58 minutes | Dec 6, 2013

Brian Jay Jones, “Jim Henson: The Biography” (Ballantine Books, 2013)

In the field of children’s programming, few people- with the possible exception of Fred Rogers- are as beloved as Jim Henson, a contributor to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, but most famous for his creation of the Muppets. And yet, he’s remained an enigmatic figure in the years since his death. People remember the Muppets and they remember Jim, but they don’t know much about him. Jim Henson: The Biography , by Brian Jay Jones is thus an effort to correct that and to pin down the puppeteer: as a man, a husband, a father, and an innovator.

For, with the passage of time, we’ve come to take the Muppets and their maker rather for granted. They’ve been around for over fifty years so it’s easy to forget they had to be invented. It’s equally easy to forget how ground-breaking an invention- along with Henson’s other innovations- they were. As Jerry Juhl, the first official employee of Muppet’s Inc., reminds us in Jim Henson: “This guy was like a sailor who had studied the compass and found that there was a fifth direction in which one could sail.”

And how doggedly he sailed. Henson worked relentlessly, not simply at a job but at his passions. As Jones notes, one of his top business objectives as to “work for the common good of all mankind.” And that is, in the end, perhaps one of the most striking things to emerge from Jim Henson: the fact that Henson was who he appeared to be. A complicated man, yes, with complications in his private life, but also a gentle soul who truly wanted to make the world a better place. And, also, a man who is, to this day, deeply beloved by all who knew and worked with him.

Henson once wrote: “My hope still is to leave this world a little bit better for my being here.” As Jones’s biography proves, he did.

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