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Jim Henson : The Biography
by Brian Jay Jones

Overview - NATIONAL BESTSELLER - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY "BOOKPAGE"
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.
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More About Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones
 
 
 
Overview
NATIONAL BESTSELLER - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY "BOOKPAGE"
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 just 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 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.
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 dealmaking 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 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.
Praise for "Jim Henson"
"Illuminating . . . As Jones expertly shows, Henson remained throughout his life an artist who was continuously in motion, conceiving, pitching, and managing multiple projects at once."--"The Atlantic"
"Consistently surprises . . . Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), "Jim Henson" joyously documents its subject's knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world's newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville."--"The Wall Street Journal"
"This is a biography that earns the label "definitive.""--"The Dallas Morning News"
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"An exhaustive work that is never exhausting, a credit both to Jones's brisk style and to Henson's exceptional life."--"The New York Times"
"An insightful look at the gentle artist.""--Parade""
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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780345526113
  • ISBN-10: 0345526112
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Publish Date: September 2013
  • Page Count: 585


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Entertainment & Performing Arts - General
Books > Social Science > Popular Culture - General
Books > Business & Economics > Industries - Entertainment

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-07-22
  • Reviewer: Staff

The Sesame Street auteur who made the Muppets into a global entertainment and merchandising juggernaut seems almost as winsome as his cute, furry creations in this adulatory biography. Jones (Washington Irving: An American Original) styles Henson as a polite and soft-spoken but charismatic figure whose “faith in his fellow man was unbounded,” and whose defining characteristics were “staggering” generosity and an unerring instinct for “playing nice.” The worst sins the author can dredge up are affordable penchants for fast cars and gambling and some affairs after Henson separated from his wife. Jones makes a meatier, though overstated, case for Henson as a genius—he soft pedals the fact that Henson’s non-Muppet projects usually bombed—who revolutionized puppetry with televisual mise-en-scène; flexible, expressive, close-up-ready faces; and edgy humor that often climaxed in explosions or Muppet cannibalism. The book’s most engrossing passages explore the extraordinary technical demands of creating naturalistic puppet spectacles in the age before computer graphics: “performing” a Muppet was an intricate, almost contortionistic dance of two puppeteers crammed into a single sleeve, and one swampy movie scene required Henson to manipulate a banjo-playing Kermit the Frog while sealed in a diving bell. Jones presents a rather bland show-biz saga, but with a fascinating making-of documentary woven in. Photos. Agent: Jonathan Lyons, Lyons Literary. (Sept. 24)

 
BookPage Reviews

Portait of a Muppet-master

It’s hard to see Jim Henson’s name in print without immediately thinking of the Muppets, those deceptively simple-looking puppets who seemed to bring forth a full range of human emotions. Two things we learn quickly in Jim Henson: The ­Biography are that the effort involved in bringing the Muppets to life was astronomical, and that Henson chafed at being forever associated with them. Who knew?

Author Brian Jay Jones spoke to Henson’s surviving family, along with most of his coworkers and business partners, and the result is a book that offers a multifaceted view of Henson’s home and work lives. His childhood in rural Mississippi revolved around trips to the local movie theater and driving any car he could get his hands on, both interests he would indulge for life. The soft-spoken youth made himself heard when television was invented, insisting the family buy one and realizing immediately it was what he wanted to do with his life. From his very first job at a TV station all the way through fame, fortune and an untimely death at 53, he never stopped studying the medium and expanding its possibilities.

There are so many enjoyable aspects to this book that it’s hard to know where to start. Henson himself is a study in contrasts: a devoted family man who was serially unfaithful to his wife; so soft-spoken he often went unheard, but steadfast in pursuit of his vision (he was described as having a “whim of steel”); unfocused on money when it came to work, yet an extravagant shopper with top-dollar taste. Then there are the Muppets themselves. Henson’s creations were innovative due to their soft, flexible design, which allowed subtle hand movements to offer emotive facial expressions. But finding the character inside the puppet was a challenge for the performers. Miss Piggy started off as essentially a chorus girl, used in background scenes and bit parts, until one day puppeteer Frank Oz deviated from the script: Instead of slapping Kermit the Frog, he had her karate-chop him with an emphatic “Haii-YA!” . . . and a star was born.

Henson’s career was about to take off in new directions via a planned sale of his company to Disney when he died of an aggressive staph infection. After reading about his life and creative passion, we can only imagine what that collaboration might have led to, and hope that some readers are inspired to dream just as big. Jim Henson: The Biography is a fantastic story of a brilliant life cut short, but it can also be read as a blueprint for following your bliss.

 
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