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Jim Henson: The Biography | [Brian Jay Jones]

Jim Henson: The Biography

For the first time ever - a comprehensive biography of one of the 20th 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.
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Publisher's Summary

For the first time ever - a comprehensive biography of one of the 20th 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 53. 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 10-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 deal-making 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.

©2013 Brain Jay Jones (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

  • 10 Best Audiobooks of 2013 (Salon)
  • "The biography’s delightful surprises include a disastrous run on the first season of Saturday Night Live ('the mucking Fuppets,' John Belushi grumbled), an early milky-blue iteration of Kermit sewn from Henson’s mother’s felt coat and the story of how Frank Oz became Yoda." (Kyle Minor, Salon)

    "I worked with Jim for more than 30 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)

    "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)

    "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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    Ted League City, TX United States 10-01-13
    Ted League City, TX United States 10-01-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Dramatically complete"

    I had my worries when the first chapter went back to a great great grandfather story, but in the end this is just an example of the approach of being one seriously complete biographical chronology.

    With access to some of Henson's personal journals as well as a suite of the key people, the author has done a great job walking you through the twists and turns which made this life. I leave the book with specifics I did not know (Kermit did not start as a frog - really?), with a YouTube playlist of old mesmerizing performances the author pointed me to, and with a recognition not just of a man's genius but the amazing amount of hard work and drive that Henson expended to recognize this genius and change the world some small bit.
    Good solid performance helping keep the material from getting too dry. Enjoyed the stretch to capture certain Muppet voices - each of which drove a flashback to childhood comfort and a small smile.

    If you are looking for an abridged narration of a story told in dramatic language showcasing a suite of magical moments, this is not the book for you. If you want a straight well-told complete chronological biography of a complex life, this should be right up your alley.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Trish Virginia 11-19-13
    Trish Virginia 11-19-13 Member Since 2005

    I have always loved to read, and now I really enjoy listening to my books as well!!

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    "Excellent Biography!"

    I only had a casual knowledge of Jim Henson--I associated him with Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Sesame Street, and Kermit, Miss Piggy and The Muppet Show characters. I now have a deep understanding and appreciation for this incredibly talented man.

    This book is very well researched and written. There is the same amount of care and detail spent on lesser known projects and events in Mr. Henson's life as there is on how the Sesame Street Muppets came to be. And it was all very interesting. The narrator was excellent as well--sounding very much like Jim Henson and Frank Oz when he was reading direct quotes.

    Jim Henson was a very creative and talented man, who worked very hard and continued to pursue his dream of entertaining people of all ages. He accomplished a lot--a lot more than I ever imagined--before his life was tragically cut short. This is a wonderful way to peek inside his world--Enjoy!!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ed Los Angeles, CA 10-01-13
    Ed Los Angeles, CA 10-01-13
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    "The author did his homework"
    What made the experience of listening to Jim Henson the most enjoyable?

    I know a great deal of the history of the Muppets, but the many personal recollections, details, reasons, and even anecdotes of specific Muppet and artistic moments gave me a better picture of this guy I've either loved or feared since I first watched Sesame Street.

    The Narrator (Heyborne) is clearly a fan. His subtle (but deliberate) impressions of Jim, Frank, Jerry, Richard, and others when they are directly quoted were wonderful embellishments to the text. Very nicely done.

    In case anyone wonders, Jim's life was not about fame, money, or scandals and neither is this biography.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Jim Henson?

    Many great insights into the roots and planning of Muppet and Henson projects.

    Jim's love for his kids from their birth long into their success as adults.

    Jane, Juhl, Oz, and Bernie Brillstein were far more important to Jim than you'd guess.

    Jim was a great artist and he knew it, but he was very grateful for others. Honestly collaborative and trusting. His gentle, visionary leadership really allowed talented people a chance for greatness.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    danny lawrence Charlotte, NC USA 09-29-13
    danny lawrence Charlotte, NC USA 09-29-13 Member Since 2006

    Tell us about yourself!

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    "Much more than just the Muppets"

    From an early age, I was hooked on the work of Jim Henson. Ernie, Kermit, and all the rest have touched my life and influenced the way I live and how I see the world.
    This book was a very in depth look into the worlds of Jim Henson from struggling to find a way to get into television, through to his trying to preserve what vision he had for his creations for the benefit of children throughout the world. This book is a fascinating behind the scenes look at the man who used his unique talent and skills to build an empire of family entertainment and amazing worlds put together for entertainment and education purposes.

    Kirby Heyborne did a fantastic job with the narration. I could hear the muppet character voices in his performance. He really expressed the kindness of Jim Henson and the essence of his characters extremely well.

    From before Sesame Street, to his dealings with Disney, if you have ever been a fan of his Muppets or shows or movies or anything that he has produced, this story of a gentle giant of television is well worth the time spent

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Oakville, ON, Canada 12-28-13
    Paul Oakville, ON, Canada 12-28-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Wow! An extraordinary story and performance"
    Any additional comments?

    I didn't know much about Jim Henson before reading this book. I do like biographies, though, and this one was great! The author weaves the many aspects of Jim's life into a seamless narrative of his life. You get the sense that the representation is fair, not overly biased to the positive as biographies sometimes tend to be. The book pulls you in, and you feel Jim's highs and lows, his conflicts and frustrations, and perhaps that is really what makes this a great read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Ruiz Orlando, Fl United States 11-06-13
    Daniel Ruiz Orlando, Fl United States 11-06-13 Member Since 2013
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    "amazing biography of a very unique individual"
    What made the experience of listening to Jim Henson the most enjoyable?

    Kirby's narration really made it amazing. He did a great job of distinction not only in Jim's voice, but in the voice of the muppets. I NEVER expected someone could imitate the muppets nearly as well as the actual actors themselves. I was very wrong. He is dynamic and well-versed in his reading ability. SO much of my enjoyment of a book relies on a great narrator. This was too good a book not to have a good narrator.


    What other book might you compare Jim Henson to and why?

    I would say any book where you had what you thought was a decent understanding of someone only to find there was more depth and richness than you thought. I liken this to a suprise on your birthday or for christmas where you thought you might get a certain present from all the hints that you get. Only on the actual day you find the gift was even better than you thought and only a litte like it was described.


    What about Kirby Heyborne’s performance did you like?

    see previous comments about his amazing voice talent


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    If i could have listened to this book all in one sitting I most certainly would have. As it was, I could not wait to listen to the next chapter as soon as possible.


    Any additional comments?

    I have an amazing new appreciation for the muppets, Jim Henson, and all the work that truly went into all that they put out. I cannot watch the original muppet movie without thinking about all that. I still get a little sad when I look at Fraggle Rock or Sesame Street and think about the remarkable man we lost WAY too soon. I am happy, however, that his work and the person he would become are immortalized forever. It is the greatest gift WE could give HIM, as he gave us SO much to remember him by.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vicky Oslo, Norway 01-22-14
    Vicky Oslo, Norway 01-22-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Endless details, a sea of details"
    Any additional comments?

    Honestly I have stopped listening to this book and I'm only half-way through. So.... to be fair it might pick up later, but after 10+ hours I give up. I find Jim Henson to be a fascinating person, however this book describes his life down to the most minute of details. It reads like a textbook and is unfortunately quite tedious.
    Also the author points out ad nauseam that Jim Henson wasn't just about the Muppets. It seems that sentence is said every ten minutes. I really wanted to like this book but just can't seem to get hooked.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sallie RIVERTON, UT, United States 07-07-14
    Sallie RIVERTON, UT, United States 07-07-14 Member Since 2007
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    "An Amazing Man!"
    If you could sum up Jim Henson in three words, what would they be?

    Talented, Kind, Giving


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Jim of course. It was fascinating to find out the details of his life and how his shows, movies, and characters were thought up and then evolved. He was kind and gentle almost to a fault, thus endearing him to everyone close to him. My children grew up with Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal, The Labyrinth, Ninja Turtles, The Muppets, etc. I do agree with Roald Dahl's opinion of Henson's version of The Witches Movie, I hate it! I was sad that the author did not go into detail about Sesame Street. Henson adored his children, throughout the book stories were interlaced with his love for them. That alone elevated my opinion of this gentle giant.


    What about Kirby Heyborne’s performance did you like?

    I did enjoy his performance, however he never did get any of the voices right which was a slight distraction.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Heavens no, it was too long.


    Any additional comments?

    I was saddened that he was too stubborn to seek medical help when he became it. He could still be with us!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne L Harrigan 04-16-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Mixed Feelings"

    I thought that I would love this book. I grew up with Jim Henson's work and I loved it all. I guess I am just left scratching my head at the end of this wondering how after 600 pages that go into great detail, I am left feeling like I know Jim Henson even less now. There was something sort of cold about this book. Jim Henson was such a great story teller, but this book felt more like a text book on his life. Sure, it told me what kind of car he drove at every point in his life, all the houses he had, and all the amazing projects he was working on...but even when quoting from his journal, I still didn't feel like I understood him at all. It just felt like I was hearing a long list of everything he did, not who he was. The parts that did try and delve a little deeper left me feeling like Jim Henson was a man without emotional attachment. While the ending message was great, I felt really disappointed by this book as a whole.

    As for the narrator, I was also not in love. I hated how when sometimes quoting Jim, he would slip into an impression of Jim's voice, but not always. It really took me out of the moment. He also would sometimes do muppet voices, but not always. I found it really inconsistent and sort of strange. I will give him credit though, when he did the voices, they were actually pretty good.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lucy St. Petersburg, Russia 04-05-14
    Lucy St. Petersburg, Russia 04-05-14 Member Since 2013

    I love to read. On average I read and/or listen to more than 100 books a year. Audible has been a fantastic addition to my life. Love it!

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    "I laughed, I cried, I time travelled."

    This was a fantastic biography; the only that has ever made me cry. A wonderful look at the man who inspired my generation. More than a few fond memories of childhood: Disney, Muppets, Labyrinth, and Fraggles. This is a wonderful listen from start to finish.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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