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Jim Henson: The Biography Hardcover – September 24, 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 251 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Brian Jay Jones on Jim Henson: The Biography

Brian Jay Jones

Biographers have the unique responsibility—and privilege—of living with their subjects for the years they’re doing their research and writing. Frankly, I couldn’t have asked for better company over the last five years. Jim Henson has been part of my life—and probably part of yours—for nearly as long as I can remember. I was two when Sesame Street premiered in 1969, and nine when The Muppet Show debuted in 1976. That practically makes me Muppets Generation 1.0. Why would I choose to write about Jim Henson, then? Heck, why wouldn’t I?

For the most part, the bulk of the research for this biography was conducted the old-fashioned way: sitting in an archive—in this case, The Jim Henson Company archives in Long Island City, New York—and turning over documents one at a time. I read through Jim’s private diaries, examined handwritten notes—sometimes just scraps of paper with ideas for a character name or a slapdash drawing of a new Muppet—pored through business papers and receipts, and poked through innumerable TV scripts and film proposals, many of which never made it any further than Jim’s carefully typed notes. For the first time, you’ll read about many of these projects, and learn how hard Jim worked to bring programs like The Muppet Show to television.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing all five Henson children and his widow, Jane—who passed away earlier this year—as well as countless colleagues, friends, and collaborators. We spoke in living rooms in London, workshops in New York, and film studios in Burbank. We talked over breakfast in hotels and brunches in diners. And when we couldn’t meet in person, we talked on telephones and Skype, or wrote each other e-mails. Almost to a person, everyone was open, honest, and thoughtful about Jim and his work—and, as you can probably imagine, many were also very, very funny.

Finally, of course, there was the pure enjoyment of going back through Jim’s work, watching Muppets and Fraggles and Skeksis and Storytellers with a keener appreciation of how Jim wove his life into his art, and his art through his life. Any time you can watch episodes of The Muppet Show, or old footage of Jim blowing up his Muppets on The Ed Sullivan Show and call it work, you know you’ve officially got one of the best jobs anywhere.

It took five years to get here—and now, at last, it’s your turn to live with Jim Henson. I think you’ll find he’s pretty much exactly as you want him to be: genuinely kind, dazzlingly inspirational, immensely talented and—as Frank Oz said—“delightfully imperfect.” Not bad for a kid from the swamps of Mississippi.

“It’s a good life,” Jim once wrote. “Enjoy it.” And I hope you’ll enjoy Jim Henson.

A Look Inside Jim Henson: The Biography

Editing Table
Jim at the editing table in 1972 as performer John Lovelady,
designer Bonnie Erickson, builder Faz Fazakas, and designer
Don Sahlin look on.

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Fragle Rock Cast
Jim and the cast of Fraggle Rock. Airing on HBO from 1983
to 1987, the show was the network’s first original series—the
colorful ancestor to shows like The Sopranos or Game of Thrones.

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Fraggle Rock
Jim loved performing the sage Cantus on the set
of Fraggle Rock.

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From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s still a shock 23 years later: the irrepressible creator of the Muppets dead at 53. No one embraced life and creativity with more optimism and enthusiasm than Jim Henson. The first to write a complete biography of Henson, Jones spoke at length with people close to Henson personally and professionally, and his lucid style, wide-angle perspective, and deep immersion in Henson’s exuberantly innovative approach to puppets, television, and film make for a thoroughly compelling read. A tall, confident “gadget freak” from Mississippi and Maryland, with a zany sense of humor, Henson inherited his grandmother’s versatile artistic gifts and wanted to work in television the minute he saw it. When a job as a TV puppeteer opened up in 1955, Henson, a freshman in college who knew nothing about puppets, leaped at the chance, teaming up with intrepid artist Jane Nebel. Henson coined the name Muppets; he and Jane married, had five talented children, and worked feverishly, arriving at Sesame Street in 1969, where Kermit, Henson’s alter ego, and the rest of the now-classic Muppets began their benevolent, rambunctious rule. Right up until Henson’s sudden death in 1990, he and his stellar collaborators, including Frank Oz, continually broke new ground. With verve and insight, Jones illuminates the full scope of Henson’s genius, phenomenal productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345526112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345526113
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Lizz A. Belle VINE VOICE on August 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you love Muppets, Sesame Street and/or just want to get into the creative genius that was Jim Henson, this is a wonderfully thorough and beautifully written biography paying tribute to one of the most creative minds of the 20th century. I highly recommend it for anyone who wondered about the tall, bearded man who brought us Kermit the Frog, the Dark Crystal and most of the cast of Sesame Street.

I don't normally read biographies but this is one I knew I could not pass up. While the book is quite lengthy and does take time to get to the initial creation of what we know today as the Muppets, Henson's life is fascinating in that he never wanted to actually be a puppeteer, he sort of stumbled on to it and resisted it for so long because he did not want to be labeled "a children's puppeteer." Instead, he pioneered that form of entertainment by moving beyond marionettes and wooden puppets with flat expressions, creating the Muppets from anything he had lying around (Kermit was originally a blue housecoat his mother owned). The Muppets were unlike other puppets because they were so lifelike including having facial expressions and eye movements never seen before.

Henson's trip to stardom never went to his head and he continued to do many of the pieces he accomplished because he enjoyed them (see the section on commercials the Muppets made).

The BEST part of this bio in my opinion is seeing the evolution of your favorite characters. Cookie Monster and Grover were both background monsters who were repurposed to become our beloved Sesame Street characters they are now. Gonzo used to be a hooked nosed monster living in a cigar box named Snarl. These are just a few examples of the treasures to be found in this bio.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Typically, only presidents and world leaders get 500-page biographies with this level of attention to detail. I'm glad Brian Jay Jones took the time and effort to write a thorough biography of somebody who brought so much joy to people. I grew up with some of Henson's creations, most notably Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies. I've grown up to appreciate some of this other work, such as the Muppet Movie and Dark Crystal. Yet, even more than watching Henson's creations on screen, this book gave me an enormous respect for the boldness and creativity of the Muppets.

Jones crams a huge amount of detail into this book, yet he manages to convey that information in an engaging and exciting manner. Jones clearly respects Jim Henson and appreciates the man's work. Jones' writing beams with genuine excitement when describing the Muppet Show. Readers get a real sense of the playfulness amongst the puppeteers. This is definitely a fun, almost effortless biography to read.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that Brian Jay Jones is candid about Henson but also respectful. Jones does not ignore some of the less appealing aspects of Henson's life, such as his extramarital affairs. However, Jones keeps them in the proper prospective. Unlike many biographies, he doesn't spend pages describing the life and background of Henson's mistress. Jones discusses Henson's relationship with his mistress because it was an important part of Henson's life and work, but it takes only a small portion of the book. The majority of the book is spent on Henson himself and his creations.

I think the book did a pretty good job covering all of the aspects of Jim's career, from the earliest days on "Sam and Friends" to "Labyrinth.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While I am certainly quite familiar with a good deal of Jim Henson's work - and admire nearly all that I am familiar with - I came to this knowing little or nothing of Henson the man. After 490 pages, I still don't know much about him. It is certainly entirely possible that Henson was a wonderful person, filled with love and good will toward everyone he met, exuding generosity and kindness toward all living things. That is, it is possible that the biographical aspects of this biography are both accurate and complete. I just don't quite think so.

To expound, I do not think that it is of necessity for a biographer to expose some "dark side" or hidden vices of their subjects, I DO think it is necessary to present a three dimensional portrait of their subjects and that simply is not present here. Whether Henson had any sort of dark side is beside the point: There are a lot of people who manage to live their lives w/o ever being monsters or ogres along the way, including a lot of successful and public people. That is fine. That is admirable. However, author Jones, clearly and admittedly an admirer of Henson, gushes so extravagantly as to rose-color his entire undertaking here. That this is an authorized biography, written with the sanction and cooperation of Henson's family only muddies the issue further.

There are hints here of something deeper than the gentle-genius-who-loves-everyone. We get hints of Henson the serial womanizer, but then we are discreetly ushered away. We see glimpses of a man who buries his emotions and refuses to express what he is really feeling to those closest to him, but then a Muppet is waved in front of us and we are distracted again. Acknowledging quirks and faults does not malign a man; it makes him real and relatable.
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