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Jim Henson: The Biography Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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Brian Jay Jones on Jim Henson: The Biography
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
designer Bonnie Erickson, builder Faz Fazakas, and designer
Don Sahlin look on.
to 1987, the show was the network’s first original series—the
colorful ancestor to shows like The Sopranos or Game of Thrones.
of Fraggle Rock.
*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
Top customer reviews
Jim's life story seems like something you'd be able to guess without doing much research. He was a kid who was fascinated by puppets, probably made his own, and decided to pursue fame and fortune as the world's greatest puppeteer, right? Wrong. He actually wanted to work for advertising agencies when he grew up. He became a puppeteer because when he came of age and went hunting for his first job, it was the only job opening he could find. And for years afterward, even after his characters became variety show and talk show mainstays in high demand for TV commercials, Jim repeatedly insisted that it was just a temporary stop on the way to what he really wanted to do with his life. It was a perspective-altering vacation in Europe (where puppetry is taken VERY seriously and regarded as art) that Jim came to realize that the work he was already doing was something of value, and worth pursuing.
The book is very willing to discuss flaws, personal and professional. On a personal level, Jim had a strangely emotionless way about him. We learn of "arguments" he had with his wife where Jim registered no reaction and walked away without firing anything back.
Professionally speaking, we learn of Jim's tendency as the years went by to fall in love with technology and build projects around it without putting enough thought into actual substance. Numerous members of Henson's staff, who otherwise spend the text speaking of him in glowing terms, bluntly admit that they strongly disliked "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth," blaming the problems with both productions on Jim's preoccupation with new technology developed for the films.
The book leaves out nothing and no one. By the time this is over, you'll feel like you knew Jim Henson, and you'll feel like you were awfully fond of him. And he probably would have been fond of you, too.
He was, while not a saint, a very wonderful man in every respect... and it was heartening to find that his creatures are a strong reflect ton of his fabulous talent, and more importantly, his humanity.
The end will bring tears to your eyes...!
Do not miss this book if you like Muppets characters and exceptional human beings who have made a real difference on societies for centuries to come.
It's a really well written and researched book on Jim Henson's work and it was a joy to read. It will make you laugh and cry. Kudos to Brian Jay Jones!
This audiobook is the perfect marriage of a good author and a great narrator. I highly recommend the audio version of this book for anyone who has ever (or who will ever) enjoy the comic antics of the Muppets and their talented creator.