About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones

56. – 745.) Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones – The biography of the inventor of the Muppets is an interesting book that provided me with information on a man I had only known through the Muppets. I found so much in the book my review will take up this post and my next post. A third will deal with my connections and thoughts concerning the Muppets.

Jim was born in Leland, Mississippi in 1936 where his father worked for the Federal Department of Agriculture as an agronomist.

In his mid-teens the family was living in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Jim desperately wanted to work in television. His goal was to work behind the scenes. He saw himself as a painter and designer.

His first opportunity to work in television came when he successfully auditioned for a children’s television show that involved puppets. While that show ended abruptly he had already created an impression and was given another chance on local television. Jim, using puppets he created, was a success.

By the time he was 19, Jim and Jane Nebel, later to be his wife, had a regular slot as Sam and Friends on a Washington television station show.

Already called the Muppets the characters were intentionally not realistic:

“Those abstract characters I still feel are slightly more pure,” Jim later explained. “If you take a character and you call him a frog … you immediately give the audience a handle. You’re assisting the audience to understand; you’re giving them a bridge or an access. And if you don’t give them that, if you keep it more abstract, it’s almost more pure. It’s a cooler thing. It’s a dfference of sort of warmth and cool.”
An early example of Jim’s genius was recognizing that puppets need not be on a miniature stage for T.V. The camera set the dimensions of the picture for viewers not the stage. To make use of the freedom Jim arranged for monitors to be available so the puppeteers could see themselves performing:

Unlike other television actors, who can’t see their own performance as it happens, “you can actually see what you are doing as you do it,” Jim explained, “and have the opportunity to modify your performance for better effect.” It also allowed the puppeteer to share the viewing experience with the audience at home – a dynamic Jane found particularly thrilling. “You’d perform but you’d also be the audience,” said Jane. “I think that’s a big difference, becaue the people at home watching are seeing a very intimate, internal thing that’s happening with that performer.”

By 1959, when Jim was 29, it was estimated that he and Jane were earning $100,000 a year from the Muppets.

From local television and commercials the Muppets moved onto national television on the Jimmy Dean Show. While Jim was looking to develop a television show for the Muppets from the early 1960’s on the Muppets big break came with the establishment of the Children’s Television Workshop and the creation of Sesame Street.

Beyond being wildly creative Jim had a solid business acumen. From his earliest days he insisted on owning his characters. With the CTW he agreed to share profits from merchandising but he owned the characters he was creating for the show.

While Jim came up with the concept of characters his instuctions to Don Sahlin who built the Muppets were often very brief. As an example he provided a drawing of two characters:

The first had surprised eyes set in a tall, banana-shaped head, topped by a shock of dark hair, while the other – looking rather like Moldy Hay from Sam and Friends – had a head like a football, a large nose, and even larger ears, with shaggy dark hair covering his eyes.

From that sketch Bert and Ernie were born.

Once on national television the Muppets and their crazy antics became famous throughout North America.

My next post deals with Jim and the Muppets as they conqueror the world.


  1. Hey Dad,

    Looking forward to borrowing this book from you over the holidays as it sounds like a great read.

    Love you,


  2. Jonathan: Thanks for the comment. I will put it on the night table beside your bed.

  3. Bill, I agree, this really sounds like a good book, especially since like many people I was fond of the Muppets, and Fraggle Rock too. Muppets were telecast on state-run Indian television in the eighties, I think. If Jim Henson had lived long, he'd probably have written an autobiography and that would have been equally interesting. Thanks for the fine review, Bill.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. The Muppets and thus Jim were philosophers as well as wild and crazy. He was a thoughtful man and an autobiography would have been fascinating.

  4. Bill - What an interesting story. Jim Henson and his Muppets left a real legacy not just for children's educational television but in popular culture. I always admired his creativity and his childlike sense of wonder. He died too soon.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. No matter how much the business of the Muppets pressed upon him Jim never became cynical. The book speaks repeatedly of his ridiculous optimism.I wish everyone could be blessed with such an outlook.

  5. Jim Henson and his work with the Muppets is an interesting topic. Being from the South myself, I find it interesting that he was born in Mississippi. Very interesting post.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. From the book it seems Jim, friendly and courteous, was influenced positively by his Southern heritage.