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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book. A fit tribute to an American genius. Especially good intro for those who only know the Muppets or Sesame St.Published 6 days ago by meg
If you are even remotely interested in Jim Henson, you should absolutely read this book. It is thorough, comprehensive, and full of fun and inspiration, along with honesty - this... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Budgiebird
This is my first biography. I primarily read fantasy, sci-fi and romance novels so this was a bit of a different experience for me having to at times read through dates, facts and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Tyson
If you don't already love Jim Henson, after reading this book you surely will! What a humble and talented human being. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Kelsey Burnham
Loved this book. Very detail oriented and incredible story. Jim Henson was an extremely talented man who was often ahead of his time when it came to ideas. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Caryn Leaf
I'm a longtime fan of the muppets and Henson's other works. I was a little reluctant to get this book because I'd already read so much about him and his work. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Arthur Daigle
I very much enjoyed learning more about Jim Henson, and my respect for him as a creator and person increased. However, I think the book could have been shorter.Published 7 months ago by babs