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Jim Henson Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (44) | Personal Quotes (20)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 24 September 1936Greenville, Mississippi, USA
Date of Death 16 May 1990New York City, New York, USA  (bacterial pneumonia)
Birth NameJames Maury Henson
Height 6' 1" (1.85 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Jim Henson never thought that he would make a name of himself in puppetry; it was merely a way of getting himself on television. The vehicle that achieved it was Sam and Friends (1955), a late-night puppet show that was on after the 11:00 news in Washington DC. It proved to be very popular and inspired Jim to continue using puppets for his work. He made many commercials, developing the signature humor that Henson Productions is known for. A key reason for the success of his puppets is that Jim realized he didn't need to hide puppeteers behind a structure when they were in front of a camera. All he had to do was instruct the camera operators to focus on the puppets and keep the puppeteers out of the frame. This allowed the puppets to dominate the image and make them more lifelike. This work on puppets and television would lead to separate projects that had different goals. The first one was his work on the The Jimmy Dean Show (1963) with the character Rowlf the Dog, the oldest clearly identified character that Henson Productions still uses. This show provided an income that allowed Jim to work on a pet project. That project was Time Piece (1965), a surrealistic short about time which was nominated for best live-action short Oscar. Henson shot to prominence when he was approached to use his muppets for the revolutionary educational show Sesame Street (1969). The show was a smash hit and his characters have become staples on public television. Unforetunately, this also led to Henson being typecast as only an entertainer for children. He sought to disprove that by being part of the initial crew of Saturday Night Live (1975), but his style and that of the creative staff simply didn't jibe. It was this circumstance that encouraged him to develop a variety show format that had the kind of sophisticated humor that "Sesame Street (1969)" didn't work with. No American broadcaster was interested, but British producer Lew Grade was. This led to The Muppet Show (1976). It initially struggled both in the ratings and in the search for guest stars, but in the second season it became a smash hit and would eventually become the most widely watched series in television history. Hungry for a new challenge, Henson made The Muppet Movie (1979), defying the popular industry opinion that his characters would never work in a movie. The film became a hit and spawned a series of features which included the moody fantasy The Dark Crystal (1982), which was a drastic and bold departure from the amiable tone of his previous work. The most successful TV work in the 1980s was Fraggle Rock (1983), a fantasy series specifically designed to appeal to as many cultural groups as possible. During this time he also established the Creature Shop, a puppet studio that became renowned for being as brilliant with puppetry as ILM was at special effects. When he died all too soon in 1990, he was indisputably one of the geniuses of puppetry. More importantly, he was a man who achieved his phenomenal success while still retaining his social conscience and artistic integrity as his work in promoting environmentalism and his brilliant The Storyteller (1987) series respectively attest to.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@mnsi.net>

Spouse (1)

Jane Henson (28 May 1959 - 16 May 1990) (his death) (5 children)

Trade Mark (2)

Characters include: Kermit, Ernie, Swedish Chef, Rowlf the Dog
Lanky appearance and beard

Trivia (44)

Died a few days before the weekend he was going to sell his company to Disney, for a reported $150 million.
Attended the University of Maryland, College Park
Attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Named Kermit the Frog after a childhood friend from Mississippi.
Shares same birthday (September 24) with Steve Whitmire, fellow muppeteer who took over Kermit the Frog after Henson's death.
Founded the "UNIMA Citations of Excellence" in 1973 to provide a peer-judged award for the art of puppetry in North America. In 1966, Jim Henson had previously founded (with other American puppeteers) the USA chapter of the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA) - the world's oldest international theatre arts organization, and served as the USA Chapter's founding chaiman.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) was dedicated to his memory.
One of the main reasons why Henson preferred to use Kermit the Frog for his signature character was that he was the lightest in weight of the regular puppets and therefore one of the most comfortable for use for extended periods of time.
Created the original Kermit the Frog out of his mother's old coat and a ping-pong ball. In the beginning Kermit was not a frog, but a lizard-like character. He gradually evolved, and first appeared as Kermit The Frog in Hey Cinderella! (1969) and has remained so ever since.
Died the same day as Sammy Davis Jr..
Had been ill with walking pneumonia for several days before his death but never told anybody, not even his family, because, true to his character, he didn't want to be a burden to anybody. By the time he finally sought medical help, it was too late to do anything.
Was a good friend of George Lucas, who originally offered him the role of Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He declined and suggested Frank Oz for the part.
His funeral at St. John the Divine in New York was attended by over 1,000 people and Muppets, including Frank Oz, George Lucas, Richard Curtis, Kermit the Frog, and Lord Lew Grade.
Harry Belafonte sang the much beloved song "Turn the World Around" from The Muppet Show (1976) at Jim's funeral. It was reported to be his favorite.
Was pictured on a USA 37¢ commemorative stamp issued 28 September 2005, which was issued on a single souvenir sheet honoring "Jim Henson, the man behind the Muppets". The souvenir sheet contained 10 additional 37¢ stamps featuring the following Muppet characters: Kermit the Frog; 'Fozzie Bear'; Sam the Eagle; Miss Piggy; Steve Whitmire & Dave Goelz; The Swedish Chef; Animal; Dave Goelz & Beaker; Rowlf; and Dave Goelz & Camilla.
Before his career in puppetry, he would experiment with 8mm and 16mm film, often making animation.
First met Jerry Juhl at a Puppeteers Of America convention.
First met David Lazer when he had been contracted to make a few short puppet films for them. Lazer worked at IBM.
A Jim Henson retrospective was held from September 1990 to February 1991 at London's Museum of the Moving Image.
In his early TV shows, he didn't always perform voices, but lip-synched to records of the day.
His first television character was called Pierre, the French Rat. It began life as a comic strip drawn by Henson for a high-school publication in 1954.
On a trip to Europe, he saw puppet theater being taken seriously by adults. He returned to the United States convinced he could create a puppet TV show that would appeal to adults.
"Lydia The Tattooed Lady" was one of his all-time favorite songs. The Muppets performed this song at his memorial service. Henson himself drew the tattoos on the Lydia, the female tattooed Muppet used in episode 2 of The Muppet Show (1976).
The Wizard of Oz (1939) was one of his favorite films.
Arrived at his high school graduation in a new Rolls Royce Silver Cloud which he had bought with money he'd already earned with his puppets on his local NBC station. Remained a lover of expensive, luxury cars, whose collection would include a "Kermit-green" Lotus.
His earliest puppetry influences were Kukla, Fran Allison and Ollie, Bil Baird, and Edgar Bergen.
Once said his earliest artistic influence was his grandmother, Dear. She taught him to value and appreciate everything he saw around him.
Had a hit single singing "Rubber Duckie" as Ernie. "Rubber Duckie" entered the Billboard Top 40 chart for pop/rock in August 1970 and stayed on the chart for seven weeks, peaking at number 16. The 'famous' rubber-duck-squeaking solo in the original version of the song (for the very first "Sesame Street album") is squeaked by the song's writer, Jeff Moss. When the Sesame Street (1969) cast appeared in concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra, the rubber duck was considered a percussion instrument. Apparently unwilling to pay musicians to play a 'second instrument,' duck squeaking was limited to the percussion section when the cast sang this song with the Pops (with Big Bird conducting).
1961: Met Frank Oz in Asilomar, California.
Henson's final televised appearance was on The Arsenio Hall Show (1989), just 12 days before his death.
Biography in "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives," Volume Two, 1986-1990, pp. 413-415. New York: Scribners/Simon & Schuster, 1999.
According to an interview with Frank Oz, Jim wanted to direct and produce a film version of "Beauty and the Beast" in the late 1980s, with Tom Cruise playing the handsome prince who would turned into a beast. The storyboard was very similar to Disney's movie, even with the servants turned into magical objects, when the Walt Disney Company announced its intention of doing an animated version of the fairy tale, he decided not to go through with the production.
Upon his death it was said that Rowlf the Dog would never be used again, for this was Henson's signature character. As a memorial of sorts Rowlf is seen in a few shots of both Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and Muppets from Space (1999) both times performed by Bill Barretta. However, out of respect for Henson, Rowlf did not speak. It was not until The Muppets (2011) that the character had dialogue (spoken by Barretta).
His original name for the Muppets was the Anything People.
He legally separated from his wife Jane in 1986, but they never divorced. The two remained good friends.
Was a lifelong fan of science fiction.
Apart from his family and puppets, his greatest passion in life was music.
Henson based his early Muppet designs on the drawings in "Pogo" by Walt Kelly.
Henson's alma mater, University of Maryland, commissioned a life-size statue of Henson and Kermit the Frog, which was dedicated on September 24, 2003.
Was raised on and heavily influenced by the early TV shows of comics Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs.
A memorial service for Henson was held at London's St Paul's Cathedral following his death. At the entrance to the church was a plinth, on top of which sat Kermit the Frog, around his neck was a sign saying: "I've lost my voice".
In 1979's The Muppet Movie (1979), in which Kermit sang "The Rainbow Connection" while perched on a log in the middle of a swamp, required Henson to perform from a specially designed diving bell underwater.
Shared his birthday with Steve Whitmire, his successor as the voice of Kermit the Frog.

Personal Quotes (20)

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here. It's a wonderful life and I love it.
Despite this discussion of things spiritual - I still think of myself as a very 'human' being. I have the full complement of weaknesses, fears, problems, ego, and sensuality. But I think this is why we're here - to work our way through all this, and, hopefully, come out a bit wiser and better for having gone through it all.
I believe in taking a positive attitude toward the world, toward people, toward my work. I think I'm here for a purpose. I think it's very likely that we all are, but I'm only sure about myself. I try to tune myself in to whatever it is that I'm supposed to be, and I try to think of myself as a part of all of us - all mankind and all life. I find it's not easy to keep these lofty thoughts in mind as the day goes by, but it certainly helps me a great deal to start out this way.
I believe that life is basically a process of growth - that we go through many lives, choosing situations and problems that we will learn through.
I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.
I don't know exactly where ideas come from, but when I'm working well ideas just appear. I've heard other people say similar things - so it's one of the ways I know there's help and guidance out there. It's just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.
I spend a few minutes in meditation and prayer each morning. I find that this really helps me to start the day with a good frame of reference. As part of my prayers, I thank whoever is helping me - I'm sure that somebody or something is - I express gratitude for all my blessings and try to forgive the people that I'm feeling negative toward. I try hard not to judge anyone, and I try to bless everyone who is part of my life, particularly anyone with whom I am having any problems.
I think there are lots of ways of leading very good lives and growing spiritually. This process of growth goes on whether we believe in it or not.
If our 'message' is anything, it's a positive approach to life. That life is basically good. People are basically good.
Simple is Good.
Some people claim Kermit is my alter-ego. I'm not sure I know what that means. I like to work Kermit because there's a lot of leeway for ad-libbing, which I don't have with most other characters but I'm not sure that I'm not Kermit.
Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. May each of yours be that - having each of you as a child of mine has certainly been one of the good things in my life. Know that I've always loved each of you with an eternal, bottomless love. A love that has nothing to do with each other, for I feel my love for each of you is total and all-encompassing. Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it.
I love my work, I enjoy it. I have a terrific group of people who work with me.
I've always tried to present a positive view of the world in my work. It's so much easier to be negative and cynical and predict doom for the world than it is to try and figure out how to make things better. We have an obligation to do the latter.
The most sophisticated people I've ever known had just one thing in common: they were all in touch with their inner children.
[about Kermit] He can say things I hold back.
[in a 1983 interview] I started off alone and then with my wife. The first few years there were just a few of us, and then, as more people were added on, the work we are doing now is much more the work of a team... It's a marvelous group of people. We have a good time working, and I think our work is really good. I'm very proud of this kind of group thing that happens here.
I don't talk about money. I think that any expensive movie is only going to hurt itself by talking about the amount of the budget. Nothing is ever worth it.
[on his relationship with Frank Oz] Certainly there would be times when our relationship wasn't great, but, much like a marriage, it IS a long time relationship! We know each other very well! It's very hard - there's a fine line; but Frank is a marvelous guy. He's fair; he's a funny man and a brilliant performer... I don't think there's another performer in puppetry who comes anywhere near what he does.
[in a 1983 interview] I've never planned my career. I found early on, the way I operate and the way I function is by doing what seems correct. One thing just sort of leads to another and just goes from here to there. I drive all my people crazy because I don't have a five year plan.

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