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.
Jerry Juhl, though, thought he understood the former producer’s plight. “When you first encounter the kind of energy that Jim brought, and the kind of desire he had for you to give things to a project, you became so caught up in it that you were really at a loss when he moved on.” In late February, only a month and a half away from the April 15 date when he planned to begin filming Labyrinth, Jim brought in screenwriter and comedian Elaine May, who had done some touch-up work on the screenplay
Hartford Times (Connecticut), February 29, 1964. 14 “Anyone in this business of television” “Neighbors from Sesame Street: A Visit with Jane and Jim Henson,” Greenwich Social Review 23, no. 8 (November 1970). 15 “totally typical of the way Jim worked” JJ, archival interview. 16 “wonderful old apartment building” JJ, interviewed by Paul Eide, “In the Company of Genius,” The Puppetry Journal 57, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 4. 17 In the main room FO interview. See also WAMI, 35, and JJ, archival
19, 1982. 134 As the theater emptied FO interview. 135 “a big miscalculation” LH interview. 136 “The movie went off” FO interview. Memories are conflicted on when, exactly, executives from Universal first saw the film, with Oz recalling a viewing in Hollywood and Al Gottesman remembering a showing in London. 137 “He felt the studio” Jane Henson interview. 138 “[There was] that sense of dismay” CH interview. 139 “It was a huge overhaul” LH interview. 140 “running a tape backwards and
Jim would come to scribble ideas in his sketchbooks and manage the affairs of Muppets, Inc., with a Siamese cat named George Washington curled at his feet. He had another new toy in the workshop: a Bolex 16mm movie camera—an ideal camera for an aspiring animator, as it had a side release button, which made it possible to film just a few frames at a time. Jim excitedly set to work creating what he called “animated paintings.” “I started painting on a sheet of paper placed under the lens of the
things that were funny. But there was no loud-voice laughing. Everybody was very merry, and they did a lot of wordplay and things of that nature.” While Paul Sr.—“Dr. Henson,” as the boys respectfully called him—was perhaps the quietest member of the family, he was known around the Stoneville compound for his way with a story. During the almost weekly summer fish fries at the Experiment Station, a crowd would gather around Paul as he launched into one funny story after another. As for Betty