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American Cinematographer

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Rowlf and John Denver in a plane02:08

Rowlf and John Denver in a plane

Video: the flying sequence.

American Cinematographer is a monthly magazine published since 1920 focusing on the art and craft of cinematography.

The March 1983 issue featured an article by David H. Huie titled "John Denver, Rowlf & Ikegami Take to the Air" detailing the filming of the flying sequence in Rocky Mountain Holiday.

The majority of the article covers technical details on the types of cameras and rigging used for the shoot, and describes preparing the plane whose occupants included John Denver, pilot, and Jim Henson, performing Rowlf the Dog.

We needed two camera angles on the bi-plane, a forward and reverse view, which would later aid the editor in the cutting room. This also meant the maneuver had to be performed twice. Then the same maneuvers had to be performed a third time, this time with Jim Henson securely tied to the floor of the plane underneath Rowlf so that we could get some flying Muppet action shots.

Huie also describes some technical difficulty that placed Denver and Henson in danger during the flight:

The crew being in contact with the airport tower heard all radio communication. After about 30 minutes we heard an emergency priority landing request from Denver which actually stopped my heart for a second. We didn't know what was wrong but he was in trouble! Straining our eyes we could barely make out his small plane above the tree tops. He made a very unusual approach to the landing strip, slow and low, the plane slammed down once, twice, then three times, landing hard onto the runway and jarring the plane violently. I was sure my goose was cooked! He taxied up just like he left, with a smile and said his throttle linkage had broken and left him with no power, a dead stick landing. Luckily, John had been trained well by his father.

The scene was included in the special when broadcast on TV, but was cut from the 2003 DVD release.

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