The oldest of two, grew up in Mount Oliver Burough (surrounded by Pittsburgh, PA) in a very supportive, creative and patient household where wacky ideas became the norm and everyone helped out with the backyard magic and puppet shows. His mother and grandmother taught him how to sew and make costumes, while his father and grandfather taught him how to use power tools to make whatever the show required. Jim learned a great deal from these experiences and would use these skills through out his career.
Jim made his first puppets when his was in grade two, paper mache Punch and Judy traditional hand puppets. This was the first toy that he had encountered that he could role-play with. Unlike today there were no G.I. Joe or Star Wars action figures back then, that would allow young boys to enter into a world of role-playing and make believe. For Jim it was the experience of building and playing with the Punch and Judy puppets that allowed him to enter that world, and at the same time the puppeteering bug bit him. Jim first started performing in his grandmother’s backyard doing magic and puppet shows for the neighborhood children when he was about nine or ten years old. He continued to develop his puppetering, acting and drama skills throughout High School. While attending Point Park College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jim would get his first experience on television, being part of a local early morning childrens show called The Captain Jim Show. Ironically enough Jim wasn’t Captain Jim, he played the part of a clown who taught exercises and also got the opportunity to perform with a number of his own puppets. This experience would give Jim the confidence to pursue acting and puppeteering, especially with the support and mentoring of Ted Eckman (Capt’n Jim) and the show’s director Mike Andrews.
After graduating from Point Park College with a Bachelors Degree in Directing and Acting, Jim founded the Pittsburgh Puppet Theater for the City of Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation Department, where he would perform, direct and write for 7 years. He also was involved in a number of local Pittsburgh television programs including “The Most Important Person” and “Adventure Time” with Joe Negri of Mister Rogers’ fame. Jim’s big break came when he met Carroll Spinney (Famed Muppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch) when Carroll was doing a personal appearance in Pittsburgh. He saw Jim’s work and introduced him to Kermit Love (Famed Muppet designer and future creator of the Great Space Coaster puppets). Love recommended Jim to the producers of a new children’s show called the Great Space Coaster. Jim auditioned for all of the characters on the show. The producers with Love’s input cast the show and Jim landed the roles of Gary GNU, M.T. Promises and later on Baffle.
The Great Space Coaster lasted for five years and in Jim’s own Words It was an incredible run! For a children’s television show, five years is UNBELIEVABLE. And though it has disappeared from television, it has not disappeared from the hearts of its viewers.” Jim to this day is still asked about the show and is amazed at the impact the Great Space Coaster has had on so many people growing up in the early 80’s, and the warm memories that so many people have of it. He’s very appreciative of all the stories that people have told him about their memories and love for the show. Jim from time to time still sees cast and crew from the show, most notably Kevin Clash (Goriddle), Pam Arciero (the Huggles) and Noel MacNeal (Knock-Knock) through Jim’s work as a director and muppeteer on Sesame Street and Elmo’s World.
Jim is proud of all of his work, and really doesn’t have a favourite show or project; he just falls in love with and is most proud of whatever character\show he happens to be performing on at the time. However since the Great Space Coaster was his first national job, it will always have very special meaning to him. When it comes to his own characters there are two that stand out from the rest as favourites: Ben Olafson from The Puzzle Place because as an actor, he was the most real and had the most heart and soul. And Gary Gnu from The Great Space Coaster because “he was the most outrageous and insane character I’ve ever played”. Jim has won a number of awards for his work in front of and behind the camera including the Telly Award for a Non-Broadcast video, the New York Broadcaster’s award two years in a row for producing, performing and writing the DJ Kat show, and three Emmy awards for Directing on Sesame Street. He was also a part of the Peabody award winning The Great Space Coaster episodes. Believe it or not Jim was unaware of this last honour and only found out when he read about it on TGSCoaster.com and was blown away when he found out that he was a part of television history.
Although The Great Space Coaster will always have a special meaning to Jim, he considers working for the Jim Henson Company and having the opportunity to stand beside Jim Henson and right-hand Ernie on Sesame Street to be his career highlight.
Jim’s thoughts on Jim Henson
Jim Henson is truly an icon of television. His creativity, style, and humor was (and is) timeless. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have not only met him, but to have watched him work and to have learned from him. He changed the look of television puppetry, and earned puppets a higher professional respect.
Jim has had a number of mentors in the business who have helped him throughout his career, most notably Carroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch), Kermit Love (Famed Muppet Designer), and John Lovelady (Edison and Knock Knock). Like anyone Jim has a number of favourite puppets\muppets outside of his own characters. He most enjoys any puppet\muppet performed by Carroll Spinney (Big Bird, Oscar The Grouch) or Jerry Nelson (Kermit’s Nephew Robin, Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Mumford the Magician, The Count).
Jim is currently involved in a number of different projects as a performer, director, and writer for both live theater and television shows. Most notably Jim currently works on Sesame Street and Elmo’s World as a muppeteer and director.
Now here are Jim’s thoughts and comments on the cast of “The Great Space Coaster”
Chris Gifford – Talented actor and great drummer!
Emily Bindiger- the most incredible female singer I have ever worked with.
Ray Stephens- the most incredible male singer I have ever worked with, and loving friend, I miss him very much.
Kevin Clash- Nonstop actor!
Francis Kane- a true Bohemian! Focused, talented, and plays a mean penny-whistle!
John Lovelady- Extremely talented producer, performer, and Mentor. I would have never been able to do the Great Space Coaster without John Lovelady.
Pam Arciero- How did she perform two puppets at once? Funny, talented, and creative performer.
Noel Macneal- The Best of the Best
Ken Myles- Very talented comedian
Goriddle- He did it his way!
Baxtor- Sweet, sincere, stunt double for the Pillsbury Dough Boy (just kidding!)
Puffy- Kind of scruffy
Scruffy- Very fluffy
Fluffy- Sort of puffy (I could never keep them straight!!)
Speed Reader- My hero!
Edison- A blue Buddha
Knock Knock- A grande-damme
Baffle- Minipookatinki! That means, “Why are there gumdrops on my head?”
Gary Gnu- My inner self then.
MT- My inner self now (no, not really!)
And finally Jim Martin- someone always searching for the answer.