Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones is coming to stores on September 24th of this year. This is the first in-depth biography of Jim Henson, and you'll be able to hear the book's author talk about Jim Henson's life and work to celebrate it's release.
Brian Jay Jones and Frank Oz will appear on NBC's The Today Show to discuss the book on the morning of Tuesday, September 24th.
Celebrating Jim Henson: The Biography, a panel discussion and book-signing, will take place on October 1st at the Museum of the Moving Image. For details and information on how to purchase tickets click here.
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.
Advance praise for Jim Henson: The Biography
“I’m a rabid Jim Henson fan—his brilliant ideas spawned shows that entertained and educated millions, myself included. Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods. It’s an absolute must read!”—Neil Patrick Harris
“[Brian Jay Jones’s] 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. . . . 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.”—Booklist (starred review)
“I worked with Jim for more than thirty years. He was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me. Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity, as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. Jim needed this book to be written. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.”—Frank Oz
All of us here at The Jim Henson Legacy are delighted to share the news of a major project that we've been working on:
Astoria, New York, May 21, 2013 — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Museum of the Moving Image, The Jim Henson Legacy,and other officials today announced that the family of Jim Henson has donated nearly 400 puppets, costumes, props, and other objects to the Museum, which will build a new gallery devoted to Henson’s important and lasting creative achievements. The project, which has a fundraising goal of $5 million, is anchored by $2.75 million in funding from the City of New York for the construction of the new gallery, which is expected to open to the public in winter 2014–2015.
“It’s only fitting that this extraordinary collection of puppets, costumes, props, and more should find a home in New York, where imagination and free expression are part of the fabric of our City, and where anyone who’s watched an episode of Sesame Street sees the inspiration provided by the vibrant neighborhoods and characters that make our city so extraordinary," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "The City is proud to provide support for the new gallery to house the collection, attracting visitors from around the world to experience this singular body of work.”
Carl Goodman, the Museum’s Executive Director, stated: “We are tremendously grateful to the Henson family and to the City of New York for identifying the Museum as the location of a permanent New York City attraction devoted to this transformational figure.”
Cheryl Henson, daughter of the late Jane and Jim Henson, added: “We are delighted that Museum of the Moving Image will house this permanent collection of my father’s work. Our fondness for this city and its institutions is deeply rooted as NYC was home for The Jim Henson Company for many years and is now for the Jim Henson Workshop in Long Island City. It is especially meaningful that the Moving Image should be home to this select collection as it was at this Museum in 2012 that the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Jim Henson’s Fantastic World concluded its very successful five-year national tour.”
At the announcement today, the Mayor, the Museum, and The Jim Henson Legacy were joined by New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, and Media and Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver. The presentation also featured special appearances by Miss Piggy, Gobo Fraggle, and Oscar the Grouch.
Between 1955 and his death in 1990, Jim Henson and the beloved characters that he and his collaborators created were responsible for some of our culture’s most memorable moving images. Through the continuing work of The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Workshop, and The Walt Disney Company, Henson’s creations continue to delight millions around the globe.
The donation to the Museum includes puppets, costumes, props, and other artifacts representing every major film and television production on which Henson played a key creative role during his life time, including Sam and Friends, The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. At the heart of the collection are approximately 200 puppets, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Elmo, Ernie, Bert, Count von Count, Gobo Fraggle, the Swedish Chef, and Statler and Waldorf.
The collection will form the basis of a dynamic visitor experience housed in a new 2,200-square-foot gallery on the Museum’s second floor, adjacent to its core exhibition, Behind the Screen. Artifacts from the Henson family donation will be presented along with character sketches, storyboards, and scripts from The Jim Henson Company archive, as well as with film and television clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and interactive experiences.
Complementing the Henson exhibition and taking place throughout the Museum will be a wide range of ongoing programs, including curriculum-based education programs for school groups, continuous screenings in the Museum’s Tut’s Fever theater located next to the new gallery, and live events featuring those who worked with and carry on the legacy of Jim Henson.
The Henson gallery and exhibition are the signature components of the Museum’s 25th anniversary campaign — the Museum opened to the public in 1988 — for which $6 million of a $10 million goal has already been raised.
“The artistry, creativity, and innovation evident in Jim Henson’s creations are a wonderful complement to the Museum of the Moving Image’s dynamic collection,” said Commissioner Levin. “Henson and his partners worked here in New York long before the Muppets took Manhattan, and we are proud to join The Jim Henson Legacy, the Museum, and other supporters to provide future generations of artists and audiences with the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable gift.”
Jane Anne Nebel Henson met Jim Henson in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland and soon after became an integral creative and business partner in what would become the world famous Muppets.
As a fine arts education major studying at the University of Maryland in 1954, Jane Nebel shared with Jim Henson a unique approach to puppetry that is joyful and sophisticated. While still an undergraduate, Jim Henson was offered a spot on the local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., WRC-TV, and asked Jane Nebel to join him as a co performer and creator.
The television show, Sam and Friends, which aired before The Huntley-Brinkley Report and The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen, in Washington D.C., began to attract an enthusiastic audience. It wasn’t long before the Muppets were making special guest appearances on the top variety shows of the time. Their first national television guest appearance was on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, the same show that Sam and Friends had preceded. Jane Nebel graduated in 1955, but continued working with Jim Henson at WRC-TV as a performer, puppet designer/builder, and business partner. In May 1959, Jane Nebel married Jim Henson at her parents’ home in Salisbury, MD.
Within the next five years, Jane gave birth to Lisa Henson (1960), Cheryl Henson (1961), Brian Henson (1963), and John Henson (1965). Heather Henson was born in 1970.
Jane Anne Nebel was born June 16, 1934 in St. Albans (Queens), New York City. Her parents were Winifred Johnson Nebel and Adalbert Nebel. Her father was known professionally as Dal Lee, an astrologer. Older siblings include her sister Margareta Regina Nebel Jennings and brother Brereton Edward Nebel.
In addition to her work on the Muppets, Mrs. Henson continued her studies in fine art at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Years later, the family would live in Greenwich, CT, where Jane was assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development. She continued her official association with The Jim Henson Company, and actively participated in the company as it became an important global family entertainment organization, collaborating with Jim Henson on a number of projects that included the traveling museum exhibit The Art of The Muppets, and The Muppet Show on Tour and Sesame Street Live arena stage shows. Known for her keen eye for spotting puppeteer talent, Jane also became the point of entry to the company for many top puppeteers.
Mrs. Henson also served on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation, founded in 1982 by Jim Henson to promote and develop the art of puppetry and presently headed by Cheryl Henson. Each year the Foundation introduces thousands of adults and families to puppetry through grant-making and public awareness efforts. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than 675 grants to more than 300 American puppet artists for the creation and development of new work. In 1992, Mrs. Henson funded and founded The Jim Henson Legacy, to conserve, preserve and present the artistic contribution of Jim Henson. In 2001, Mrs. Henson created the Jane Henson Foundation, where she continued her philanthropic work.
Mrs. Henson also co-founded The National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where she displayed a notable talent for discovering new performers and supporting their work. Her association with the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA), Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, the University of Maryland Alumni Association, The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, The Paley Center in New York, and The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has brought to Mrs. Henson many awards and honors.
Legally separated in 1986, Jim and Jane Henson continued to share their love of, and vision for, the Muppets. Jane Nebel Henson, always modest about her own contribution to the creation and success of the Muppets, would often speak to the public about Jim Henson’s body of work and how “Jim wanted to leave the world a better place.” According to Arthur Novell, Trustee of The Jim Henson Legacy, “most would agree they both did.”
Astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died on Monday, July 23rd, at the age of 61. Susan Juhl and her husband Jerry, had gotten to know Sally and she shared this remembrance with us about how Sally Ride met the Muppets:
Way back in 1981, the Muppets were asked to write wake-up calls for astronauts on board the first Columbia shuttle flights. Jerry asked if he could be given info about them; what were their favorite songs, their odd tics, their passions...
Sally Ride was in charge of these calls, so she contacted Jerry. She was very pleased with Jerry's enthusiasm, and volunteered to fly to our place, to discuss things in person. (It wasn't just for fun: astronauts had to pilot a jet once a month.) Next thing we knew, THREE astronauts flew three jets to Vandenberg, where they rented a car and drove to Cambria.
I fixed dinner for them, then the talk began. After Jerry got the info he needed, he showed them his flight simulator on his Apple. The three space people asked to try it out.
They crashed the planes (NOT on purpose!)
The wake-ups went beautifully.
The original three plus the guys who had been awakened wanted to thank us, so they flew out again. We had a great time, and they signed a large photo of the shuttle ascending. They wrote, "To Jerry and Susan ("writers to the Stars") -- Many thanks! And may the Swinetrek and the Columbia cross paths again." It's signed by Steve Negel, Terry J. Hart, Jim Bucki, John Young, Richard Truly, Joe Engle, Ken Mattingly, Hank Hartsfield, Rich Hauck, Dan Brandenstein, and Sally K. Ride (John Young had been the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972.)
Sally kept in touch, so when she was picked to fly aboard the Challenger in 1983, she invited us to the launch. We went, thinking we'd probably be a long way away from the main staging area, since we weren't family. We were very surprised to find ourselves in the VIP stand.
It was a glorious moment when that beautiful shuttle took off. All the senses were involved (mainly sight and sound, but even smell and taste) and I was so moved I was crying. I looked at Jerry. He was crying, too.
We kept up our friendship with Sally, and invited her to Toronto where we were producing Fraggle Rock. She was fascinated by the Doozers, since the mechanisms used to make them move was very similar to the arm on the Shuttle.
She was a great teacher, writer, scientist and human being.