As many Jim Henson fans know, before he got big with The Muppets, he spent several years bringing his puppeteering skills to the small screen through TV commercials. We’ve seen a lot of the great food based commercials that he’s done, but now we are getting a rare chance to see a classic commercial he did back in 1963 where he has a robot puppet explain data communications.
Here’s the official info:
Jim Henson made this film in 1963 for The Bell System. Specifically, it was made for an elite seminar given for business owners, on the then-brand-new topic — Data Communications. The seminar itself involved a lot of films and multimedia presentations, and took place in Chicago. A lengthy description of the planning of the Bell Data Communications Seminar — sans a mention of the Henson involvement — is on the blog of Inpro co-founder Jack Byrne. It later was renamed the Bell Business Communications Seminar.
The organizers of the seminar, Inpro, actually set the tone for the film in a three-page memo from one of Inpro’s principals, Ted Mills to Henson. Mills outlined the nascent, but growing relationship between man and machine: a relationship not without tension and resentment: “He [the robot] is sure that All Men Basically Want to Play Golf, and not run businesses — if he can do it better.” (Mills also later designed the ride for the Bell System at the 1964 World’s Fair.) Henson’s execution is not only true to Mills’ vision, but he also puts his own unique, irreverent spin on the material.
The robot narrator used in this film had previously starred in a skit for a food fair in Germany (video is silent), in 1961. It also may be the same robot that appeared on the Mike Douglas Show in 1966. Henson created a different — but similar — robot for the SKF Industries pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair.
This film was found in the AT&T Archives. Thanks go to Karen Falk of the Henson Archives for providing help and supporting documentation to prove that it was, indeed, a Henson production..
Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ