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Your Thoughts: "Jim Henson: The Biography" by Brian Jay Jones

Discussion in 'Henson People' started by Phillip, Sep 23, 2013.

  1. Slackbot

    Slackbot Well-Known Member

    That also surprised me...but the more I read, the more sense it made. Jim was always the nice guy, the Good Cop. He could manage a band of like-minded hippies (affectionate humor here!) but when the business got too big and required a stronger hand, it was hard for him to cope. Now I see why he didn't come down hard on Hunt for saying what he shouldn't, and why the Christmas bonuses turned into an upsetting kerfluffle. And now I can really grasp why he wanted to sell his company to Disney: so he could focus on the creative stuff rather than being The Boss.

    It saddens me to think that if he hadn't been so averse to conflict, he might have had a longer marriage--dealing with issues as they arise is important!--and he might not have tried to wait out the illness that ended up taking his life. [​IMG]
  2. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    I just kind of wish Jim was better able to really keep legal hold on his creations throughout his career, such as how Lord Grade owned the rights to TMS and such, not Jim (though luckily, Jim was able to buy them all back later).

    That sort of brings to mind a question I have for you Brian; I know Jim and his company really had a lot of creative and artistic success, though it was arguably Sid & Marty Krofft who really had far more commercial success during the same time period. I've watched an interview with Marty Krofft circa 2000, and he admits other puppeteers and puppet companies hated them for it, even saying that he had recently met Lisa Henson, who confessed to him that she hated them as a kid since they had all these different shows on all three networks in the 70s, while her father only had one show, and she didn't understand why it that way - Marty told her, "It's because your father was a much better puppeteer than us," and also added that he and Sid weren't necessarily interested in the artistic aspect of puppetry as we all know Jim was. You wrote in your book that the Muppet folks were a tad envious at the success that the Kroffts were having, particularly with live shows whereas Jim seemed to always have problems getting people interested in taking a chance on some of his live acts - puppets or not.

    I'm actually a fan of both Henson and Krofft, so I was wondering if you had any other details you could share about how any of the people working for Jim (or maybe even Jim himself) felt about the Kroffts' work and their commercial success?
  3. dwayne1115

    dwayne1115 Well-Known Member

    Yea that quote Brian keeps saying holds meaning "never sell anything I own" If they had held true to that I wonder what would have happend.
    Muppet Master likes this.
  4. Muppet Master

    Muppet Master Well-Known Member

    I have a question, who was the TMS guest star who was surprised that Miss Piggy was performed by (Frank Oz) a guy?
  5. brianjayjones

    brianjayjones Member

    I couldn't really speculate beyond what's already in the book. When Jim was putting together his proposals for the Broadway show that never materialized, he would use the live H.R. Puf'n'stuf Show as an example. The Kroffts were already doing what he wanted to do -- sort of -- and had gotten there first. I'm sure that was a bit frustrating.

    It was Spike Milligan.
    Muppet Master likes this.
  6. dwayne1115

    dwayne1115 Well-Known Member

    Hey Brian, this may sound like a silly question. Do you have a favorite Muppet or skit,or movie?
  7. brianjayjones

    brianjayjones Member

    That's three questions, actually! Choosing a favorite Muppet is REALLY hard. I really fell in love with Rowlf the more I read and researched and watched. I think he's probably closer to Jim's personality than Kermit. And when you watch Rowlf on the Jimmy Dean Show in the 1960s, it's like nothing else. However, I'm a Sesame Street kid, first and foremost, so if it's not Rowlf, it's Ernie. Or Guy Smiley. Or Grover. Or . . .

    You see how hard this is.

    I've got several favorite sketches. Again, because I'm Sesame Street generation 1.0, I go there first, and almost ANY Ernie and Bert sketch kills me -- but I'm particularly fond of the 10Q sketch (which my brother and I would perform with our own Muppets ad infinitum), and Bert sneezing his nose off into a hanky. Runner up: the Muppet New Flash where Kermit and the Count go to interview the Three Little Pigs. And apparently, when I was a kid, I would sing Mahna Mahna until my mother went crazy -- and this would have been the initial 1969 version with the Anything Muppet that was on Sesame Street.

    My favorite of the Muppet movies is probably The Muppets Take Manhattan. I think it's the cleverest one. But that's just my opinion. I know my fellow Muppet fans are all over the place on the movie question!
    dwayne1115 likes this.
  8. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    It's interesting, you say in the book that he ran it like a great businessman, while Street Gang says that he didn't run the company like a great businessman. Though in Street Gang it says that because he couldn't get himself to fire anybody (though he clearly did arrange for Jack Burns to be fired as head writer of The Muppet Show) and his projects often went overbudget.
  9. Muppet Master

    Muppet Master Well-Known Member

    Yes, I remember reading on the back of the cover of Jim Henson: The Biography that Rowlf was your favorite, also it says you were 9 when TMS began airing, do you have any fond memories as a child watching the show when it first aired?
  10. brianjayjones

    brianjayjones Member

    I remember seeing the first episode, actually. Back in The Old Days When We Had Only Five Channels, I used to go through the TV Guide each week and circle anything I wanted to be sure I watched. And there were always these breakout boxes that took up about half a page called "Close Up," I think it was, where they would give you a short write up on any shows of note. I must've read the write up on the first episode of The Muppet Show a billion times. And I also remember watching that first episode and going, "Where are Ernie and Bert?" because at 9, I had no concept of the Muppets beyond those I knew on Sesame Street. And neither did anyone else, yet, either--but I DO remember being slightly confused and thinking, "I'm NEVER going to get used to ANY of these characters!"

    I also remember being really, REALLY amped up when I found out the STAR WARS cast was going to be on. For me, that was the perfect storm.
    Muppet Master likes this.
  11. fozzieisfunny

    fozzieisfunny Well-Known Member

    Speaking of Star Wars, I think that there has to be about a page or two about the cast of Star Wars on The Muppet Show in your book about George Lucas. And, hopefully, we find some pages about Jim and George's collobaration on Labyrinth.
  12. WalterLinz

    WalterLinz Well-Known Member

    I just finished reading this book a few months ago, and I absolutely adored it.

    It beautifully dug down deep into the depths of Jim's childhood to the beginning of his career to how successful he became and to his tragic death.:sympathy:

    I got to give a big thanks to you, @brianjayjones, for creating such an insightful biography on one of my favorite people and something that many fans of his would cherish from generation to generation.:)
  13. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    So did you learn anything interesting about Jim Henson's Lead-Free TV concept that didn't make it into the book? I'm guessing that it would have had the control room setting from Inner Tube and The Jim Henson Hour, but I wonder if it would have had a bigger presence of established Muppets than Inner Tube (or even The Jim Henson Hour), if anybody from Inner Tube were intended to have roles (I'm guessing Digit would have), or if this one was also going to primarily be a cast of original characters. Somehow I doubt there were any full scripts for Lead Free TV.
  14. mrfnydude

    mrfnydude Member

    RIP jim. Just makes a fan miss him more. What a gift!
    WalterLinz likes this.
  15. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    One thing I've always thought was odd was a quote from Joan Ganz Cooney in the book, saying that when Jim was negotiating with Disney, he wanted his contract to allow for him to spend two weeks a year on Sesame Street when he never spent two weeks a year.

    Seems like a surprise to me. I would have thought he spent at least two if not more weeks working on the first season, since there were so many inserts that year and he tended to perform whoever was starring in each insert (being one of only three main performers that season). Sure, most of the ones from the first season used either Ernie and Bert's apartment or that beige-colored background and they could have easily shot several in a day with those sets, and in the early years it was common for scenes to be shot in one take (to save on tape/film), but it still seems like the first season had an awful lot of segments for him to have just worked on it for two weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if he worked on the show for less than two weeks a year during the 1980s, though.

    But still, maybe Jim did manage to do so many segments in less than two weeks (after all, there were only a few months between the test shows and the first broadcast episode), or maybe Joan was misremembering/not counting the first season, or maybe she meant he never worked on the show for two weeks in a row (but then again, I'm pretty sure that that part of the contract allowed for two weeks a year, not neccessarily two weeks in a row). And I would like to think that the "two weeks on Sesame Street" clause would also include working on additional Sesame Street projects (specials, albums, talking toys, Sesame Street Live, etc.).
  16. Oscarfan

    Oscarfan Well-Known Member

    I think obviously in the first few seasons, Jim worked a lot more on the show. When TMM and such started up, he had less time. I know I either read it or heard it somewhere that Jim would come in for a week or do for inserts and that was it.
  17. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Yep, it's in the book: because so much of his time was devoted over in England with TMS, and eventually the Creature Shop and such, Jim (as well as Frank, Jerry, and Richard) devoted one week a year to tape new inserts for SST.

    During his negociations with Disney, because he was very grateful to CTW for the role they played in his career, and because he was very much still fond of SST, he was going to give them two weeks of his time per year once the deal was sealed, which they were delighted about.
  18. vettech28

    vettech28 Well-Known Member

    I finished the book a few months ago and I loved it! I was surprised how much Jim didn't want to be involved with conflict as well. Maybe that was his zen in life, in many cases, it lead to success, other times, it wasn't much help. Jim was a really good friend to his fellow performers, especially after Jerry's daughter, Christine died and after David Lazer called out Richard on bad mouthing a guest star, they were still his friends and cared about them. Jim has to be one of the best fathers I've ever read or heard about, even during his and Jane's separation, he always made sure he spent time with them. I was really sad reading the details of what happened when Jim died, it was as if you were there when it happened.

    I recommend this book to any Jim Henson fan!
    WalterLinz likes this.
  19. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Rereading a few passages from the book, it's still interesting to look at how Jim wasn't necessarily much of a storyteller.

    Not that there weren't any stories to tell, but that in a majority of his work, it was always playing with and experimenting with the newest technology that was available at the time, or him pushing the form as far as he artistically could that was first and foremost, while whatever story there was is what took the backseat, since Jim felt the visuals and technology were enough to help carry the story along.
  20. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    And on the subject of Ernie and Bert segments from the first season, many segments seemed to have the apartment decorated differently, with a number of set pieces used only once or twice or whatever. And I'm not just talking about one-time set pieces that are related to the plot of the sketch. There have been times that year when something would be in the background only once and not even be acknowledged. The only one I can think of off-hand is a framed black and white photo of Ernie seen in the background of the two-part sketch where Ernie cleaned the apartment (I feel like I've seen it in another as well).

    Of course, Jim didn't write everything (I guess that's where Jerry Juhl came in). And during the 1980s, he was credited less often as a writer (which doesn't mean that he didn't write often). The Dark Crystal is the only one of his feature films where he got any kind of writing credit (though The Works says that he worked on the first draft of The Muppet Movie script, and I think The Biography says something about him contributing some kind of writing to Labyrinth). I'm sure he probably came up with most of the ideas that came out of the 1980s, but if he wasn't writing the scripts/actively working on the writing, then the poor writing wasn't really his fault.

    But even with most of the Muppet stuff (and I sort of feel like also mentioning Sesame Street, though I also feel I shouldn't mention that because he wasn't as involved with the creative process for that), there wasn't much story. The Muppet Show and most of the related specials were variety shows with very little plot focus. And the Muppet specials with John Denver focused more on singing than a real plot. The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years focused on the best Muppet moments and footage of large Muppet crowds with no real plot. Jim's last two Muppet specials (not counting Miss Piggy's Hollywood), A Muppet Family Christmas and The Muppets at Walt Disney World, were not about the Muppets putting on a show and had slightly more plot focus, but even those didn't have much plot, with more focus on songs and running gags/subplots as opposed to a single narrative.

    Of course, many of the Tales from Muppetland and similar specials did have plot focus. Can't remember off-hand if Jim was credited with writing any of those, but then again, most of them were based on existing stories, so there's something to fall back on. Though I'm not too familiar with the stories of The Frog Prince or The Town Musicians of Bremen (outside of the Muppet versions), so I don't have much frame of reference as to how different those are from other versions of the story (Fractured Fairie Tales doesn't count).

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