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Jim Henson: The Biography

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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 only 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 Washington D.C., New York, and London, to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Jim Henson's family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives--including never-before-seen interviews, business documents, and Henson's private letters--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 or of staging an elaborate, all-puppet Broadway show.

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 deal making 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, high-stakes gambling, 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.

608 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 24, 2013

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About the author

Brian Jay Jones

4 books295 followers
Brian Jay Jones is the award-winning, bestselling biographer of some of the world's most iconic creative geniuses, from American writer Washington Irving and Muppet master Jim Henson, to Star Wars creator George Lucas and children's writer/artist Dr. Seuss.

Brian's biography of Jim Henson won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Biography of 2013, an honor he still appreciates every day.

A note from Brian: "I've taken a somewhat different tact with this site, starting with a 'day one' approach where l've added books as I purchased and read them, rather than trying to recreate my entire library (apart from a few favorite biographies that I can't resist sticking on the shelf)."

Subnote: I'm also really bad about updating my books. Sorry about that.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,526 reviews
Profile Image for Kerri.
970 reviews344 followers
November 19, 2022

This is a brilliant biography of a fascinating man. I was familiar with a lot of Jim Henson's creations of course, but I really knew very little about his life. I found this book very compelling, informative and easy to read. I don't think it's a spoiler of any kind to say you follow Jim Henson to the end of his life and I found myself missing him terribly once we reached his death. However his legacy is incredible and Brian Jay Jones did a wonderful job capturing that.

Ended up in here accidentially while trying to add this to my favourites shelf, but thought I'd just add that I still think of this book often. Which is why I am adding it!

Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,606 followers
July 23, 2014
When people ask me why I became a writer, I often cite books that I read as a child, and authors, as being my inspiration. But that's not quite true. That's really what people want to hear (especially if those people are librarians and teachers). But if I had to really, really pick one person who influenced my life, whose work influenced my personality and my writing, I think it would be Jim Henson. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents (especially my mom) who loved Henson's work... all of it. Not just The Muppet Show, which we watched faithfully. Not just Sesame Street, where the Muppet segments were clearly the best. But I remember going to see The Dark Crystal when it debuted in theaters, and I remember it being a family Event. Terrifying and wonderful, I daydreamed of being a Gelfling. Dialogue from that movie is still in my family's lexicon. Labyrinth remains one of my all time favorite movies, as does The Dark Crystal, as well as The Muppet Christmas Carol. My mom took us to see the strange and disturbing Dreamchild because it had creatures by the Creature Shop. I own every Muppet DVD, but also all the episode of The Storyteller, which were also TV viewing events in my house growing up. I've passed this love of Jim Henson and the Muppets on to my kids, and I'm lucky enough to be married to someone who loves them, too.

So you can see that a biography of Jim Henson would be something that I would both be fascinated and repelled by. Looking at my reading history, I've realized that I generally read one major biography a year, and I almost do it like I'm taking medicine. I read biographies of people who fascinate me, or whose work I admire, but sometimes it's too much. What if he turns out to be a total douchebag, like Steve Jobs, or a tortured person sadly in need of therapy like John Lennon? Or slightly boring and not really as great as a few of my heroes have turned out to be? But I started seeing raves for the book, not only because of Jones' writing (which is totally engaging), but also because the subject of this biography really was "both a genius and a really nice guy" according to one magazine review.

So I took the plunge.


I tore through this book, only stopping to tell my husband about some of the more awesome parts. Not only was Jim Henson a genius and a really nice guy who was delightful to read about, but everyone around him was interesting, and everything he did was totally fascinating, even his failures. He revolutionized TV. He revolutionized puppetry. He is responsible for not only some of my favorite movies and TV shows of all time, but is also behind pretty much all the best characters and skits from Sesame Street. The King of Eight he did himself, as well as the skit where two real kittens raid a dollhouse. Get this: it was his daughter's dollhouse, and he made it entirely himself! His interactions with other puppeteers, directors, and celebrities were, well, fascinating and illuminating. His philosophies about life, about families, children, and art, were beautiful. His family astounds me as well. For instance, Brian Henson developed the technique that was used to put a whole gang of Muppets on bicycles for a ride through Central Park in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Brian was sixteen at the time. One of his daughters became the VP of Warner Brothers on her thirtieth birthday. All of them turned out to be intelligent, gracious, and gifted adults, which speaks volumes about Jim and his wife Jane, and the kind of people they were.

I would have loved to have known Jim Henson in person, but since I can't, the next best thing is this book. I got it from the library, but plan to buy a copy because this is just something I want to have in my house, for me and my husband and my kids. I'm about to go to Amazon and see if I can't send the Kindle copy (or perhaps just the cost) to my mom.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,666 reviews12.8k followers
April 29, 2020
Embarking on my third biography penned by Brian Jay Jones, I had high hopes as I sought to learn much about Jim Henson. A man who was as complex as he was innovative, Jones depicts Henson as a man worth the attention of the curious reader. Born in Mississippi, James ‘Jim’ Henson and his family were not long dwellers of the South. Moving to the Washington, D.C. area not long after Jim’s birth in 1936, this allowed Jim’s father to work in government. While young Jim was always able to use his imagination, he had a passion for entertaining and engaging with others. When it came time to make his way to post-secondary, Henson was sure that he wanted to get into the new medium of televising, eager to use some of his artistic flair to create sets that could dazzle the home viewer. However, somewhere along the way, puppeteering caught his attention and he became enthralled with the art. The entire realm came naturally to Henson, as Jones describes throughout the early chapters of the book, and characters appeared to come together at the oddest times. At a period when much of the television was local, Henson was out to score a spot on DC networks to show off his trade. He was successful in landing a spot with a children’s television show in the last 1950s, bringing education and enjoyment to youngsters, while making a name for himself. His colourful characters caught the attention of many, so much so that some of these puppets soon won spots as guests on highly popular programs, offering a national spotlight to the young Henson and whetting his appetite for more. Henson was happy, but his ambitions could not be ignored.

As Jones discusses at some length, while Henson was happy with his work, he fought a constant uphill battle about his place in television. Having dubbed his own type of puppets as ‘Muppets’, Henson sought to ensure that they were not labelled as “children’s entertainment”, but rather something that everyone could enjoy. Muppets may be highly entertaining to those who could suspend reality to a degree, but this did not mean that they were only for children. Henson sought to hone his skills and show the world that Muppets could be highly useful in entertaining the adult mind, with humour and banter that would appeal to the older audience. Henson continued to create new and exciting Muppet characters, names that would one day become synonymous with the Jim Henson name. While networks were slow to jump onto the bandwagon, Henson never stopped expanding his ideas or connections in the world of puppetry. When the Children’s Television Workshop approached him in the late 1960s about a new and innovative children’s program, Henson was highly interested, as this might be an ideal platform to help bring some of his Muppets to life, even though it was back in the realm of children’s entertainment. What came of these discussions soon developed into the juggernaut Sesame Street, allowing Henson to always look ahead to new and exciting projects. Jones depicts not only the development of Sesame Street in this biography, but some of the early successes and struggles that Henson and his fellow members faced. Very interesting to the curious reader, particularly if this was one of their staple shows as a child.

Jim Henson was nothing if not a workaholic. His ideas were almost infinite and he was happy to pursue every lead to see if it led to a pot of gold. This would put a definite strain on Henson and his young family, but Jim could not let that deter him. Seeking a prime time platform for his Muppets, Henson began trying to come up wth a variety show of sorts that would feature a great deal of Muppet-based skits aimed at a larger family audience. He stumbled, as executives were not yet sold on the idea, eventually turning to some funding in the United Kingdom to get things off the ground. When The Muppet Show debuted in the mid-1970s, it soon had a massive following and Henson knew he had a winner. He continued to produce and write for the series, wooing big name stars to come for their respective guest appearances. This spawned new Muppets and greater interest in all things that Henson had to offer. The show’s success eventually turned into a major market, with movies, animated shows, and merchandise that would keep Henson financially stable for years to come. Jones illustrates some of the major projects that Henson tried to fit between taping his television shows, always looking past what had been done and where he could go next. His success was balanced out with tight deadlines and, at times, some highly difficult negotiations. Into the 1980s, Henson’s ideas continued, though so did the interest for outside groups to make a bid to own his legacy. Jones explores some of the decisions that Henson had to make as he grew older, wanting to ensure his Muppets were not lost in an era of network restructuring, turning to Disney to protect all that he held dear. The negotiations were tough, but Henson held firm and negotiated with Disney to ensure a safe place. In the last portion of the book, Jones explores a rapid illness that took hold of Henson, which led to a spiral in his health and dead in May 1990. As septic shock was attributed as the cause, the world mourned the loss of this man. Jones spends the last chapter exploring the outpouring of grief and joy in equal measure for a man who touched the lives of so many, myself included.

I have always found it refreshing to explore people and events that shaped my life, even if I do not know much about them. In each of the biographies I have read by Brian Jay Jones, I took much away fro the experience, particularly when I could ‘peek behind the curtain’ to see the inner workings of things. This Jim Henson biography was the first written of the three I have read, which offered me a unique perspective into the writing style Jones has. While it is hard to compare the three, as they all offer insightful explorations into their subjects, Jones definitely offered a massive exploration into the life and times of Jim Henson. There was so much detail on which the reader can feast, as well as a strong narrative that ties things together wonderfully. The story flowed so well and the pace between chapters kept the reader wanting to know a little more. Jim Henson was surely a man of many pursuits, forcing Jones to look under many a (Fraggle) rock to get the true story of this man, but it was done with such ease. I learned so much and just wish I had to time to check out each of the areas covered in this book to learn more. The balance of personal and professional life is masterful, tying things together nicely while always making Henson out to look like a reasonable man.. Jones does so well that the reader will surely be shunned at some parts and enthralled by others, but never lose their intrigue into what drove the man throughout. Anyone who has even a passing interest in all things Sesame Street, Muppet Show, or even Jim Henson will take something away from this book. It surely helped me relive my oft-forgotten childhood years and the warmth that I can now pass along to Neo, who missed out on some wonderful and truly intriguing television.

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for helping me bring my childhood back to life, as well as shedding much light on the life of Jim Henson. He will be missed and television is nowhere nearly as exciting without him. The Henson footprint lives on and you do well to help in that regard.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for Charles.
175 reviews
February 17, 2022
First Kermit – in pale blue! – then Rowlf, then the Cookie Monster, switching from potato chips to a more definitive snack of choice and getting defanged in the process. One after the other, a wealth of cherished figures comes alive for the first time in this book and by the time these first three characters do, we haven’t made it yet to the 70s.

Over the course of several hundred pages, aside from the ubiquitous Muppets, the colorful parade continues: Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, you name it, into the cauldron it goes. Better yet, the book provides background on The Storyteller, which no one else really seems to remember – fair enough, it didn’t last long – but that magical series left such an enduring impression on me, I still have precise images of my mom joining me to watch it on cold winter evenings. How beautiful that show was. How luscious. A treat, every time.

I loved reading about Jim Henson, his puppeteer colleagues, his workshop, his business ventures, but the detail-focused, historical writing deflated my balloon a bit. Unsure what I was expecting. Through no fault on the author’s part, I guess, seeing that he could hardly proceed otherwise for this type of publication, in the end the level of exposition hampered my read. Kudos on the research, too bad for the fun, bouncy stuff. A meticulous timeline got in the way and I just wish the final product had more drive.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
474 reviews36 followers
November 18, 2022
I read about 200 pages of this on a cross-Atlantic flight, and had to control belly laughs several times to not disturb fellow passengers trying to sleep. Henson was zany with a great sense of fun that comes through in Jones’s telling. A genius and blithe spirit, a visionary enabler and doer whose ability to motivate and collaborate made things happen and be better than anyone could have done alone, is really inspiring. He was also a great father of five children, who all seemed to know they were loved, cared for and listened to, and did very well academically and professionally. That’s a real tribute to his character.

A good and enjoyable read that reminds us to follow our dreams and put our talents to use, even if they don’t fit neatly into conventional expectations.
Profile Image for Lee.
71 reviews35 followers
November 30, 2013
While I can't exactly rave about the book, I can't deny having a goofy perma-grin on my face throughout most of the reading of it, and shameless tears through the brutal ending. The beginning definitely worried me--there's excessive indulgence in the dullard biographer's instinct to trace the family tree a few generations ahead of the subject and bore you with minutiae that won't be relevant to any later part of the book. Once Jim builds his first muppet, though, the story picks up.

This is definitely a myth-builder of a biography, with messy personal details lightly jumped over and achievements set on high gloss. That said, I'm invested in the myth, and it's definitely an inspiring read for anyone wanting to create something different. This is your great American bootstraps story template, here, and it's fuzzy and anarchic and probably viral over your childhood.

"In the early days of the Muppets, we had two endings," Jim said. "Either one creature ate the other, or both of them blew up...I've always been particular to things eating other things!"
Profile Image for Naomi.
453 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2014
I feel like I read an entirely different memoir from most of the other reviewers on Goodreads, because this is not one I enjoyed. Granted, I did not finish it, but that was after multiple attempts at reading it. I usually force myself to finish all books, whether or not I really enjoy them, so this is rare that I am returning this one unfinished.

I think a major problem I encounter when reading memoirs like this, is that they are often not written from an objective point of view. Perhaps it's due to all the journalism courses I took back in the day, that make me prefer something written from an impartial point of view. This memoir wore me down, because it seemed like an unnecessarily wordy love letter to Jim Henson. Even his faults, for example his many instances of infidelity and his inability to discuss issues, including relationship issues, with anyone else, seemed to be brushed over. I don't really care to know all the sordid details of his affairs and materialism and what not, but I also don't think it should be presented as something that's acceptable. But, then again, those are my own personal morals being projected on something and someone else.

I am usually a quick reader, and often finish a book a day, or at least two or three a week. I've been stuck on this particular one for over two weeks. I couldn't make it past the middle, and I dreaded having to pick it up and read it. Obviously not a healthy way to approach a memoir, especially not one that is a required read.

I never plan on finishing this, and I'm fine with that. Instead, I'll leave it to the legions on Goodreads who seem to love it, and good for them. I'm just going to continue on with something that's more my speed, and hope that it erases the bad taste this work has left me.

Side note: The only reason this isn't getting a single star rating, is because the writing itself wasn't terrible, it was just too dry and boring for me. I reserve single star ratings for books, like any and all from the Twilight series, that I loathe.
Profile Image for Becky.
827 reviews156 followers
December 6, 2017
This is going to be one of those reviews that I constantly change as I think, "omg this part has really stuck with me!" and also because I'm typing on an IPAD that really doesn't show me when things are spelled incorrectly. Any ways...

Of my top five favorite movies of all time three are Muppet movies- THE Muppet Movie, Muppet Treasure Island, and Labyrinth. The other two are subject to change and are currently Pacific Rim and the Avengers, which probably shows that I haven't grown up that much because I still love super heroes and giant robot battles. So sue me. The Muppets are what sticks. We danced to Labyrinth and David Bowie at my sisters wedding, and my brother and I played the entire Treasure Island sound track over and over on our way to Des Moines (we also realized we had all the same hand movements and fake voices for the songs), and my Dad sung us to sleep with the Rainbow Connection song. I was raised on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, and Muppets on Stage. I am fairly certain that my favorite book growing up was "There's a Monster at the end of the book!" which my parents read with appropriate approximations of Grover's voice. I grew up and watched Farscape, I think my dog is floppy-eared and brown because Rowlf made some sort of impression on me as a child, and basically, I've just never gotten over the Muppets.

And we shouldn't get over the Muppets. They taught us to appreciate diversity and creativity, to value one another, to be kind and encouraging, to appreciate ourselves, to appreciate this world we live in. Those are lessons that we should hang out to, and its everything that Jim Henson wanted to teach us. He used television very purposefully to be both entertaining and positive, and god I think we could bring some of the back.

I'm usually somewhat nervous to read biographies about someone- I'm always afraid that they'll turn out to have been really awful. It always seems like you have to be awful and ruthless to lead, to be remembered, to actually manage to achieve anything. But you dont, and Jim Henson proves it. Turns out he was a pretty genuinely nice guy, and that even years after his death people only have nice things to say about him. They miss him terribly, and they are effusive in their praise, and truth seems to ring in their voices. I don't think I could have worked for him, I just don't have the sort of energy he required, but its good to know that he never felt like he was working, he was having fun and doing something "good," something worthwhile. They were all having fun, and maybe thats why everything they made is so easy to appreciate.

There were ups and downs and I think that the book covered them diligently and honestly. Jim had a few extramarital affairs but he was an utterly devoted father, he won an Emmy at 21 but couldn't understand why Labyrinth was a flop and was terribly hurt (dont worry Jim, I own it, I love it, I watch it all the time, LOTS of us do), he was an unfailing optimist and idealist with a head so in the clouds that sometimes he couldn't understand people, but we NEED people like that. He wasn't perfect, but he was excellent.

Maybe I'm the wrong person to review this book. I feel like I'm too close to the subject. It was a great biography though, and wonderfully well-written in my opinion. Five years of research and interviews made this book seem deeply personal, like you are sitting in a room, on the floor, listening to Frank Oz and Jane and Jerry Juhl all talk about this man. You just dont seem very far removed from the conversation, and its very engaging. Sometimes its hard to keep track of the timeline because Jim always had ten projects going on at once, he was already on the next thing, but I suppose it felt very much like chaos in real life too. I dont think that there is much the author could have done about that. I also dont feel like the author interjected too much, except in closing, and it was a beautiful sending-off. Overall I would highly recommend this book.

So I'd like to send you off with some words from Jim, words I'm going to try and hold on to this week and the weeks to follow, maybe try to channel this extraordinary person a bit more in life and not let things stop my own creativity or my positive energy:

Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. Its a good life, enjoy it."

Here they are! Youtube links that correspond with specific mentions in the book.

Purina Rowlf Commericial

Watkins and Wilkins Coffee Commercial

Rowlf on the Jimmy Dean Show

Visual Thinking

Rainbow Connection "Opening Credits" Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie Ending that required a gajillion puppeteers

Best of the Muppet Show (lets be honest, it was all great)
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,206 followers
April 18, 2019
If you ever loved the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Muppet Babies, well then you love Jim Henson and this is the book for you.

Jim Henson: The Biography is a big book. It's length rivals those classic Russian epics of yesteryear. Jones took his time laying out Jim's history for the reader, setting the scenes of his life, and delving into his motivations. At times I felt Jones lingered too long on one incident or another, but that was probably just my subjective interest in the topic. Overall, it's well-balanced and moves along in a linear progression and at a steady pace.

Kirby Heyborne, the narrator, was phenomenal. The publishers had to find someone who could recreate Henson's drawling North/South hybrid accent, Frank Oz's crisp timbre, a countless array of friends and family, as well as the very well-known and distinct voices of the Muppet characters, like Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy. His only failing was that he only did one kind of British accent, which only really became noticeable during The Muppet Show years, as the episodes were created in London. But that's a trifling complaint. I mean honestly, look at that list of voices! Incredible!
Profile Image for Christine.
940 reviews33 followers
December 7, 2013
My children grew up watching Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. Call the parent police if you must, but occasionally those shows were wonderful “babysitters” allowing me to get chores done and meals prepared. We once took my daughters to a presentation of a behind the scenes look at Fraggle Rock, where my eldest was kissed by a Fraggle – I think it was the highlight of her life up to that point. The chart toppers of the 1980’s are a blur to me (I call them my mommy years) by I can still hum the opening theme to Sesame Street and The Muppet show. To this day if we are confronted with an odd assortment of items one, two of all three of us will break out into “One of These Things is Not Like the Other”. For all that I owe Mr. Henson a debt of gratitude.

* Nothing to do with this book but honorable mention must go The Elephant Show and Skinnamarink as far as memorable, hummable theme songs from children’s shows go.

Having read an excellent book a while back called “Street Gang” by Michael Davis describing the beginnings and the theories behind children’s educational programming but only scraping the surface of Mr. Henson’s life, when I came across this title I knew I had to read it. This book does more than scrape the surface. Mr. Jones’ research is diligent. He gives us a glimpse into both Mr. Henson’s heritage and his life starting with his great-grandparents right through to his untimely death. Mr. Jones describes Mr. Henson’s life, his genius, his compulsions and his family life and he does so admirably yet without sugar coating anything. He shares Mr. Henson’s flaws, foibles and faults along with everything else and that is what made this book such an exceptionally good biography. I find biographies are usually either “tell-alls” or works of gushing admiration. This one is an enjoyable journey through Mr. Henson’s life and career. I even learned a few things I didn’t know along the way.

By the end of this book I liked Jim Henson. When it came time to read about his death and funeral it was written with so much respect and poignancy that I am not ashamed to say I had to reach for the tissue box several times.

If you can still hum the theme song to Sesame Street, ever owned a Kermit puppet, know who Fozzie Bear is, remember the “hand scene” from The Labyrinth or enjoyed The Dark Crystal – you HAVE TO read this book.
Profile Image for Mauoijenn.
1,127 reviews107 followers
January 28, 2015
How can you not love this guy?!
Jim Henson was a big part of my childhood from The Muppet movies, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and so much more! This book was so much fun reading about his life and how it ended so tragically.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
429 reviews1,353 followers
January 1, 2019
Jim Henson: The Biography is a wonderful look at the life of an amazing, creative genius. Jim Henson was one of those exceedingly rare individuals with the drive, creativity and singular vision to change the world. Comparisons are often made (as they are in this book) with Walt Disney, and rightly so. Like Disney, Henson was willing to bet all he had on the next big idea, and those gambles paid off time and time again. He was also adept at recognizing and surrounding himself with talent, and inspiring artists to create their best work. Brian Jay Jones has read through Henson's diaries, spoken with his family members and co-workers, and pored through mountains of archival material to bring us a thorough account of Henson's personal and professional life.

One of the things that distinguishes Henson is his eternal optimism. In everything he created, he hoped to inspire us to live together in peace, to find joy, to appreciate the world around us, and to leave it better than we found it. He felt that so much out there was negative, and sought to put something happy into the world. This allowed him to imbue so much gentleness and whimsy into his most famous creation, Kermit the Frog, who many identify as an extension of not only Henson's arm and voice, but character. Another thing that amazed me about Henson was his work ethic. Perhaps compulsion is the better word? We see him getting up before sunrise to start his days: rehearsals, writing sessions, interviews, business meetings, performances, fathering five children, editing, partying, jet setting about the planet, and going to bed in the wee hours of the morning. It's exhausting just to read, and I was amazed at just how many irons he could keep in the fire, all while maintaining his composure, enthusiasm and creativity.

As a creator, Henson never wanted to be pigeon-holed or do the same, predictable thing. He got his initial break on television before he was even 20, and considered puppetry to be only a way station on his path towards experimental filmmaking. Opportunities never let up, however, so he redefined what puppetry could be and expanded its audience to adults as well as children. While innovating on Sam and Friends, commercial work, and then The Muppets, he was also directing short films ("Time Piece" is an interesting, early example), TV documentaries, working to expand into film, and even laying plans for a psychedelic night club. The Muppet Show was at the height of its popularity when he ended it after five seasons, eager to move on and make room for new ideas. Much the same with Fraggle Rock, which I was surprised to learn was HBO's first original show. One notable exception was Sesame Street, which Henson remained intensely loyal to and returned to each year to perform for. This is not to say all of his ideas were great. Some of the films and TV pilots were dead on arrival: the critical and box office backlash against Labyrinth really got to him, and I'd never even heard of 1990's The Witches, which author Roald Dahl hated. One of the fun things about reading this book was looking up clips of the various episodes, guest stars, TV specials and other media mentioned. And yeah, some of it is bad. Henson was intensely visual, and interested in doing things no one had seen before, so he'd typically approach ideas from a world-building, cinematic or technological angle, with story being something of an after thought. His early commercials and puppetry work ended up with someone exploding or getting eaten, and ever afterward he relied on writers to fill in the details. He saw the broad picture, and would give directions along the lines of: "we want to feature realistic monster puppets, computer-generated creatures, and have lots of high-flying adventure, with a few car chases and a princess in peril, but at the end everyone should feel a sense of elation, and that they can accomplish anything." That's not a quote, but these were the sorts of directions Jim would provide his collaborators.

A hagiography this is not: while Jim Henson was better than most of us, he wasn't a perfect person. He is shown here with all the complexity of a real human being. A cult of personality developed around Henson, and many who worked for him felt ignored or slighted when they didn't get an appropriate amount of feedback or attention. He loved the idea of being a family man, but was not faithful to his wife Jane. As much as he respected and loved her, he eventually got a separation so he could indulge his desire for new partners with a somewhat-eased conscience. He ended up with loads of money and enjoyed the finer things in life (including sports cars, art acquisitions, and five houses around the world), but was never focused on wealth: he gladly shared with his collaborators and loved ones and passed up on easy money in favor of doing new things.

I was especially interested to learn more about Henson's religious views, as much has been said about his upbringing in Christian Science. Whatever his sentiments may have been as a youth, the adult Henson was much more broadly spiritual. He believed in reincarnation, but didn't subscribe to any particular faith tradition. He actively investigated many practices and philosophies and was a perennial seeker.

This book puts to rest the idea that Christian Science was responsible for Jim Henson's untimely death: it was the fault of an aggressive strep infection that spread through his body quickly, killing him with pneumonia and organ failure at the age of 53. If he had gotten to a hospital days earlier they would have had a better chance, but it was faith in his ability to recover quickly, and not Christian Science, that hastened his end. We all know it's coming, but it is so sad to read. One can only wonder at what amazing things Jim Henson would have come up with if he had lived longer. As it is, I'm incredibly grateful for all he accomplished and shared in the time he had. Jim Henson did make the world a better place. This book is a great way to connect with his joy, positivity, wisdom and inspiration.
Profile Image for Jessica.
604 reviews22 followers
March 11, 2022
Buddddyyy Read :P @mattpechey ❤
This book was everything that you could want from a biography. Interesting, gut wrenching, inspirational and heart string pulling.
This biography is about the life of Jim Henson, but what's so great about it is that it doesn't overwhelm the reader with useless information. It has a set goal and that is a progression of his life and career, it doesn't focus on frivolous things as what he ate in 1972 when he was knee deep in the world of Muppets. It has focus and that was one of my favorite parts about the story.
It seamlessly goes through his life and showcases the most important and intriguing aspects.
There is so much love for Henson and Brian Jay Jones showcases the love for a man that revolutionized television and movies. He wasn't just a man whom created many iconic characters such as Kermit but he was forced to be reckoned with, with his sheer creativity.
I knew the basics of Henson's life, I mean who doesn't know who the creator of The Muppets was? I didn't know that he helped to create not just one but TWO cult fantasy movies with the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. His creativity rivals JK Rowling and coming from me that's a high compliment.
The way this biography was done was very interesting because normally you don't get the person the biography was talking about voicing opinions and etc. In this one you don and Brian Jones takes what Henson wrote in his many journals and makes the story more personal. Not only that but you also here from his kids, his ex wife, his coworkers and his friends. This is just isn't someone who wrote a story about Jim Henson, this is a man that took the time and effort to make a story based on facts and research.
This biography had me a emotional wreck with the detailed look at the pain and suffering went through the end of his life, but showcases the pain/loss of life beautifully.
Everyone fell in love with Henson's quiet, imaginative personality. So did I and I cried listening to his final moments, this audiobook was so great and elicited great emotions. Read it or listen! I promise you wont regret it!
Profile Image for Shawn.
147 reviews3 followers
August 10, 2013
I thought I knew Jim Henson, but I knew nothing. I've been a big fan of the work of Jim Henson, even going so far as learning to make my own puppets since I was 10. And I've seen almost everything that he and his family have done, at least with puppets. And now with my child I've seen most of the computer 3D shows as well. I thought I knew a lot about Jim Henson, but this biography made me realize how little I knew.

The book starts out with a very touching introduction and a glimpse into how the master worked. Then it goes back to the time before there was a Jim Henson, describing his family that he would be born into. At first you might wonder why that's important but the Henson family played a big role in making Jim Henson the man he became. Without the Henson family, Jim would never have created his first Muppet.

This biography is engaging and detailed. It's a lot to read but you may find that it's not enough. I couldn't get enough of the wonderful anecdotes told by family and friends. So many very personal stories about the man who gave the world so much joy. He became more human without losing the sparkle.

I highly recommend Jim Henson: The Biography to anyone who is a fan of his work, even casually. Like every single Jim Henson creation, this book will make you feel even closer to Jim Henson as if he's welcoming you into his family. A great book on a wonderful man.
Profile Image for Alex.
Author 3 books20 followers
April 12, 2015
I can’t say I recommend this. For a book with two Muppets on the cover, they spend an awful lot of time talking about how Henson didn't want to be either a puppeteer or The Muppet Guy. It also presents Dark Crystal and Labyrinth as being complete failures. There’s a throwaway comment in the epilogue that points to the movies finding a greater audience in video.

The pacing is painfully slow. A little less of the summarizing of the daily activities logged in the personal diary would help the flow a lot. 30% into the book and it finally hits Sesame Street. Holy crap this has bloat that would make Stephen King call for an editor. It would benefit from a diet that kills a third or more of the darlings. Don't tell me how someone feels, and then present a quote from that person that says the same thing you just told me. The narrative oddly glosses over Henson’s infelicities but revels in a blow-by-blow of his last hours, all the way to the gore spattered death rattle.

On the plus side, it's GREAT to fall asleep to.
Profile Image for Sarah.
46 reviews12 followers
September 25, 2013
I am a pretty big Henson nerd. In college I interned at the Henson Foundation where I was lucky enough to get to see Jim's office, complete with the light up paper moose that is described in the book, tour the creature shop, and to help the Foundation celebrate the craft of contemporary puppetry. I've also read the colorful and photo filled "Jim Henson: The Works", "The Art of the Muppets", which was a catalog for one of the first museum exhibitions. I've seen the more recent museum exhibition, and screenings of rare and early films such as the ad reel.

So, I thought that I knew a lot about Jim Henson. But when I started reading this biography, I realized how much I didn't know. This biography includes an exhaustive and impressive array of interviews of people that knew Jim really well, or which he made a strong impression on even in passing, dating back to childhood.

For example, I had no idea that Jim had started working in television at the age of 17, or how many shows that he worked on or pitched before the Muppet show. To me, it was particularly rewarding to gain a better understanding of how crucial it was for him to meet people at a point in his career where he wasn't certain whether he wanted to continue with Muppets, that had mastered the craft of puppetry, and how deep his appreciation for the craft was, and how much he innovated within the art form. It is also incredibly satisfying to read about how his success came about partially by good timing, partially by having an incredible work ethic, and partially by being generous enough in spirit to work with an amazingly talented array of collaborators, which to me is both a realistic and inspiring model for growing as an artist.

This is, in some respects, a daunting book - it's 400 plus pages are densely packed, but an incredibly rewarding one. Bravo to Brian Jay Jones on the depth of his research, and to all of the people Jim touched who shared their parts of his story.
Profile Image for Ilana Waters.
Author 21 books263 followers
October 28, 2013
If you want to get a deeper look at the fascinating man that was Jim Henson, this is the book for you. Just don't expect that look to be too deep. Although hundreds of pages are devoted to his artistic and business affairs, I would have liked to know more about Henson's family, how they were coping with his success and long absences, his numerous affairs.

Although well-written and certainly thorough, this biography seemed to be more about “Jim the mogul” than “Jim the man.” And although I know photos add substantially to the overall cost of a book, I would’ve loved to see some color pictures of the Muppets. Needless to say, they were mentioned often, and it would’ve been nice to have some visuals to go along with the text.

Finally, I would also have liked to know more about Jane Henson (Jim’s wife) and her role in the making of the Muppets, partial ownership of the company, and mothering of their five children. I know this was a biography of Jim Henson, not Jane, but I got the feeling a lot went on between them that was not expressly stated. Perhaps this was done out of respect for Jim, and perhaps for family members who (understandably) didn’t want him portrayed in a negative light.

But if you're looking for inspiration on how to create a (mostly) authentic life, this biography is a great place to start. Jim Henson had the kind of existence we should all strive for--one filled with love, humor, and kindness.
Profile Image for Morgan.
Author 1 book83 followers
September 20, 2021
I really liked this biography, not my favorite I read this year, but one I've been wanted to read for some time. I love Henion's stuff and how h did his stuff too. This book covers that and parts about his live. I wasn't really interested in the business deals, but can see why they are in this.

I noticed some people read this looking for stuff about his shows and works, rather than about the man himself. There are a TON of other books that just focus on the Muppets, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and others. This talks about some other projects he worked on I'd like to see like Storyteller.

One thing that does bother me with this book is there is no filmography at the end and the index seems to be missing somethings the book actually talks about.
Profile Image for Harley Gesford.
34 reviews
December 16, 2022
This was the right book at the right time.
Has that ever happen to you? You experience something, some piece of art that moves you and put you back on track with your creative journey.
I’ve owned this book for a while, and while reading Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, a thought of another Swamp Lad popped into my brain.
What started out as “I’ll read a chapter or two a night and balance my other readings” turned into me not putting the book down.
It was a superb book.
Excellently writing by Jones and felt more conversational then most biographies. It never skimmed to being a bright and shiny pull over of the trails and mistakes Jim made but it was truly a celebration of this staggering genius’s life.
(I loved how it was written so much that I purchased Jones’s bios on Seuss and Lucas and will be hungrily reading them in the future.)
To make it short and simple and to the point: this book was exceptional. How it was written and handled was a treasure onto itself. If you are feeling creatively bankrupt, pick up this book and prepare to celebrate art and life and the impossible infinites of imagination with Jim and his friends.

Profile Image for David.
182 reviews5 followers
May 26, 2019
Overall I liked this book, Jim Henson was an inspiration to me although not too much of a hero (that honour belongs to my father), I have admired his work and enjoyed almost everything he's done. The exceptions being his strange independent art films, which I have never seen nor have any real desire too.
Although I now have some very disappointed feelings about the way he handled his personal life, I still admire his professional life.
It's hard to review a biography and just write about the book without making judgement's about the books subjects life choices. I have some very strong disagreements about his personal life, however I'll leave it at that and not get into judgement calls.
I said it before and I'll say it again. Never meet your Idols/(non-family)Heroes.
543 reviews35 followers
August 7, 2016
This book is a struggle. It is SO slow...and detailed...and long. The audio book version doesn't help. The narrator has a mild gentle cadence that adds to the slow factor. The details are exacting...Jim wears an orange tie and uses a number 2 pencil and sits in an Eames Chair. Just kidding...almost. And the author's hero-worship wears very thin. There's a giant "he should be right, even though he isn't" excuse for most all of Jim's failures. And there are some major contradictions that just don't fit the author's narrative. The Sesame Street muppets were a non-negotiable item for any sale as mentioned countless times. Yet later, in just two sentences or so, it's said that the rights were sold to a German company. Jim is described as not wanting to deal with business issues, yet it's mentioned that he put his name in to lead the Disney Company. He wanted ownership of his productions, yet let his namesake The Jim Henson Show stagger off-course. He avoided conflict, yet strung along a wife and many girlfriends at the same time. The muppets brought Jim his finest achievements, yet he didn't fully embrace their success and sought other projects. These contradictions draw your attention because the book glides over them. The chronology of the story is exceedingly well-researched and solid. The narrator is good at adding voices and character. It's the glossy image of everything that muddles the book.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
367 reviews
August 14, 2014
This isn't just a biography, it's a love letter for the creative process and how one man lived it whole-heartedly. I learned that Jim Henson was not perfect (my heart ached for his wife, Jane), but he possessed the kind of personality to make others aspire to be better people - and he believed in them, in return. Maybe we all catch some of his positivity through his Muppets...I know the world seems brighter after an episode of Veterinary Hospital.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how he broke into business - by having his puppets lip synch to popular songs. So Becky, Angie and Susan - I don't think he would have minded our library puppets lip synching to music. I have no doubt in my mind he would have thought it was wonderful. :-)
Profile Image for Alex | | findingmontauk1.
1,104 reviews97 followers
January 31, 2019
I never once thought I would complete a biography on Jim Henson - but then I also never really figured there would be one. But why? The man is beyond talented, changed the TV industry, and was a huge success. His life just fascinates me. He was involved in just SO many things aside from Sam and Friends, The Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Dark Crystal. He has been a part of so many peoples' lives it is astounding. I think everyone who reads this will be filled with some happy nostalgia and a deeper appreciation of Henson and his creative brilliance!
Profile Image for Blair Hodges .
508 reviews74 followers
January 14, 2016
A mostly-admiring account that doesn't entirely shy away from some of the more unflattering elements of Henson's life. The NYT reviewer said it best; it's "an exhaustive work that is never exhausting." Jones has woven together a ton of information but manages to keep the story moving along month by month without very much psychologizing.

And I may or may not have teared up at the end.
Profile Image for Marco G.
110 reviews6 followers
October 30, 2018
I loved this book. Lots of interesting moments in Jim's life, many of which I did not know, and some I really wanted to learn more about. The book doesn't disappoint with much personal details provided by his family and personal archives. I adore the muppets and the Dark Crystal, so it was a treat to read about how these came to be. Jim was an interesting guy and I have to admit I did not know much about his passing when it occured, since I was nearing graduation from high school. It really flew below my radar. Reading about his passing was heartbreaking, but his wishes after his death were inspiring. His life crossed many famous people including George Lucas and a crazy amount of celebrities in the day that begged to be on the muppet show. Byt the time he was 47 he had produced, directed, written, created: fraggle rock, Labyrinth, three muppet movies, five season of the muppet show, the sesame street muppets, workshops in NY and London, and five children. He performed Kermet thee Frog and brought puppeterring to the forefront as art. The guy was a creative genius whose decisions didn't always pan about but seemed to always do what was true to his art and passion. He left a legacy that will be enjoyed for hopefully many years. i know I'll be watching the muppets with my son soon. About the author's writing style: quick, economical and joyful to read. Book moves so fast, that it is easy to tear through.

"what Jim did was wonderfully complex, though not complicated—and elegant in its simplicity. “When I was young,” wrote Jim, “my ambition was to be one of the people who makes a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave this world a little bit better for my being here.” And he did."

"Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it. Love, JIM"
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books487 followers
June 6, 2019
Jones has completed a fascinating book about a fascinating and complex man. I was born in 1980 and grew up with the Muppets. I was extremely upset when, at age 10, I found out that Jim Henson had abruptly died. For me, this book was an emotional read at times because I feel like the Muppets are such a big part of my life. I loved reading about Henson's imagination and creative process. The back-stories behind Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas, and the John Denver Christmas album were an absolute delight for me. I couldn't wait to share tidbits with my husband and my mom. Where the book waned for me--and made me start skimming--was near the end, where the text was less about creation and more about Henson's corporate dealings and jet-setting lifestyle with his girlfriend. His death, though... it made me bawl at age 10, and I was really fighting tears as I read the details about it at age 39 (and, of course, I reached this section in public).

If you love the Muppets and Henson's creatures, this book is well worth reading.
Profile Image for Lindsay Lacher.
248 reviews18 followers
May 17, 2021
This stunning biography follows the life and works of Jim Henson and does an excellent job of telling his life story in an enjoyable format. Not only does this book detail his creation and success of The Muppets, but it also talks about his other works, his family, his working relationship with Frank Oz and so so much more.

Honestly, I didn't know much about Jim Henson as a person beforehand but learning about him and about more detailed faucets of his work was very interesting. I absolutely recommend picking this biography up if you have ever enjoyed a single Jim Henson production because learning more about the man and his work just adds extra appreciation to the experience.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,076 reviews52 followers
August 22, 2022
Jim Henson: The Biographry by Brian Day Jones

Many people see Jim as an extraordinary creator. I realize that I see Jim first as an appreciator. He appreciated so much. He loved London. He loved walking on the Heath. He appreciated his family and his colleagues and his Muppet family. And he appreciated the performances and design of a puppet. He appreciated the art objects that he might buy. He appreciated the detail of a Persian rug. He appreciated .... just beauty. I really don't believe Jim could have been such an extraordinary creator if he hadn't been such an extraordinary appreciator.

Frank Oz on Jim Henson

This is a more than solid biography on a larger than life figure and it was an entertaining and memorable read. All of Jim Henson's creative endeavors are covered in great detail in the book. And there is oodles of rewarding nostalgia and plenty of behind the scenes descriptions in the book. The author writes in a strictly linear fashion and does not speculate about what was going on in Jim's head. It was helpful that Jim had kept a diary since 1965 through the 1980's. The book does have one major flaw however.

It is what I would classify as a friendly biography as the author became a dear friend of the Henson family and spent five years writing the biography. He was afforded privileged access to the Henson archives. As a result there is very little objectionable material and almost nothing that portrays Jim in a bad light. Even the scenes describing his marriage break up amounted to less than a page in a 500 page book. Maybe Jim was truly a saint.

Jim Henson was born in 1946 in Mississippi but when Jim was in middle school the family moved to Hyattsville Maryland just outside D.C. Jim's childhood was not covered in too much depth in the book, maybe forty pages, but he was by the biographer's account a happy and popular child who was enamored by movies and television. This was his true love and it was puppetry that provided him with his first foray into television.

Jim created Kermit his first Muppet in 1955. Jim was only 19 at the time and already landed his first TV show in the D.C. area that he hosted and it was called Sam and Friends. Kermit was made of material from an old blue felt coat of Jim's mother's. This soft puppet allowed him to easily manipulate the facial expressions that Kermit and other Muppets were famous for. Kermit l was not a frog then, but more ambiguous, but he looked very similar to today's Kermit and the kids loved him along with Jim's voicing. Kermit was Jim's persona and his favorite character that he would ever create and perform.

By this time Jim was also attending the University of Maryland and this is where he would meet his future wife Jane. She became the other puppeteer on the tv show with Jim. She was level headed and three years older than Jim. She would soon graduate along with Jim's older brother Paul. Paul tragically died in a car accident shortly after. This affected Jim greatly.

Jim became so well known locally for Sam and Friends that within two years Steve Allen and the Tonight show invited him on to perform in 1956. The show was memorable as Jim played Kermit who was in a blond wig singing Rosemary Clooney's popular song of the day. The skit was a huge hit and soon Jim and Jane were asked to guest perform Sam and Friends on several other national talk and variety shows. In 1958 Jim won a local Emmy for Sam and Friends. He was only 22. Jim was now flush with cash and he had also been fascinated by cars. He had enough money at 22 when he graduated from the University of Maryland to buy himself a Rolls Royce.

In 1962 Jim was elected the President of the Puppeteers of America. The Muppets were doing a lot of TV ads and appearances on the Today show and prime time variety shows. In 1963 Jim and his young family moved to Manhattan to accommodate all of the TV and ad work. It was at this time that he developed the beloved Rowlf character - for a dog food ad. It was also at this time that he began working with Frank Oz. Soon thereafter Jim and his expanding family needed more space than an NYC apartment could provide - he and Jane would soon have five children - and they moved to Greenwich Connecticut. This location allowed Jim to commute to the offices.

As the sixties progressed Jim and the Muppets became regulars on the Jimmy Dean show, the Tonight show and the Today show. But Jim was unable to convince TV executives to give him his own prime time show. In a familiar refrain the execs didn't think the Muppets would sell with enough adults. Partly in response to those criticisms in 1965 Jim starred, produced and directed an experimental short movie called Time Piece. It did not involve any puppetry and won several major awards at film festivals including Venice. He had always loved films and television more than the puppetry itself. The sixties closed out without any further breakthroughs until Jim gave in to the criticisms and went all in and in 1969 he developed the most famous children's show in history - Sesame Street

Kermit, Big Bird, Oscar, Bert and Ernie were there from the start. Grover and Cookie Monster soon followed as did other characters were developed by his team and the Childrens Television workshop. By 1971, Sesame Street was making Jim a lot of money - almost all from the merchandising alone. But Jim was still restless and wanted his own TV show in prime time and finally in the mid 70's he was green-lighted for his own Muppet Show. It was two celebrities, Cher and Julie Andrews, who helped push CBS executives over the top. Having worked with Jim on their variety shows, they heaped immense praise on Jim and his team and their creative talent and advocated for the suitability of Muppets to work with live action guest hosts.

The production of the Muppet shows were about three times as expensive as a typical variety show of that era, largely because of the immensely complicated set designs to accommodate hidden puppeteers, and even the number of puppeteers and the Muppets themselves drive up costs. Jim was able to book many A-list celebrities over the years including Edgar Bergen and Charlie who the show's puppeteers idolized. The Muppet Show was enormously successful and ran for five years and hit the critical one hundred episode threshold that would allow for syndication. Henson's team would once again win an Emmy for their work. Many new beloved Muppets were introduced including Frank Oz's Miss Piggy. Jim remained dedicated to Kermit who as an extension of Jim centered the Muppet Show.

Jim had a lot of irons in the fire and moved on to film including three Muppet Movies, The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth. The Muppet Movies were all huge commercial successes. It helped him with his non Muppet projects. Jim was so heavily invested in passion the Dark Crystal which he wanted to make for a decade. As it neared completion, The studio executives who financed the Dark Crystal for $25 million became concerned it wouldn't sell because an early screening showed the plot was lacking and the audience was confused. Jim used his entire family fortune to buy the rights to Dark Crystal for $15 million. He felt so confident in the movie. He was eventually vindicated and with some last minute edits that the studio had recommended earlier, the Dark Crystal went on to make over $30 million in profit from Jim's financial gamble. He also relentlessly promoted it. The Labyrinth was a different matter. Somehow Jim convinced the studios to finance The Labyrinth at a cost even higher than The Dark Crystal. Despite the presence of David Bowie in the lead role the film was not a commercial success but Jim didn't lose any of his own money. It was also around this time that he created Fraggle Rock for HBO and the series was quite popular.

So by the end of the 80's, Jim and his Muppets were world famous. His relationship with Jane however was ending in part because Jim was never home. He spent his time split across two continents and he was engrossed in all of his projects. But Jim during this time was by all accounts mostly happy. He loved his children and felt guilty that he wasn't around. They would often travel the globe together.

Jim was thinking of the future and wanted his Muppets to live on in perpetuity. He found out that Disney was interested in purchasing the Muppets but only if Jim would stay on for fifteen years. This intrigued him and Disney threw out an offer of $150 million. There were many sticking points including Jim's desire to have creative control over Kermit which Disney balked at. It was also at this time of negotiations that tragedy struck.

Jim had never believed much in hospitals or doctors nor had be been admitted to a hospital in his fifty-three years. He had no need. He was a workaholic and had always enjoyed good health. But in May of 1990 Jim became worn down during Disney's negotiations to buy his company and their negotiation tactics. As Jim jetted across the globe supporting his various studios in LA, NY, and London and meetings with Disney - he developed a cough. Three days after telling Disney he was concerned about their lack of flexibility in negotiating, Jim took to bed in North Carolina while visiting his father who had dementia. After a few days of illness Jim made it back to Manhattan but then he started coughing up blood. After a day he still refused to see a doctor. Only when he could not breathe properly and complained of a racing heart did he finally relent to Jane's suggestions to see a doctor. Jim was soon admitted to the hospital but it was too late for the antibiotics to work and within five hours Jim drifted out of consciousness for the last time. He died the next day from sepsis caused by streptococcus pneumonia.

As to be expected his friends and family and the public were shocked and saddened by his passing. His family arranged a public memorial in New York City. His ashes were later buried on an anonymous hill outside Taos, New Mexico. Taos was a place where he intimated on a family vacation that the hill over there would be a good place to spend eternity.

After Jim's passing the Disney deal fell apart but there remained enormous value in Jim Henson Productions and the Muppets in particular. In 2003, thirteen years after Jim's passing, the Henson family sold the Muppets which included all past movies and tv shows and IPR and merchandising to the German production company EM.TV for $680 million. An astronomical sum, a year later they realized that they had paid too much and soon after sold the rights. Jim's children actually would buy back the rights to the Muppets only, not the Sesame Street characters, reportedly for pennies on the dollars. The Henson kids would then sell the Muppets again and this time to Disney for an undisclosed amount of money. It was reportedly less than the $150 million originally offered to Jim in 1990. But a lot of money nonetheless.

4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Shannon Yarbrough.
Author 8 books13 followers
August 14, 2013
I'm not much of a biography reader but having grown up watching Sesame Street and The Muppets back when we only had 3 or 4 channels on a bunny-earred TV (and PBS was fortunately one of them), I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Henson's work. So I knew I wanted to read this bio!

Due out this year on what would be his 77th birthday, this book is definitely for the serious bio reader. There are not a ton of pictures (an insert and a picture at the beginning of each chapter), but you do get a well-rounded, well-researched look at who this man was. The author had complete cooperation from Henson's family and friends, and had access to many of his personal effects and papers.

The book starts with how Henson's parents met and settled in Mississippi, tracing Henson's creativity back to a relative in the Civil War, and shows how Henson was raised a kind and patient man with Christian Scientist roots. There was always laughter in their house. His parents were hard workers too so it's easy to see where Henson got his determination. You also learn where he got his creativity from - he was a very imaginative child and was encouraged by his grandmother.

This book is pretty much a linear timeline of Henson's life, which chapters devoted to Sesame Street, Sam and Friends, The Muppet Show, each Muppet movie, The Dark Crystal, etc. It definitely takes patience to read it. But there are some real gems sprinkled throughout the text. In the first chapter, we learn The Wizard of Oz was his favorite movie (it came out when he was just three), but he was more afraid of the MGM lion roaring at the start of the movie. We also get behind-the-scene glimpses of the Muppets and Sesame Street that are noteworthy, like reading how all the sets were elevated six feet off the ground so the puppeteers could stand up while operating the Muppets. Or how the director would yell "Blue Sky!" when a child came on the set to alert adults to watch their language (though Henson hardly ever said a cuss word). We learn how Kermit was born and got his name. Or that the Muppets partly got their name from a TV listing that was badly copy-edited. I loved the personal glimpse into his early professional relationship with Jane when they were doing "Sam and Friends."

I especially liked the chapter about how young Jim loved TV and just wanted to work in television back in the early 1950s. He was more interested in being artistic and working on set design or publicity. He excelled in college in theater doing set design and doing publicity artwork. He learned puppetry by checking two books out at the library in order to audition for a TV show looking to hire a puppeteer, and of course the rest is history though Jim kept trying to get out of puppets and into show design.

And of course, there's a personal glimpse into Henson's life. We learn about the creation of our beloved Muppet characters. We find out Henson loved women, and loved to collect art and fast cars. You'll learn about his early work with the Muppets on SNL and how he strived to get his characters their own show, and obviously succeeded. And then of course there's quite a bit about the eventual sale of the franchise to Disney and also Henson's untimely death which happened on the day the sale was to be final. The man really was a creative genius who worked very hard for his small company, and in the end, that's all he wanted to do was be creative, be an artist.

Henson is very much the man I expected he was. My one problem with reading bios is whether or not I trust the author, and I must say I completely have faith in Brian Jay Jones' work here. It is well written, entertaining, and thorough. I also love a book that has me researching things on my own - I went to YouTube numerous times to watch old Muppet segments that are mentioned in the book and even bought the first Muppet movie on BluRay. For those expecting more pictures or more concise background information related to the Muppet characters themselves, there are other better books on the market. For those who want to get to know the man behind them, this bio is for you!
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