Biography

Master of the magical Muppets

 

A biography of Jim Henson offers a fascinating look at the creator of beloved felt puppets.

 
Jim Henson: The Biography. Brian Jay Jones. Ballantine. 608 pages. $28.95.
Jim Henson: The Biography. Brian Jay Jones. Ballantine. 608 pages. $28.95.

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.

Wondered why Miss Piggy is the way she is? Consider that her father was killed in a tractor accident, at least in the elaborate character back story created by the Muppets’ masters.

Thought Kermit was always synonymous with frog? Fact is, he had not taken on an amphibious identity in initial appearances, and was not green but the milky blue of an old coat of Henson’s mother.

Curious about the Muppets’ late-night engagements? Bet you didn’t know they once shared a Las Vegas stage with Nancy Sinatra and made regular appearances on Saturday Night Live.

Jones offers a meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted. Henson’s story, from his birth in the Mississippi Delta, to his first forays into puppetry as a teenager, to his sudden death in 1990 at the age of 53, is documented in depth.

We’re taken along to the creation of iconic characters, the birth of Sesame Street, the strain in Henson’s marriage, friction with revered children’s authors Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak, and unending merger talks with Disney.

We learn Henson’s first choice to cast in the central goblin king character of Labyrinth was Sting, not David Bowie, whom he was swayed to choose by his children. We’re told of Henson collapsing in fits of laughter on the set of The Muppet Show, of him spending hours underwater to film the Rainbow Connection scene of The Muppet Movie, and how the puppets were so real they could be disarming to crew members.

It is, in a word, exhaustive, and at times, exhausting.

At its low points, the book drags, reading like an old datebook of Henson’s, chronicling every Christmas, every vacation, every minor project, every critic’s review. But at its best, it gives a glimpse of the silliness on Muppet sets, of Henson’s drive and his soft-spoken genius that in such a short life managed to create so much.

This world is better for having the Muppets be a part of it. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.

Matt Sedensky reviewed this book for the Associated Press.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">STONE MATTRESS: </span>Nine Tales. Margaret Atwood. Nan A. Talese. Doubleday. 288 pages. $25.95.

    Stories

    Past looms large in new stories from Margaret Atwood

    In Margaret Atwood’s new collection, the past looms large for aging protagonists, but sympathy and regret abound, too.

  • What are you reading now?

    “I just finished Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, which I love, love, loved. It’s a mystery set in New Orleans shortly after the storm and solved by girl detective, Claire DeWitt, who applies her special method of detection which is pretty much based on yoga and Buddhism combined with the altered mind states of drugs, drink, dreams and growing up in Brooklyn.”

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS:</span> The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business C — and the End of Privacy as We Know It. Adam Tanner. PublicAffairs. 316 pages. $27.99.

    Nonfiction

    ‘What Stays in Vegas’ examines data packaging and the end of privacy

    Journalist explains how data packaging makes American companies the biggest threat to privacy.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category