Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
Publication Date: September 24, 2013 | Publisher: Ballantine Books | Pages: 608
Format read: Early copy provided by publisher. (Thank you!)
Purchase: Amazon or B&N
Visiting the Muppet section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios has grown to be a bittersweet experience for me. While I will forever love MuppetVision 3D, as I’ve read more about the theme park’s history, it’s difficult to fathom what could have been if the Jim Henson/Disney deal originally went through and, most importantly, if Jim had not passed away at 53 years old.
Thanks to the thoughtful and well-researched work of Brian Jay Jones, the picture is crisper in my head. An excited Jim roaming around the Muppet section of the park, chatting it up with Imagineers and scheming about Muppet rides and restaurants. (“I never saw this friend of mine so happy,” producer David Lazer said.) Working on projects when the deal had not even been completed, so anxious to be a part of a World he loved so much. One where he hoped to catch a break from the burden of operating a business and dive deeper into the creative realms of possibility as he so liked to do.
That’s the thing about this book. Scenes or stories we know are enhanced to the highest degree; the blurry figure we associate with Muppets morphs into a human man — a boss who was overly generous and supportive with his employees, a devoted father, a dreamer, a non-stop creator, a husband who was terrible with confrontation, and an artist who worked tirelessly to teach others to appreciate the art of puppetry. There are so many sides to his personality and I appreciated the author capturing the highs and lows that made Jim Jim.
From his lovely childhood in Mississippi to his tragic passing in 1990, there is so much detail jam-packed into this hefty book that you are going to feel delightfully satisfied. I loved hearing about his tight-knit family, his close relationship with his grandmother, his early years in Maryland — and that’s even before we get to anything Muppety at all. That was one thing that surprised me — how the work I’ve been aware of happened so late in his life. It was unbelievable to think of the various jobs he held before even The Muppet Show made it to people’s television sets. And almost distressing because as the years move along and inch closer to 1990, you realize just how much he intended to do and how so many projects and dreams would be halted.
Most of the times readers pick up a biography for educational purposes and since it had been so long since I had read one myself, I was nervous. Would it hold my attention? Would it feel balanced enough? And honestly? I’ve never read a biographical piece that had me laughing out loud, totally charmed, nudging my husband with fun facts, absolutely frustrated at some situations, and, of course, wiping away the tears. Rowlf on the Jimmy Dean Show, Frank Oz and Jim working together as Bert and Ernie, the making of The Muppet Movie, Saturday Night Live shenanigans, hearing from so many of his closest colleagues and family members firsthand. It’s a moving and fascinating story that you just don’t want to stop experiencing.
For a Muppet fan (casual or hardcore), a pop culture enthusiast, and, of course, the Disney fan (inevitable to compare Walt and Jim), Jim Henson: The Biography is a book you need in your collection. For the first time ever, it’s lovely to have a Jim book that has more words than pictures. (True story: all of the others make their home in the children’s book department.) Jones has done an impressive job collaborating with all those involved (the Henson family was completely cooperative though they did not have editorial control) and combing through endless information collected throughout Jim’s illusive career.
This book has brought Jim back to life in a way we have not seen in a long, long time and I am so thankful.