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Jim Henson: The biography

Biography by Brian Jay Jones

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The irrepressible optimist meets the unstoppable force

  • Jan 14, 2014
Jim Henson, in Jones's biography, is an incurable optimist.  He loves his work, enjoys his coworkers (says long-term Muppeteer partner and friend Frank Oz, Henson was an "extraordinary appreciator"), and always looks for the best in his relationships and the world around him.  On the other side he faced the unstoppable force of time, a feeling which Jones traces to the early tragic death of his beloved older brother; Henson worked hard with seemingly desperate energy at multiple projects in New York, London, Toronto, and California.

Was it premonition?  Sadly, Henson died still fully engaged in his company (including negotiations with Disney to take over the business) at only age 53.  Jones's biography, like Henson's life, ends abruptly.  Up to then, Jones covers the subject with the completeness afforded by intimate access to the still-fresh memories of family, friends, co-workers, and company archives.  While one measure of the success and celebrity of Henson is that we all feel we have some claim to know him because of hours watching his creative output on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Jones is able to uncover fascinating new back story to the man and his Muppets.  For instance,

  • The name itself dates back to 1954 when the teenaged Henson was already using hand puppets to perform local TV skits in Washington, DC.
  • Muppets, Inc was formed in 1958 by Jim and puppeting partner Jane.  It would be several years and broken engagements by both before the relationship became romantic and resulted in marriage and five kids.
  • The company was keep financially afloat  by commercials for most of its early years.
  • Kermit was neither green nor a frog when first designed or voiced.
  • Henson was a devoted and loving father.  There is no "Mommie Dearest" revelation here, although we learn that Jim and Jane were legally separated the last few years of his life, we also learn that they remained friends and partnered in parenting.

In the end even though there were failures (TV executives took years to accept that Muppets were more than just a kid's entertainment, non-Muppet content like The Dark Crystal was often overlooked or misunderstood) the story of Jim Henson and his art is as uplifting and wholesome and inspiring as I hoped it would be.  If you can't admit to liking a particular Muppet or show (The Muppets Christmas Carol is my favorite version and one of my all time favorite movies) you are either lying or emotionally stunted.  And Jones's biography makes me appreciate the magic and the man even more.

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January 14, 2014
Thanks for sharing.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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