Jim Henson: The Biography
In short, Jim Henson was a doer. He never wasted time learning how to do something before taking action, he learned as he went along.
“Many of the things I’ve done in my life have basically been self-taught,” Jim admitted later. “I had never worked with puppets … and even when I began on television, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I’m sure this was a good thing, because I learned as I tackled each problem. I think if you study—if you learn too much of what others have done—you may tend to take the same direction as everybody else.”
Jim Henson was a master of iteration. The common perception of Henson is that he pulled the idea of Kermit thin air, called him a Muppet, started making movies. In actuality, it took him decades to build his universe that became known as the Muppet franchise. That world wasn’t born out of a single thought, it was built out of iteration after iteration and started with his Mother’s discarded jacket and a ping pong ball to make the first Kermit prototype. Henson’s biggest strength is that he was always making. He would make something, analyze it, and make it better the next time. Then, whenever he would master a certain execution, he would go off and do something else.
Henson was also a collaborator. He surrounded himself with people that could do the things he couldn’t do. He put trust in those people, and help them accountable for their roles.
This extraordinary biography—written with the generous cooperation of the Henson family—covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life: from his childhood in Leland, Mississippi, through the years of burgeoning fame in America, to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Henson’s family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives, Brian Jay Jones explores the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, and his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television. Jones provides the imaginative context for Henson’s non-Muppet projects, including the richly imagined worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth—as well as fascinating misfires like Henson’s dream of opening an inflatable psychedelic nightclub.