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Friday, January 3, 2014

Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones

Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones is about a man who influenced all of us as a parent, child, or both. My second child went to elementary school with the daughter of the Caroll Spinney who played Big Bird. The class and some parents used to make annual visits to the show to watch the filming and to interact with many of the characters. My son and I were filmed for the Elmo segments as part of a father and son video. Jim Henson and his creations were part of my family’s life. Jim Henson was an important part in many children’s lives, just as Dr Spock was an influence in the baby boomer’s lives. We all are a Jim – seed.
The work of Jim Henson gave people power, opened up the world to itself, and educated people all over the world. “Simple is good” was his motto. When I think of Henson, I think happy thoughts, satire, fun, all generations. “That idealism – that ridiculous optimism.” He wanted to leave the world a better place then when he began. He did.
Serendipity is a key word and event in Henson’s life. Many moments like meeting and working with Jane, by accident; meeting Frank Oz; creation of puppets, first trip to Europe, Wilkins Coffee to name a few define the events that shaped his life as serendipity shape our own lives.
The chronology and details of developing the team and the Muppets is very interesting and historical. There brief stint with Saturday Night Live and other TV specials highlight the rise to number one for The Muppet Show on TV. The Muppets weren’t just for kids and Jim knew that. It was more than Sesame Street.
The book begins slowly with the usual stuff about the beginnings of life, the tragedies, the early beginnings of the epiphanies of puppetry and making them, the early shows the hits and misses, until we get to the Muppet Show which is high octane and runs at full speed into Muppetmania. 1979 was a very good year for Henson and Family/Team.
One expression that amused me throughout the bio, “It isn’t about the money.” Not eventually, but in the beginning it was and throughout and always actually. It is also easy to say when you have so much and it keeps flowing in; you can afford to say it. Just take in the revelations about the failure of Labyrinth.
The Storyteller was one of my favorite shows, Henson did. In fact my favorite was The Soldier and Death. When I learned it was the one he directed, I was pleased. I used a VCR to record them and then use them in my Mythology classes.
The end comes too quickly and too chaotically, especially when Disney got involved. In the late 80’s so much began to unravel, his love, his projects, Disney complications and headache that he must have felt an end nearing. The most telling matter has to be the letter addressed to his children written in May of 1986 giving them instructions about his funeral.
Henson has had a great deal of power in educating people all over the world. I put him on the same stage with William Shakespeare as a creator, as a producer, omniscient, and as a man who made the world a better place.

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