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Jim Henson: The Biography

by

Jim Henson: The Biography Cover

ISBN13: 9780345526113
ISBN10: 0345526112
All Product Details

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

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.

Review:

"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-scéne; 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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

“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

Review:

“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

Review:

“This is a biography that earns the label definitive.” The Dallas Morning News

Review:

“If ever you had a single question about the felt magic Jim Henson managed to create, chances are Brian Jay Jones’ sweeping new biography of the puppeteer will answer it....Jones offers a meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted....It is a better world with the Muppets. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.” Associated Press

Review:

“Compulsively readable...evocative....Much has been written about Henson — during his life and after — but nothing with the same sense of authority and access as Jim Henson: The Biography.” The A.V. Club

About the Author

Brian Jay Jones is an award-winning biographer and vice president of Biographers International Organization. Jones is a devoted member of the Jim Henson generation, having been two years old when Sesame Street premiered in 1969 and nine when The Muppet Show debuted in 1976. A former policy analyst and advisor in the U.S. Senate, Jones abandoned politics for the pen in 2008, with the publication of his award-winning biography, Washington Irving. He lives with his wife and daughter in Damascus, Maryland. His favorite Muppet is Rowlf (thanks for asking).

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Joel Karpowitz, January 26, 2014 (view all comments by Joel Karpowitz)
Who doesn't love the Muppets? I know I do, and clearly author Brian Jay Jones does as well. While I was interested enough in Henson's life, ups, and downs to keep reading, however, I wish Jones had as much creativity in writing about Henson as Henson had in writing about, say, coffee advertisements. It's not that this was a bad book. It was just much flatter than I expected it to be.

Granted, I'm much more of a fiction than a biography kind of guy, so perhaps I just came at the story of Henson's life and work from the wrong angle, but I got bored much more often than I expected to. Jones writes about every detail of Henson's life with little regard for what details are interesting and what are somewhat bland. He waxes philosophical on Jim's rather generic childhood for nearly a hundred pages and spends nearly as much time writing about how who he hires to decorate his house as he does about much more interesting elements such as Henson's disagreements with Roald Dahl. I think the problem is he likes Jim and the Henson family (both literal and professional) so much that he's not really as interested in exploring Jim's complexities and contradictions as he is praising and celebrating him. Which is fine, it's just that it gets a little dull.The book becomes a chronicle rather than a story, and the peaks and valleys that should be there eventually all get evened out and flattened.

Which is not to say there's not great stuff here. Jones clearly drives home several aspects of the "What made Henson tick" question: his love of creativity, his desire for positivity, the pleasure he took in work. All of those elements are explored--and explored well--at several points throughout the book. And though the book could and should have had more pictures (Jim was, after all, a visual storyteller), reading the biography was still fun in that it drove me to the Internet repeatedly to look up film clips (like Henson's short film "Time Piece" on YouTube) or to find scenes with individual Muppets. And it also made me wish I had some Muppet movies/tv episodes in my own collection!

In the end, the book isn't bad, it's just not as dynamic or compelling as it should have been, given the creative genius at its heart.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
susanusha, December 8, 2013 (view all comments by susanusha)
This fascinating biography not only traces the events of Henson's life, but also gives a real sense of his spirit, his ethics, and his vision. The genius behind Elmo, Miss Piggy, and Kermit, was apparently as warm and loving as he was funny and original. His four children, his ex-wife, and his work colleagues all seem to admire him. He was not perfect, and he had to overcome great prejudice against puppeteers; thankfully, he succeeded or the world would be poorer.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780345526113
Subtitle:
The Biography
Author:
Jones, Brian Jay
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Subject:
Entertainment & Performing Arts
Subject:
Biography-Entertainment and Performing Arts
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20130924
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
608
Dimensions:
9.52 x 6.44 x 1.62 in 2.14 lb

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Drama » General
Arts and Entertainment » Drama » Mime and Puppetry
Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Biographies
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Arts and Entertainment » Humor » General
Biography » General
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Jim Henson: The Biography New Hardcover
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Product details 608 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345526113 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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-scéne; 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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , “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.”
"Review" by , “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.”
"Review" by , “This is a biography that earns the label definitive.”
"Review" by , “If ever you had a single question about the felt magic Jim Henson managed to create, chances are Brian Jay Jones’ sweeping new biography of the puppeteer will answer it....Jones offers a meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted....It is a better world with the Muppets. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.”
"Review" by , “Compulsively readable...evocative....Much has been written about Henson — during his life and after — but nothing with the same sense of authority and access as Jim Henson: The Biography.”
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