Ok, I normally steer way clear of authorised biographies as they tend to both sanctimonious and invariably really boring but I decided this one was worth adding to the Estate Library as one) it’s about Jim Henson, and two) it’s really, really good. So I must note that this is really authorised as the fine print notes that the whole of the text is, surprise, copyrighted by the Jim Henson Company. And Karen Falk is the Archives Director for them which again is no surprise.
Jim Henson, in case you’ve no idea who he was, created The Muppet Show [add link], a series as you see from the review quite unlike anything else on television. During his sadly cut life, he also though his company created characters for shows such as Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, and Dinosaurs, and movies such as The Dark Crystal [add link], Labyrinth [add link] and The Witches. And I’ll single out one series produced after his death as it had some of the best work ever done by his company, Farscape [add link].
What we’ve here in a compact volume of less than two hundred pages is a far better look at Jim and his influence on the world than the vastly more wordy biography by Brian Jay Jones entitled Jim Henson: The Biography managed to do. That is because he relied on words and this biography is more than willing to let illustrations tell the story.
It takes a conventional chronological approach to telling its tale but tells that tale, after a short forward by his daughter, Lisa, in the myriad photographs, sketches, and such that form the amazing corporate archives. That’s followed by an equally short but useful introduction. Keeping with my earlier comments, both of these use photos and drawings to help illustrate the stories they’re telling. And it certainly helped that Henson kept copious notes on everything in his calendars, dairies, and journals.
This is not a biography as it skips everything before his first show in Washington, D.C., where Kermit as a lizard like creature was first seen and goes up to his project, Muppet*Vision 3D for Disney World just before his death in 1990.
I cannot do the work justice in words as it’s beyond me to adequately describe the visual contents here.. So let me single out some that I really found amazing such as the admittedly primitive early proto-muppets designed by him during the D.C., just pieces of felt really and the fertile imagination of Henson. The sketch of what would become Waldorf and Statler, Henson and Rowlf on the Jimmy Dean Show singing, a photo of “Jim and his Muppet Show stars in 1979, “Miss Piggy vamping it up in a print ad for Polaroid, and, oh, I could go on and on. But I’ll finish off by mentioning the illustrations from Vogue feature on the Dark Crystal Clothing Collection. I’m not kidding!
If you like The Muppet Show, you’ll want this book. It’s that good.
(Chronicle Books, 2012)