After briefly working as a puppeteer and builder for The Howdy Doody Show then working on stop-motion films (including projects with George Pal), Don Sahlin began working with Jim Henson in 1962. Henson hired Sahlin to create a Muppet of a dog character, Rowlf, for Purina Dog Chow commercials. Rowlf when onto become the singer’s side-kick during the four-year run of The Jimmy Dean TV show. Sahlin became Jim Henson’s primary designer and builder. Henson credited Sahlin with creating the distinctive Muppet “look.”
In addition to working on the Muppets, Sahlin provided special and visual effects for Henson’s Oscar-nominated short film from 1965, “Time Piece.”
At about seven minutes and 30 seconds into “Time Piece” (about one minute and ten seconds into the above clip from the film), you see a small rocket launched.
The rocket and its launch pad may have looked familiar to readers of Estes’s Model Rocket News.
In the June, 1965, issue of MRN, Don Sahlin is listed of the winner of the recent photo contest.
Don’s winning photo entry shows the rocket from the film sitting its the launch pad. The photo is accompanied by stills of the rocket in flight which are apparently from the 16mm film used in “Time Piece.” The above photo also appeared in the 1967 edition of G. Harry Stine’s Handbook of Model Rocketry.
Don’s passion for model rocketry preceded the making of the rocket used in “Time Piece.”
G.Harry Stine’s column in the August, 1962, issue of American Modeler Magazine includes a photograph of a three-stage rocket built and photographed by Sahlin as well as a photo of Sahlin preparing a rocket for launch.
Centuri’s American Rocketeer (Volume 2, Number 1), published in 1967, included a one-page article with photos about Don Sahlin, the “TV & Movie Puppeteer” that “Turns on Rockets.”
Sahlin died in 1978. He left not only a legacy through his contributions to the Muppets, but through his affection for model rocketry. The New Yorker’s August 16, 1993, article “Looking Out for Kermit,” published a few years after the death of Jim Henson, discussed how Jim Henson had encouraged creativity in his children. Interviewed for the article, Jim Henson’s son, Brian, recalls how, as a child, he “enjoyed building puppets and props,” and how “he also helped Sahlin assemble enormous model rockets.”