Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Review: JIM HENSON, THE GUY WHO PLAYED WITH PUPPETS by Kathleen Krull
When the power went out in San Diego County on Sept. 8, I picked a book to read while the sun was going down. Krull’s warm biography of the remarkable Jim Henson did not disappoint. It’s the story of a person who knew exactly what he wanted to do, did it, and pleased the world with his genius for puppetry.
Henson was very successful with the Muppets early on; by the time he’d left college, he’d had a local TV show for years and had performed in multiple venues. Thus, when he got the call from the visionary Sesame Street producer Joan Ganz Cooney, after giving it some thought he was ready to go. The rest, as they say, is history. Kermit (named after a childhood friend of Henson) the Frog, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Bert, and Ernie appeared on TV in late 1969 and have been on air ever since. The first episode of Saturday Night Live was begun with the Muppets, and a year later The Muppets Show became “the most popular puppets in history”…. watched by “as many as 235 million people each week” (32). The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth remain movie cult classics.
Henson was 53 when he died, and as one fan who remembers the shock and sadness of that, and both my sons' sheer enjoyment of Sesame Street, I am glad such a fine biography for young readers has been published. Johnson and Fancher each illustrates a highlight of Henson’s life, showing him roller blading with his family or doing Kermit in front of a mirror. The final painting, of the huge crowd at Henson’s funeral and the jazz band that played, is a perfectly-chosen closing image.