Jim Henson: The Biography
Brian Jay Jones
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY BOOKPAGE
For the first time ever—a comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative creative artists: the incomparable, irreplaceable Jim Henson
He was a gentle dreamer whose genial bearded visage was recognized around the world, but most people got to know him only through the iconic characters born of his fertile imagination: Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, Big Bird. The Muppets made Jim Henson a household name, but they were just part of his remarkable story.
This extraordinary biography—written with the generous cooperation of the Henson family—covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life: from his childhood in Leland, Mississippi, through the years of burgeoning fame in America, to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Henson's family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives, Brian Jay Jones explores the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, and his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television. Jones provides the imaginative context for Henson’s non-Muppet projects, including the richly imagined worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth—as well as fascinating misfires like Henson’s dream of opening an inflatable psychedelic nightclub.
An uncommonly intimate portrait, Jim Henson captures all the facets of this American original: the master craftsman who revolutionized the presentation of puppets on television, the savvy businessman whose dealmaking prowess won him a reputation as “the new Walt Disney,” and the creative team leader whose collaborative ethos earned him the undying loyalty of everyone who worked for him. Here also is insight into Henson’s intensely private personal life: his Christian Science upbringing, his love of fast cars and expensive art, and his weakness for women. Though an optimist by nature, Henson was haunted by the notion that he would not have time to do all the things he wanted to do in life—a fear that his heartbreaking final hours would prove all too well founded.
An up-close look at the charmed life of a legend, Jim Henson gives the full measure to a man whose joyful genius transcended age, language, geography, and culture—and continues to beguile audiences worldwide.
Praise for Jim Henson
“Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods: It’s an absolute must-read!”—Neil Patrick Harris
“An exhaustive work that is never exhausting, a credit both to Jones’s brisk style and to Henson’s exceptional life.”—The New York Times
“[A] sweeping portrait that is a mix of humor, mirth and poignancy.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“A meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted.”—Associated Press
“Jim was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me. Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity, as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.”—Frank Oz
From the Hardcover edition.
between Los Angeles and New York, sometimes twice a week, to finalize the script, oversee production of the sets in California, and meet with director James Frawley, who had spent several days with Jim in London early in the spring to get a feel for the Muppet sensibilities. Jim had wanted to direct The Muppet Movie himself, but had been grudgingly persuaded by the argument that it was better to have an experienced director at the helm of the Muppets’ first foray into film. “Up until that time
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, was more than he wanted to know. “If you can figure out how they were able to show Kermit pedaling across the screen,” wrote Ebert, “then you are less a romantic than I am: I prefer to believe he did it himself.” With his creations moving with a seeming life of their own on the big screen, comparisons with Walt Disney were again inevitable—and now, perhaps, apt. But Jim was still having none of it. “I’m slightly uncomfortable with all the people who
He also insisted that the Muppet segments be somewhat educational, and proposed skits in which the Muppets somehow explained the federal debt, the ozone, or the legislative process. Coming up with features for the second half hour was a bit easier, and a lot more fun. Besides The Storyteller, Jim was thinking about an origin storytelling of the discovery of Fraggle Rock called The Saga of Fraggle Rock. There was also Inside John, another variation on Jim’s Limbo concept, in which the various
cheerleader type,” the artsier Jane didn’t seem, on the face of it, to be Jim’s sort. But Joe Irwin, who knew them both, thought he understood. Jane had one thing to which Jim would always be attracted: talent. She was also warm and “had an artistic bent,” Irwin explained, which Jim found compelling. But there was also, he thought, a mutual sexual attraction that Jim couldn’t deny. Jane was three years Jim’s senior, and older—and more experienced—than most girls Jim had dated. “She was mature,”
was still working on the art projects with us.” “There was a lot of making things,” said Cheryl, “and there was a lot of respect for childhood.” “Jim loved to come home and be with the kids,” said Jane. “He’d just come up with all these different projects. If we were driving along and we saw high grass, Jim would say, ‘Oh! Let’s do a film with you coming in and out of the grass and popping up over the grasses!’ So we’d stop the car and out comes the Bolex [camera] and they’d do a film. In the