Long before moving onto Sesame Street, Jim Henson took a gig for the Bell System, the company which would eventually become AT&T. He was hired to create a robot that would walk small business owners through new technologies—and this newly discovered footage shows the fruit of Henson’s labors.
This short was buried in the AT&T Archives for decades and was recently unearthed and verified by folks over at the Henson Archives. According to AT&T:
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. … 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.
It definitely shows off Henson’s wit and even though the robot looks beyond primitive, it still has recognizable character. And those wide-set eyes and squat stature definitely bring Pixar’s WALL-E to mind.