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Authors: Brian Jay Jones

Jim Henson: The Biography

BOOK: Jim Henson: The Biography
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Copyright © 2013 by Brian Jay Jones

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company.

B
ALLANTINE
and the H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

T
HE
M
UPPETS
and associated characters, trademarks, and designed elements are owned by Disney Muppet Studios. Copyright © Disney. All rights reserved.

“Sesame Workshop”®, “Sesame Street”® and associated characters, trademarks and design elements are owned and licensed by Sesame Workshop.
© 2013 Sesame Workshop. All rights reserved.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Alfred Publishing Co., Inc
.: “Just One Person” (from the musical
Snoopy
), lyrics by Hal Hackady, music by Larry Grossman, copyright © 1976 (Renewed) Unichappell Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
Used by permission of Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

The Joe Raposo Music Group, Inc
.: “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green,” music and lyrics by Joe Raposo, copyright © 1970 by Jonico Music, Inc., and copyright renewed © 1998 by Green Fox Music, Inc. Used by permission of The Joe Raposo Music Group, Inc.

Credits for the photographs that appear at chapter openers can be found on
this page
.

L
IBRARY OF
C
ONGRESS
C
ATALOGING
-
IN
-P
UBLICATION
D
ATA
Jones, Brian Jay.
Jim Henson : the biography / Brian Jay Jones.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN: 978-0-345-52613-7
1. Henson, Jim. 2. Puppeteers—United States—Biography. 3. Television producers and directors—United States—Biography. 4. Muppet Show (Television program)
5. Sesame Street (Television program) I. Title.
PN1982.H46J66 2013
791.4302′33092—dc23
[B] 2013024039

www.ballantinebooks.com

v3.1

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE
BLUE SKY 1973

CHAPTER ONE
THE DELTA 1936–1949

CHAPTER TWO
A MEANS TO AN END 1949–1955

CHAPTER THREE
SAM AND FRIENDS
1955–1957

CHAPTER FOUR
MUPPETS, INC. 1957–1962

CHAPTER FIVE
A CRAZY LITTLE BAND 1962–1969

CHAPTER SIX
SESAME STREET
1969–1970

CHAPTER SEVEN
BIG IDEAS 1970–1973

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE MUCKING FUPPETS 1973–1975

CHAPTER NINE
MUPPETMANIA 1975–1977

CHAPTER TEN
LIFE’S LIKE A MOVIE 1977–1979

CHAPTER ELEVEN
THE WORLD IN HIS HEAD 1979–1982

CHAPTER TWELVE
TWISTS AND TURNS 1982–1986

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
STORYTELLER 1986–1987

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
A KIND OF CRAZINESS 1987–1989

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
SO MUCH ON A HANDSHAKE 1989–1990

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
JUST ONE PERSON 1990

EPILOGUE
LEGACY

Photo Insert

Dedication

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

NOTES

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Photograph Credits

Other Books by This Author

About the Author

PROLOGUE
BLUE SKY
1973

(
photo credit prl.1
)

J
IM
H
ENSON SLOWLY FOLDED HIMSELF INTO A COUCH INSIDE
R
EEVES
Teletape Studio, sliding down, as he often did, until he was nearly horizontal, his shaggy head against the back cushions and his long legs stretched out in front of him. As always, Jim was the calm in the middle of the chaos, sitting quietly as studio technicians and crew members whirled around him, adjusting lights and bustling about the background sets for
Sesame Street
’s Muppet segments. Jim simply lounged, hands folded across his stomach, fingers laced together. Draped limply across his lap was the green fleece form of Kermit the Frog, staring lifelessly at the floor, mouth agape.

Jim and Kermit were waiting.

In the five years
Sesame Street
had been on the air, many of its most memorable moments involved children interacting with the Muppets. And while all of the Muppet performers were good with children, most agreed that it was Kermit children believed in and trusted completely—mostly because they completely believed in and trusted Jim Henson. Jim—and therefore Kermit—had a natural sweetness, a reassuring patience, and a willingness to indulge silliness—and the resulting interaction could be pure magic. Even as Jim sat waiting, then, there was, as always, a buzz of anticipation.

Sesame Street
director Jon Stone—a warm bear of a man with an easy smile—strolled the set, the end of a chewed pencil sticking out of his salt-and-pepper beard. “Blue sky!” he said loudly—a signal that a child was present on the set, a coded reminder that the normally boisterous Muppet performers and crew should watch their language. There was actually little chance of Jim himself swearing—normally his epithets were nothing stronger than “Oh, for heaven’s sake!”—but with the cue that his young costar, a little girl named Joey, had arrived, Jim slowly unfolded himself and rose to his full six-foot-one height.

Casually, Jim pulled Kermit onto his right arm, slightly parting his thumb from his fingers as he slid his hand into the frog’s mouth, then smoothed the long green sleeve from Kermit’s body down over his elbow. He brought the frog’s face up toward his own, tilting the head slightly—and suddenly, Kermit was magically alive, sizing up Jim with eyes that seemed to widen or narrow as Jim arched or clenched his fingers inside Kermit’s head.

While
Sesame Street
’s Muppet sets were usually elevated on stilts some six feet off the floor—making it possible for puppeteers to perform while standing—no child would ever be placed at such a perilous height. Instead, Joey—in a pink striped shirt, with her long blond hair tied at the top of her head—was moved into position on a stool while Jim knelt on the floor next to her. Slowly he raised Kermit up beside her, eying the Muppet’s position on a video monitor in front of his crouched knees. Joey’s eyes locked immediately on Kermit. The frog was no mere puppet; Kermit was
real
.


Rolleeoleeoleeyo!
” called out Stone—and as tape began to roll, Joey was already patting and petting Kermit lovingly.

“Hey, can you sing the alphabet, Joey?” asked Kermit.

“Yes,” said Joey, nodding earnestly, “yes, I could.”

“Let’s hear you sing the alphabet.”


A B C D
…” sang Joey, and Jim bopped Kermit along in time to the familiar “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” melody, bouncing the frog’s head back and forth. “
E F,
” continued Joey—then instead of G, she substituted “
Cookie Monster!
” and giggled at her own joke.

All eyes in the studio were on the frog, waiting to see what Jim would do.

Jim reacted instantly, arching his long fingers inside Kermit to give him a surprised expression. Then he turned the frog, in a classic slow burn, toward the still-giggling Joey. “You’re not singin’ the alphabet!” Kermit said cheerily, and began the song again. Joey sang along eagerly, this time gliding past the letter G without incident, and stumbling only slightly through the troublesome quintet of
LMNOP
.

Joey patted Kermit lightly, unable to keep her hands off the slightly fuzzy Muppet. “
Q R Cookie Monster!
” she sang, and broke down in another fit of giggles.

Jim pressed his thumb and fingers tightly together inside Kermit’s head, giving the frog a brief look of mock irritation. Then he arched his hand back upward, returning Kermit’s expression to one of mild surprise. Joey tilted her head slightly and giggled directly into Kermit’s eyes. She believed in him completely.

“Cookie Monster isn’t a letter of the alphabet!” said Kermit helpfully. “It goes,
Q R S
 …”


T U Cookie Monster!
” Joey exploded into giggles, clenching her hands in front of her.

For a moment, Jim nearly broke character. He snickered slightly. “Yuh-you’re just teasing me!” he finally said in Kermit’s voice, and the two of them began singing together again. “
W X Y and Z
 …”

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