Category Archives: Muppets

What They’re Saying About Jim Henson

Kirkus — which is famous for its bare-knuckled, nose-bloodying, make-ya-cry book reviews — got its hands on Jim Henson recently . . . and they dug it.  Here’s a bit of what they had to say:

. . . Jones is masterful at explaining how Henson grew up to become a daring puppeteer and scriptwriter, [and] how he managed to attract so much remarkable talent to his side . . .  Jones does not ignore Henson’s separation from his wife/creative partner, nor his extramarital affair with a much younger woman, but the downside of Henson’s personality is not Jones’ primary focus. In an era of pathography, this biography stands out as positive . . .  Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book’s theme. A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.

Meanwhile, over at Publisher’s WeeklyJim Henson has been selected as one of their Top Ten books in the Performing Arts for Fall 2013.  Not a bad way to start the week.

Oz

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Frank Oz

One of the really great thrills of working on this project over the past five years has been meeting, interviewing, and, in many cases, getting to know Jim Henson’s family, friends, collaborators, and colleagues. To a person, they’ve all been generous with their time, warm in their welcomes, and interesting and engaging. I’ve spoken with people in living rooms and kitchens, offices and workshops, on studio sets, on Skype, and yes, even over the old-fashioned telephone.

It became immediately apparent that with a topic like Jim Henson, getting people to talk — and talk excitedly — would never be a problem. As a result, most of my conversations — which I usually tried to keep to an hour  — often sprawled out to two, three, sometimes beyond four hours. And even then, we still found it hard to wrap things up and stop talking.  Jim had, and still has, that effect on people.

There was one person, however, I was incredibly nervous about meeting in person: Frank Oz. My concern was never about him;  instead, I was worried that I would completely geek out and be unable to have a meaningful conversation with him. Not only am I a fan from way back, and not only is he pivotal to Jim’s story, but . . . well, heck, it’s Frank Oz. 

As it turns out, we had a great time and conversation together — so much so, in fact, that we had several more afterward. Oz is an incredibly private guy, so I won’t go into any detail except to say that he’s extremely thoughtful, forthright, introspective, brilliant, and — as you can surely imagine — genuinely entertaining and laugh out loud funny. Jim’s story wouldn’t have been complete without his participation, and I’m grateful — and thrilled — for his involvement and enthusiasm.

It is my great pleasure, then, to have the following blurb appear on Jim Henson’s biography:

I worked with Jim for over thirty years.  He was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me.  Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. Jim needed this book to be written. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.

— Frank Oz

All I can say is: Thank you, Frank Oz. For everything.

. . . And Now We’re Covered

This went up on the Random House website earlier today, so I figure I can finally officially shine the light of the world on the cover for Jim Henson: The Biography. Ready? Here we go:

JIM HENSON cover
If you travel on over to the Random House site, you’ll also find information on the e-book and the audiobook, which are both scheduled to be released on September 24, 2013. I had the opportunity to listen to the audition tapes for the reader of the audiobook, and I think you’ll be as delighted as I am with the choice of  veteran reader Kirby Heyborne as your guide through Jim’s story.

In other news, we’ve picked up a publisher for the UK edition in Virgin Books, so you English readers should see the hardcover in bookstores on September 25. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, Publisher’s Lunch has designated Jim Henson one of it’s “Buzz Books” for the fall of 2013.

Jim, Frank, and Merv

On June 26, 1984, Jim Henson and Frank Oz were out promoting The Muppets Take Manhattan and made a memorable appearance as guests on the Merv Griffin Show  (“Frank and I do entire Merv Griffin Show,” Jim wrote in his journal). Jim and Oz performed Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal and Fozzie before finally heading for the guest sofa.

I love the way Jim looks in this footage. He’s smartly dressed, and while relaxed, he’s still not quite comfortable appearing on camera. But don’t take my word for it; let Jim explain it himself.

Here are a little more than eleven minutes of fun from The Merv Griffin Show (sorry about the aggressive on-screen sales pitch — this is a promo for a Merv Griffin collection). Enjoy.

Conference Report and More Jim Henson

…and hello again.

I’ve had a wonderfully busy couple of weeks. In mid-May, I spent several days in New York City attending BIO’s Fourth Annual Compleat Biographers Conference, though attending seems a bit too weak of a word to describe what a terrific time I had. Here are a few highlights of my long weekend:

(1) Watching Janet Reid, Sarah Weinman, and Jennifer Richards enthrall a packed room with advice and tales of successfully (and unsuccessfully!) using social media — and gamely carrying on as if nothing had happened when the lights suddenly went out over their heads.

(2) Sitting on a panel with the remarkable Amanda Foreman, who was shot right out of a cannon and had the audience eating out of her hand with one funny story after another — and I had to follow her. Yikes.

(3) Listening to Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow speak at lunch about the importance of listening to the silences in your subject’s story.  Your role as a biographer, he said, “is not to see what’s there . . . but what’s missing.”  Beautifully put.

(4) Moderating a lively panel on the the future of biography and publishing, with two crack agents and two crack editors — including my own agent and editor –participating enthusiastically and knocking it out of the park. Despite everything you might hear, print isn’t dead, or even dying — but it’s got to willingly share its space.

passage-of-power-review_320(5) Introducing BIO’s first ever Plutarch Award, given to the year’s best biography, as chosen by biographers. I’m really proud of this one — I sat ex officio on the committee that chose the ten nominees that would be sent to BIO members for their vote, and had the pleasure of coordinating the awards ceremony for the Saturday evening reception. The winner of the first Plutarch — as selected by BIO’s members — was the fourth volume in Robert Caro’s massive biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power.

While Caro couldn’t be there himself — he was off doing the research for the next volume in his series (which he joked was “volume five in a four volume series”) — his longtime editor at Knopf, Katherine Hourigan, accepted on his behalf.

(6) Meeting the incredibly modest and friendly Tom Reiss, whose The Black Count won the 2013 Pulitzer for biography.  Tom was probably one of the most photographed people at the conference (heck, have a photo with him, and I hate having my picture taken!) and he was always patient, generous, and genuinely interested in talking with everyone. A class act all around.

All in all, a successful weekend — and we’re already in the early planning stages for next year.

When I returned from New York, I had a week left to finish going through the galleys for Jim Henson. Fittingly, perhaps, I made my changes and notes in Kermit-green ink, and shipped everything back three days early. As a result, yesterday I got in the mail from Random House a heavy box full of these:

IMG_0340 These are the advance uncorrected proofs that will go out for review.  There’s still  no cover for it, and the photo insert is being finished off as well. But as my editor wrote in his cover note, “It’s nearly a book.” And it is indeed.

 

A Blurb That’s Legen . . . wait for it . . .

Blurbs for Jim Henson are beginning to roll into the offices of the good people at Random House — including this wonderful one from one of the world’s most devoted Jim Henson fans:

“I’m a rabid Jim Henson fan—his brilliant ideas spawned shows that entertained and educated millions, myself included. Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods. It’s an absolute must read!”—Neil Patrick Harris

Thank you, Neil.  Sincerely.

Tuesday Mail

Our little town in Maryland straddles several major state highways–descendants, I’m sure, of old cow and cart paths that were eventually hacked and paved into the hillsides and given official state designations. That means that most of us who live on the older, main thoroughfares around here have our houses facing two-lane state highway. It’s not as bad as it sounds; this isn’t the two-lane highway on which speeding trucks thundered dangerously by in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Instead, it’s wooded, somewhat meandering blacktop that curves through the surrounding farms and dairies and only gets really busy on Sundays when they’re plugged with church traffic.

Anyway, one of the quirks  that’s evolved around here over the last half-century or so is that because so many of us face two-lane blacktop, no one uses their front doors. Instead, driveways stretch to the back of each house, and when you step out of the car, you take a quick trip up the back steps or through a patio or up across a raised deck and you knock at the back door.  When we expect company, we turn on the back porch lights. Our mailbox sits at the back gate, too. Life revolves around the back door.

But when packages get delivered by UPS or FedEx  . . . well, for some reason both deliverymen tend to back up their trucks off the state highway, leave the engine running, sprint from the truck across the rock path leading to the front porch, drop their packages at the front door—usually in the space between the storm door and the big wooden main door–then dash back to the delivery truck and escape without us ever knowing they were there. Sometimes a package has even been known to sit a day or two before one of us finally opened the front door and stumbled upon it.

That didn’t happen today, but only because this morning, my editor sent me a cryptic e-mail reading, “Says it’s delivered and at front door. It arrive?” I opened the heavy front door, and sure enough there was a package. And inside that package? The galley proofs for Jim Hensonsuitable for proofreading and final copyediting:

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As it’s been typeset and laid out, it now runs just a hair over 570 pages–and I’ve got a little more than twenty days (fewer than that, actually, since I’ll be at the BIO conference for four of them) to re-read, review, edit and proof all of them.

Off I go, then — and we’re still on track for you to have it in your hands on September 24, Jim’s 77th birthday.

Sensational, Inspirational: Jane Henson (1934-2013)

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Jane Henson in 2009 (photo by Richard Termine)

Over the past five years, I had the great privilege of getting to know Jane Henson — at least a little. She was brassy, brilliant, outspoken, and opinionated — and, frankly, the first time I met her, she intimidated the hell out of me. But the more I got to know her, the more I came to find that she was also incredibly warm and sweet, and completely and utterly devoted to her family and friends. She was also just as funny as you might imagine, edgy with a slight whiff of mischief. (And yeah, she was a terrific puppeteer, too — there’s a reason young Jim Henson asked her to be his first performing partner back in 1954: Jim knew sheer talent when he saw it.)

For the five years I knew her, Jane was fighting cancer. And yet, she was always generous with her time, giving me several hours (on several occasions!) in New York, and a few more when she happened to be in Washington, DC. I never called our sessions together “interviews”; instead, I called them conversations — because I think that’s how we both came to regard them. There were times I was worried I might be tiring her out — one session ran nearly five hours — but Jane seemed to have a nearly endless enthusiasm; the one time I suggested that we start wrapping things up because she might be tired, she simply looked at her watch, raised an eyebrow at me, and shrugged, “If you say so.”

Yeah, I came to adore her.

The last time I saw her was late summer 2012.  She was a bit tired, but still as punchy as ever and we talked for several hours in the conference room of the Jim Henson Legacy, an organization she founded in 1993 to preserve and perpetuate Jim’s life and work. When I got up to leave that afternoon, I took her right hand in mine and shook it. “Thank you for sharing Jim with me,” I told her, “and thanks for sharing you.” She patted the back of my hand warmly with her left hand and smiled.

Jane Henson died Tuesday morning at the age of 78. And I’ll miss her.

It’s Official…

We have a title. It’s Jim Henson: The Biography. Dignified and straight to the point. But I’ve got another announcement for you, too.

Jim Henson: The Biography is now available for pre-order.  There’s no cover for it yet — everyone’s still working on that part — but the listing is up on various bookseller websites, as well as on Goodreads. You can pre-order it from your favorite bookseller right here, and see it on Goodreads here.

Playing Catch Up

It’s a been a lonely year for this blog, I know. Looking back, I see I’ve written exactly five entries since January 2012–an anemic pace, to be sure. I wish I was one of those prolific blogging machines, but the truth is I’m not the multi-tasker I once was — and every time I’ve put butt in chair over the past year, it’s usually been to spend the next twelve hours or so writing about Jim Henson, rather than writing about writing about Jim Henson first and then going on to actually write about Jim Henson. You get the idea.

When I last left you, the first full draft was sitting on my desk in hard copy while an electronic copy had been whisked away over the emailz to my editor. Since that time, it’s been read and re-read and edited and redrafted two more times. As of November 30, it now looks like this (I knew you were coming, so I posed it among a photo montage just for fun):

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The first draft came in at about 730 pages; this draft is a bit shorter — around 680 pages — but one of the really great things about working with a really great editor is that things not only get shorter, but they get tighter and better. (Editors are the great unsung heroes of most of the books you’ve read — and if you wanna know what else mine is up to, you can follow him over on Twitter at @RyanDoh). While it needs just a bit of fine tuning, it’s very nearly complete, and should be done before Christmas.

There.  That catches you up on that part.

Next up, we’ll start deciding on the photos that’ll be used inside. I’ve already spent days poring over countless images from the Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop, trying to decide which ones might make the cut — a tough call, given that nearly every image is a keeper, and I haven’t even started going through the collection of  images now owned by Disney. That should happen sometime in January — and we’re still right on track to have Jim’s story in your hands on his 77th birthday: September 24, 2013.