Thursday, February 13, 2014

Man Behind the Muppet

Book Report - Jim Henson:  A Biography by Brian Jay Jones

     My wife knows I love to read.  For Christmas this year, she bought me a couple of books that caught my eye at the bookstore in early December.  (Those trips to get a Starbucks Latte and wander the aisles of Coles payed off!).  I got down to business on the first one right away and I finished February 12th.  It's the biography of Muppet creator, Jim Henson.  This book interested me because I have always been fascinated with the Muppet's, from the early days of Sesame Street and even on into the Muppet Show and the movies.  The characters were well defined and the skits were really clever and funny.  Beyond that, my brothers and I always wanted to have our own Muppets and do our own little shows.  Eventually, mom and dad got us our own Ernie and Bert, the Count and I think we even had a Miss Piggy!  Watching the Sesame Street and the Muppet Show I always wondered, how do they do that?  Who are the voices behind these guys?  That's when I learned that the Muppets were created by Jim Henson, who also performed, Ernie, Kermit, Rowlf and so many others.  It's a rare thing that someone gets the opportunity to live a life of seemingly endless creativity and I wanted to find out about the man and where he came from.

     Jim reminds me of myself.  He was a quiet guy.  His real ambition in his early life was to build sets and be involved in theater.  He did have an interest in puppets though an got the opportunity to do a kids show called Sam and Friends for a local TV station.  From there his journey led him to Sesame Street, where he loved to be part of something that would be educational.  The Muppets were the stars of the show and I remember learning a lot while laughing along with Cookie Monster and Grover.

     Jim was a guy that quietly would lead his team.  He always showed respect and was clear about what he wanted.  He never compromised his vision and at times it cost him!  Something that amazed me was that even though we look back on the successes he has had, he had just as many or more flops!  Some of his movies bombed, his TV show after The Muppet Show bombed as well.  He did one series that was a critical succes, but a ratings loser, so it got cancelled.  Despite setbacks he always moved forward, learning from his mistakes and keeping his team together.

     I was impressed with how he was able to gently lead a huge company with a "whim of steel".  Never losing his cool or getting bogged down in petty arguments.  He rewarded those who worked for him, and felt bad that he could not give them all the time and recognition he could.

     Jim died in 1990, from an infection that attacked his lungs first, but quickly destroyed his internal organs.  He was always very healthy and it was quite a shock to everyone.  I remember where I was when I found out and was very sad to hear the news.  He was a spiritual guy who did not embrace any one religion although he had a Christian Science background.

     I am thankful for what Jim Henson has given the world.  It's amazing how often you hear it but it's true...Be yourself and be kind to others and let your creativity shine and who knows how many life YOU will influence!

Check out the book HERE.