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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

4.4 (299 )
5 star
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4.5 (280 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Amy Campbell 08-26-14 Member Since 2009

    I enjoy historical fiction, sci-fi and some fantasy. After listening to multiple books in a series, I like to sprinkle in a biography or two

    ratings
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    "Didn't get very far..."
    What disappointed you about Jim Henson?

    For as beloved as Jim Henson was by many from my generation onward, I found it very difficult to listen to such a complex genealogy. I understand that people are the products of their ancestors, but perhaps this lengthy detail could have been shared later in the book. I unfortunately never got beyond this chapter.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    I like to sprinkle some biographies into the historic fiction and fiction to keep perspective. I haven't yet considered my next bio.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Jim Henson?

    I would have shortened and/or moved the lengthy portion about his ancestors contributions to his personality.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mike D. 03-26-14
    Mike D. 03-26-14

    gchesterbelloc

    ratings
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    3
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    Story
    "Nice man, nice story."
    Where does Jim Henson rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Somewhere in the middle.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Henson himself. It was instructive to read how someone with an almost childlike optimism could not only function, but thrive amidst the corporate sharks.


    Which character – as performed by Kirby Heyborne – was your favorite?

    Kirby Heyborne's narration is flawless. With a few exceptions he avoids any attempts at outright impersonations of the story's principle characters. His changes in inflection and accents are just enough to convey a particular personality.


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

    1 or 2 hours a day was sufficient.


    Any additional comments?

    Making use of YouTube while listening to this book added greatly to its enjoyment. The early efforts, e.g., the Wilkin's Coffee comercials are there, as well as representative samples of all the television and film work over Henson's career. At the end of the book I was please to find that much of the moving NYC Memorial Service was also available for viewing on YouTube. That brought the entire listening experience to a satisfying, and emotional, conclusion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 02-14-14
    John MENLO PARK, CA, United States 02-14-14 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I started with impatience . . ."

    It's a beautiful story, about a man worthy of emulation.

    I was irritated in the beginning by the level of detail in the (pre-) biography, but quickly forgave. As someone in a creative profession, as someone who grew up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and as a dad raising a child, this audiobook resonated with me and literally had me in tears (happy and sad) at several moments. A very emotional read all things considered.

    The world is a poorer place without the likes of Jim Henson. Well-written and truly affective.

    R.I.P. Mr. Henson, you did well by the world.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dana United States 02-02-14
    Dana United States 02-02-14 Member Since 2012

    musical know-it-all

    ratings
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    20
    3
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    Story
    "I know everything about Jim Henson now"
    What made the experience of listening to Jim Henson the most enjoyable?

    I love pop culture and knowing the stories behind what I have enjoyed for so long.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    It's time to raise the curtains...


    Any additional comments?

    I really enjoyed listening to the story of Jim Henson. I grew up with Sesame Street and the Muppets but never really thought about the man behind these beautiful characters. My flaw with this book was that it was so long! At times it was too thorough...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sean Los Angeles, CA, United States 01-30-14
    Sean Los Angeles, CA, United States 01-30-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Inspirational, but low impact."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would. Jim Henson's philosophies on how he treated people and ideas are worth repeating.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Jim's life was very well documented, and Brian Jay Jones clearly did his research. Everything from company memos, letters to friends and even pages from Jim Henson's personal diary are referenced to paint a clear picture of his life. You really get a feel for what it was like to know Jim Henson.


    Have you listened to any of Kirby Heyborne’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, but he was quite good. He does an amazing impression of Jim Henson as well as Frank Oz.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    I don't think it would make a very good film! He didn't really have a lot of strife, to be honest!


    Any additional comments?

    This one is kind of a slow burn, but it's worth it. It isn't so much a story of one man overcoming obstacles to make it to the top - it's a story of a boy from an upper-middle class home that was always the best at everything and died on top of the world. It's not the type of story I'm really used to, but the ideas Jim had are really worth immersing yourself in. There's a lot to learn here about how to treat people and make the most out of your life.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kelly Livermore, CA, United States 01-19-14
    Kelly Livermore, CA, United States 01-19-14 Member Since 2011

    Part time artist - Like to listen to audiobooks when I am working and creating.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting story about an interesting man"
    Any additional comments?

    Overall I really liked this book. i also enjoyed the narration. I did think that there was a little excess family history that slowed the story down a bit in the beginning but once it got rolling it was fascinating. I grew up around the muppets Sesame Street and didn't really know much if his story, he was definitely not the one dimensional man I thought. I would recommend to anyone who is a Henson fan, but also to those who study success.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amy Petaluma, CA, United States 01-18-14
    Amy Petaluma, CA, United States 01-18-14 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Disappointed"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Usually, when I finish a biography, I have a a sense of knowing the subject better, even in a personal way. I did not have this experience finishing this book. I didn't have a sense of who he was psychologically. He was a brilliant artist, but there was no depth re: how he saw himself as an artist or how his spiritual beliefs affected his works. Some of this information was occasionally dropped in between long descriptions of business dealings. I know the reviews are very good, but not my cup of tea.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jen Petersburg, KY, United States 10-29-13
    Jen Petersburg, KY, United States 10-29-13 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Shockingly tedious"
    What disappointed you about Jim Henson?

    Having tremendous respect for Jim Henson and intrigued about what made him the man he was, I hesitated at reading some reviews but didn't believe them. Believe them. If you like reading the "begats" in the Bible" then this is for you
    If you can slough thru the initial tedium, there are a few slightly interesting stories. What a disappointment!


    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
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