ceiling dance, and one of my most popular YouTube uploads!

I did a fun music video for Ralph's World, to the tune of My Magic Trick. Great to animate Laurie Keller's art again!

This year I seemed to see just how many times I could go to Memphis! The answer was: four. All were happy occasions: A celebration of retiring MSU professors Gloria Baxter and Susan Chrietzberg; a performance by Voices of the South; a Nicholas Nickleby 25th anniversary reunion; and finally, seeing Barry Fuller in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Memphis.

But was all that enough? Oh, perish the thought! I'm Dirty! got accepted in the London Film Festival in October, and we three Fotts took that as an excuse to go there ourselves! So we saw the festival, Abbey Road, Shakespeare's Globe, the Tower, the Don Sahlin/Jim Henson bench at Hampstead Heath, the Natural History Museum, Hamlet, and Hamley's. But maybe best of all was the day we spent at Ashdown Forest, site of the Pooh stories. We took some sticks from Dorothy Ann Russo's farm with us, and dropped them off the Poohsticks Bridge. This required an immense amount of walking, but Laura was an incredible trouper.

Oh yes: And somewhere in there, I turned 47. Burton turned 10. And Laura turned...her sled toward a tree? Something like that.

Great year.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


2009 got off to a sad start. Dorothy Ann Russo, my "adopted grandmother", who has been with me throughout this 50-day journey through time I'm writing, died in January. She was always some sort of reference point, a touchstone, that I could come back to. I read the end of The House at Pooh Corner at her memorial. We adopted her cat Mary.

What's next? Another memorial. Keith Kennedy, chairman of the MSU theatre department, died. At the memorial, Tim Greeson, Kermit Medsker, and I did a song from Strider, which Keith directed.

I was busy for much of this year wrapping up The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon and The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. The latter was a particularly time-consuming affair. A nearly 20 minute film, which I did completely by myself. Over 60 characters. I remember losing a lot of sleep.

At some point, we got goats, Buddy and Milo. It was around this year.

Our cat Petunia had kittens! There were three: Indy, Jack, and Shadow. If there had been four, we probably would have given two away, but since there were only three we kept them all. I'm glad, because if we'd given one away it probably would have been Jack. He was a fussy kitten, but turned out to be my favorite cat since Ambrose.

I got involved with the Quaver's Marvelous World of Music project. I puppeteered the bust of Beethoven (built by Brian Hull and Co.), and also began doing a string of animations for them.

I turned 46. Burton turned 9. Laura turned heads.

At the end of the year, I started working on Magnetic Dreams' Iron Man: Extremis project. This was the first time I had to regularly "report for duty" at a location other than my own office for quite a while! But I had a great time, and feel like I made valuable contributions to the project.

That's 2009.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


2008: Another great year. But we begin with a bit of sadness: Our cat Ambrose died. Officially the Greatest Cat Ever. We got two more cats, Keypot and Petunia, to try to compensate.

I'm Dirty! and Do Unto Otters were released. I began work on The Scrambled States of America Talent Show and (at the end of the year) The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon. There were a couple of smaller animated projects as well.

More travel! I got flown up to NYC again for Adobe/PCMagazine, and Laura and Burton came too! We saw Mary Poppins, Burton's first Broadway show. Then we all went out to San Diego on a "family trip" with my Dad, Suzy Crockarell, my brother David, and Stacey. Legoland! Comic-Con! (I had a couple of films in the San Diego International Children's Film Festival there.)

We got our Prius, which we still have.

Another reason to mourn: My beloved Seaside Music Theater is no more.

Burton turned 8, and started at Abintra. I turned 45.

That was 2008.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

William "Rosko" Mercer

For a while now, I've wondered about a narrator featured in some old Sesame Street segments. Here he is doing the Queen of Six:

And he's at the beginning of the King of Eight:

And he's the voice of "Limbo" in this Scanimate film:

Thanks to a random commenter on YouTube, he's been identified! It's William "Rosko" Mercer, a prominent New York DJ. Here's more of that unmistakable voice:

All the above spots were done by Jim Henson, so Rosko must have been a favorite of his. Rosko's NYTimes obituary is here.


2007: Lots more animation.

The Librarian From the Black Lagoon and Max's Words get finished and released. I begin work on I'm Dirty! and Do Unto Otters. Also, I do another PSA through Weston Woods for the Collaborative Summer Library Program, which Brian Hull animates.

I found Bigfott Studios; Max's Words is the first film in which that name appears in the credits. Laura starts to serve as Production Manager.

I'm still writing for PC Magazine. I get flown up to NYC again to attend an Adobe conference. While there, I see the revival of Company and Spring Awakening.

I travel to the wonderful Platform Animation Festival in Portland, Oregon. Librarian is screened at the festival.

Burton turns 7 and enters first grade.

I turn 44.

Our cat Camilla dies. We get a kitten, and Burton names her Dash.

We shoot a third season of the DVD series Live BIG. Bongo the Parrot squawks again!

Life is good, you know? Laura really likes Nashville. She makes jewelry. Burton's doing great; he's very tall, and happy. I'm very busy.

Life is good. 2007.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mickey Mouse Mystery Solved

Over on my site, I created a webpage devoted to trying to solve a mystery. The mystery was, essentially, who animated a classic sequence of Mickey Mouse dancing, and when, and why? I own a drawing from the sequence, so I had a vested interest. Rather than recount the whole story, I will just link to my original webpage here, which I had a good time putting together.

In April of 2011, I found out the answer to the mystery. Amid Amidi contacted me, asking for a scan of my drawing so that he could include it in his upcoming biography of Ward Kimball. At that time, Amid told me he had discovered that Ward Kimball did indeed animate the sequence, for 1941's The Reluctant Dragon. In John Canemaker's book Nine Old Men, on page 104, there are some storyboards that show how the sequence was going to be integrated into the film.

Disney cut the sequence from the film...and about 70 years later, they suppressed Amid's book. But I'm glad at least to know that I was correct about both the animator and the year. And, that I own a Kimball original!


2006: A year full of animation work, and travel.

In February, I began work on The Librarian From the Black Lagoon. A very different film from Roberto, this one needed hand-drawn animation. So I had to figure out how to do that! It required drawing (no pun intended) on the talents of many friends and colleagues, scattered about over the continent. Huge portions of the film were animated by Micah Baker and Brian Hull. Work continued on the film almost throughout all of 2006.

Through the great folks at Magnetic Dreams, I did a segment for the Sesame Street Christmas Carol DVD. Scotty Shoemaker created the art for this.

Through the great folks at Weston Woods, Jerry and I wrote and co-directed a PSA for the Collaborative Summer Library Program, featuring Paul Giamatti. And in August, we began work on another Weston Woods film, Max's Words.

Roberto started appearing in film festivals, and I went to several. It was in the Nashville Film Festival, but that wasn't hard. I also went to festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

In the puppetry world, we shot another season of Live BIG.

I continued to write for PC Magazine.

Burton turned 6. I turned 43. Life was good!


Sunday, September 1, 2013


2005. This long and rambling story of my life is beginning to turn into the life that I recognize now.

Early in the year, I was flown up to NYC to attend an Adobe workshop, because I was reviewing Adobe's Creative Suite for PC Magazine. I also got to attend a Henson party at their new workshop, and I saw Avenue Q. Later this year I was named a contributing editor to PC Magazine.

I continued to write books with Deke McClelland.

We bought a house in Whites Creek, the house I'm currently sitting in as I write this. We got Cornelia our dog, still with us.

The big news was that I was working on Roberto the Insect Architect for the majority of this year. Laura's sister Linda helped enormously with the Photoshop work. Roberto was released this year, making that trip up to Vancouver seem like it had a point to it!

Burton turned 5. I turned 42.

I also got cast in 1776 this year at Tennessee Rep. My first show in 8 years. I missed a few early rehearsals though to attend my brother's wedding to Stacey in Las Vegas!

It was back to Guatemala yet again for the Coca-Cola Polar Bear for Henson. And I picked up a local video puppetry gig too, with the Live BIG video series.

Another incredibly busy year. And a great one.