Jim Henson

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Jim Henson
Henson at a public event
Henson in 1979
Born
James Maury Henson

(1936-09-24)September 24, 1936
DiedMay 16, 1990(1990-05-16) (aged 53)
Cause of deathToxic shock syndrome caused by Group A streptococcal infection
Resting placeCremated; ashes scattered in Taos, New Mexico in 1992
Alma materUniversity of Maryland, College Park (BS)
Occupations
  • Puppeteer
  • animator
  • actor
  • filmmaker
Years active1954–1990
Known forCreator of The Muppets
Board member of
Spouse
(m. 1959; sep. 1986)
Children
Awards

James Maury Henson (September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) was an American puppeteer, animator, actor, and filmmaker who achieved worldwide notability as the creator of the Muppets. Henson was also well known for creating Fraggle Rock (1983–1987) and as the director of The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986).

Born in Greenville, Mississippi, and raised in both Leland, Mississippi, and University Park, Maryland, Henson began developing puppets in high school. He created Sam and Friends (1955–1961), a short-form comedy television program on WRC-TV, while he was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, in collaboration with classmate Jane Nebel. Henson and Nebel co-founded Muppets, Inc. – now The Jim Henson Company – in 1958, and married less than a year later in 1959. Henson graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics.

In 1969, Henson joined the children's educational television program Sesame Street (1969–present) where he helped to develop Muppet characters for the series. He and his creative team also appeared on the first season of the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (1975–present). He produced the sketch comedy television series The Muppet Show (1976–1981) during this period. Henson revolutionized the way puppetry is captured and presented in video media, and he won fame for his characters – particularly Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and the characters on Sesame Street. During the later years of his life, he founded the Jim Henson Foundation and Jim Henson's Creature Shop. He won the Emmy Award twice for his involvement in The StoryTeller (1987–1988) and The Jim Henson Hour (1989).

Henson died in New York City at age 53 from toxic shock syndrome caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. At the time of his death, he was in negotiations to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company, but talks fell through after his death. He was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and was named a Disney Legend in 2011.

Early life[edit]

James Maury Henson was born on September 24, 1936, in Greenville, Mississippi, the younger of two children of Betty Marcella (née Brown, 1904–1972) and Paul Ransom Henson (1904–1994), an agronomist for the United States Department of Agriculture.[3] Henson's older brother, Paul Ransom Henson Jr. (1932–1956), died in a car crash on April 15, 1956. He was raised as a Christian Scientist and spent his early childhood in nearby Leland, Mississippi, before moving with his family to University Park, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s.[4] He remembered the arrival of the family's first television as "the biggest event of his adolescence",[5] being heavily influenced by radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and the early television puppets of Burr Tillstrom on Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Bil and Cora Baird.[5] He remained a Christian Scientist at least into his twenties, when he taught Sunday school, but he wrote to a Christian Science church in the early 1970s to inform them that he was no longer a practicing member.[6]

Career[edit]

Education[edit]

Henson attended a variety of grade schools in his youth, including Hyattsville High School until it was closed in 1951. He completed his high school career at the newly opened Northwestern High School, where he joined the puppetry club.

He enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, the following fall as a studio arts major, thinking that he might become a commercial artist.[7] As a freshman at the university, Jim took a newly offered puppetry class mostly populated with seniors, including his future wife Jane Nebel. He graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics.

Early career: 1954–1961[edit]

Henson began working at WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV) in the spring of 1954, at age 18, hired to "manipulate marionettes"[8] on a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior Morning Show, until the show was cancelled only three weeks later. This first break into the Television industry was short-lived, but his talent landed him and his puppets an opportunity to continue working at WTOP-TV, lip-syncing on Roy Meachum's Saturday show.[9]

Henson's employment at WTOP-TV lasted only until August, when Saturday was also cancelled. Meachum then referred Jim to the local NBC-affiliate station WRC-TV, where Henson continued performing his puppets with the help of his classmate Jane. The two were eventually offered a nightly segment[10] for which they created Sam and Friends, a five-minute puppet show that afforded Henson much more freedom to develop his own creative work. The characters on Sam and Friends were forerunners of the Muppets, and the show included a prototype of Henson's most famous character Kermit the Frog.[11] He remained at WRC until Sam and Friends aired its last episode on December 15, 1961.[12]

In the show, Henson began experimenting with techniques that changed the way in which puppetry was used on television, foregoing the convention of pointing the camera at a stationary Puppet theatre and instead using the image created by the TV camera and lens to dynamically engage with his characters.[13] He believed that television puppets needed to have "life and sensitivity".[14] Rather than carving wooden puppets Henson built characters from softer, flexible materials like foam rubber;[15] his first iteration of Kermit was made from a halved table tennis ball and fabric from an old coat belonging to his mother, with denim from a pair of jeans forming the sleeve for the puppeteer's arm.[16]

Though Henson told people that "Muppet" was a portmanteau of "marionette" and "Puppet",[17] many early Muppets were actually hand puppets, rod puppets, or some combination of the two. Direct control over the puppet's mouth, in combination with the softer construction materials, allowed the puppeteer to express a wider range of emotions and to more accurately move the puppet's mouth along with the character's dialogue or while lip-syncing to music. Commenting on his puppet design philosophy, Henson said,

"A lot of people build very stiff puppets—you can barely move the things—and you can get very little expression out of a character that you can barely move. Your hand has a lot of flexibility to it, and what you want to do is to build a puppet that can reflect all that flexibility."[18]

Sam and Friends was a financial success, but Henson began to have doubts about going into a career performing with puppets once he graduated. He spent six weeks in Europe during the summer of 1958, originally with the intent to study painting, but was surprised to learn that puppets were considered just as serious of an art form as painting or sculpture. After returning to the United States he and Jane made their partnership official, creating Muppets, Inc. in November of that same year,[19] then marrying each other in 1959.[20]

Television and Muppets: 1961–1969[edit]

Reproductions built in the Muppets Workshop of the Wilkins (left) and Wontkins (right) Muppets

Henson spent much of the next two decades working in commercials, talk shows, and children's projects before realizing his dream of the Muppets as "entertainment for everybody".[5] The popularity of his work on Sam and Friends in the late 1950s led to a series of guest appearances on network talk and variety shows. He appeared as a guest on many shows, including The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Program, and The Ed Sullivan Show. (Sullivan introduced him as "Jim Newsom and his Puppets" on September 11, 1966.) These television broadcasts greatly increased his exposure, leading to hundreds of commercial appearances by Henson characters throughout the 1960s.[21]

Among the most popular of Henson's commercials was a series for the local Wilkins Coffee company in Washington, D.C., created for a campaign managed by advertising manager Helen Ver Standig.[22] Most of the Wilkins advertisements followed a similar formula: two Muppets, in this case named Wilkins and Wontkins (usually both voiced by Henson), would appear. Wilkins would extol the product while Wontkins would express his hatred for it, prompting physical retaliation from Wilkins; Wontkins might be shot with a cannon, struck in the head with a hammer or baseball bat, or have a pie thrown in his face.[23] The Jim Henson Company has posted a short selection of them.[24] Henson later explained, "Till then, advertising agencies believed that the hard sell was the only way to get their message over on television. We took a very different approach. We tried to sell things by making people laugh."[21]

The first seven-second commercials for Wilkins were an immediate hit and were later remade for other local coffee companies throughout the United States, such as Community Coffee, Red Diamond Coffee, La Touraine Coffee, Nash's Coffee, and Jomar Instant coffee.[22] The characters were so successful in selling coffee that soon other companies began seeking them to promote their products, such as bakeries like Merita Breads, service station chains such as Standard Oil of Ohio and the downstream assets of Marathon Oil,[25] and beverage bottlers such as Faygo. Over 300 "Wilkins and Wontkins" commercials were made.[21] The ads were primarily produced in black and white, but some color examples also exist.

Henson sold the rights to Wilkins and Wontkins to the Wilkins Company, who allowed marketing executive John T. Brady to sell the rights to some toymakers and film studios. However, in July 1992 Brady was sued by Jim Henson Productions for unfair competition in addition to copyright and trademark infringement. The Henson company claimed that Brady was incorrectly using Henson's name and likeness in their attempts to license the characters.[26]

In 1963, Henson and his wife moved to New York City where the newly formed Muppets, Inc. resided for some time. Jane quit performing to raise their children, and Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl in 1961 and puppet performer Frank Oz in 1963 to replace her.[27] Henson credited them both with developing much of the humor and character of his Muppets.[28] He and Oz developed a close friendship and a performing partnership that lasted until Henson's death; their teamwork is particularly evident in their portrayals of Bert and Ernie, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Kermit and Fozzie Bear.[29] In New York City, Henson formed a partnership with Bernie Brillstein, who managed Henson's career until the puppeteer's death.[30] In the years that followed, more performers joined Henson's team, including Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash.

In 1964 he and his family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where they lived until 1971, when they moved to Bedford, New York.[31]

Henson's talk show appearances culminated when he devised Rowlf, a piano-playing anthropomorphic dog that became the first Muppet to make regular appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson was so grateful for this break that he offered Jimmy Dean a 40-percent interest in his production company, but Dean declined, stating that Henson deserved all the rewards for his own work, a decision of conscience that Dean never regretted.[32] From 1963 to 1966, Henson began exploring filmmaking and produced a series of experimental films.[33][34] His nine-minute experimental film Time Piece was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1965. He produced The Cube in 1969. Around this time, he wrote the first drafts of a live-action movie script with Jerry Juhl which became Tale of Sand. The script remained in the Henson Company archives until it was adapted in the 2012 graphic novel Jim Henson's Tale of Sand.[35]

During this time, Henson continued to work with various companies who sought out his Muppets for advertising purposes. Among his clients were Wilson Meats, Royal Crown Cola, Claussen's Bread, La Choy, and Frito-Lay, which featured an early version of his character Cookie Monster to promote their Munchos line of potato snacks. Like the Wilkins Coffee ads of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the formula stayed fairly similar. For instance, one of the Claussen's commercials featured Kermit the Frog dangling from a window while a character named Mack asks him if he brought a loaf of the company's bread; when Kermit says he did not, Mack closes the window on Kermit's fingers and causes him to fall, suggesting he "drop down" to the grocery store to buy a loaf.

Sesame Street: 1969[edit]

In 1969, television producer Joan Ganz Cooney and her staff at the Children's Television Workshop were impressed by the quality and creativity of the Henson-led team, so they asked Henson and staff to work full-time on Sesame Street, a children's program for public television that premiered on National Educational Television on November 10, 1969. Part of the show was set aside for a series of funny, colorful puppet characters living on Sesame Street, including Grover, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, and Big Bird. Henson performed the characters of Ernie, game-show host Guy Smiley, and Kermit, who appeared as a roving television news reporter.

Henson's Muppets initially appeared separately from the realistic segments on the Street, but the show was revamped to integrate the two segments, placing much greater emphasis on Henson's work. Cooney frequently praised Henson's work, and PBS called him "the spark that ignited our fledgling broadcast service."[5] The success of Sesame Street also allowed him to stop producing commercials, and he said that "it was a pleasure to get out of that world".[22]

Henson was also involved in producing various shows and animation inserts during the first two seasons. He produced a series of counting films for the numbers 1 through 10 which always ended with a baker (voiced by Henson) falling down the stairs while carrying the featured number of desserts. He also worked on a variety of inserts for the numbers 2 through 12, including the films "Dollhouse"; "Number Three Ball Film"; the stop-motions "King of Eight" and "Queen of Six"; the cut-out animation "Eleven Cheer"; and the computer animation "Nobody Counts To 10." He also directed the original "C Is For Cookie" and Tales from Muppetland, a short series of TV movie specials that were comic retellings of classic fairy tales aimed at a young audience and hosted by Kermit the Frog. The series included Hey, Cinderella!, The Frog Prince, and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen.[36]

Expansion of audience: 1970–1978[edit]

Henson, Oz, and his team were concerned that the company was becoming typecast solely as purveyors of children's entertainment, so they targeted an adult audience with a series of sketches on the first season of the late-night live television variety show Saturday Night Live. Eleven Land of Gorch sketches were aired between October 1975 and January 1976 on NBC, with four additional appearances in March, April, May, and September 1976. Henson liked Lorne Michaels' work and wanted to be a part of it, but he ultimately concluded that "what we were trying to do and what his writers could write for it never gelled".[22] The SNL writers were not comfortable writing for the characters, and they frequently disparaged Henson's creations. Michael O'Donoghue quipped, "I won't write for felt."[37]

Henson began developing a Broadway show and a weekly television series both featuring the Muppets.[22] The American networks rejected the series in 1976, believing that Muppets would appeal only to a child audience. Then, Henson pitched the show to British impresario Lew Grade to finance the show. The show would be shot in the United Kingdom and syndicated worldwide.[38] That same year, he scrapped plans for his Broadway show and moved his creative team to England, where The Muppet Show began taping. The show featured Kermit as host, with a variety of prominent characters, notably Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, and Fozzie Bear, in addition to its large cast of supporting characters such as the Muppet musicians Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem with their chaotic drummer Animal. Henson's teammates sometimes compared his role to that of Kermit: a shy, gentle boss with "a whim of steel"[29] who ran things like "an explosion in a mattress factory."[39] Caroll Spinney, who performed as Big Bird, remembered that Henson would never say he did not like something. "He would just go 'Hmm.' ... And if he liked it, he would say, 'Lovely!'"[4] Henson recognized Kermit as an alter ego, though he thought that Kermit was bolder than he; he once said of the character: "He can say things I hold back."[40]

Henson with Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear in 1979

Transition to the big screen: 1979–1986[edit]

The Muppets appeared in their first theatrical feature film The Muppet Movie in 1979. It was both a critical and financial success;[41] it made $65.2 million domestically and was the 61st highest-grossing film at the time.[42] Henson's idol Edgar Bergen died at age 75 during production of the film, and Henson dedicated it to his memory. Henson as Kermit sang "Rainbow Connection", and it hit number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The Henson-directed The Great Muppet Caper (1981) followed, and Henson decided to end the Muppet Show to concentrate on making films,[3] though the Muppet characters continued to appear in TV movies and specials.[citation needed]

Henson also aided others in their work. During development on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), George Lucas asked him to aid make-up artist Stuart Freeborn in the creation and articulation of Yoda. Lucas had also wanted Henson to puppeteer the character, but Henson instead suggested Frank Oz for the role;[43] Oz performed the role and continued in the subsequent Star Wars films. Lucas lobbied unsuccessfully to have Oz nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[44]

In 1982, Henson founded the Jim Henson Foundation to promote and develop the art of puppetry in the United States. Around that time, he began creating darker and more realistic fantasy films that did not feature the Muppets and displayed "a growing, brooding interest in mortality."[29] He co-directed The Dark Crystal (1982) with Oz, "trying to go toward a sense of realism—toward a reality of creatures that are actually alive".[22] To provide a visual style distinct from the Muppets, the puppets in The Dark Crystal were based on conceptual artwork by Brian Froud,[45] and it was a critical success, winning several industry awards including the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and the Grand Prize Winner at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival.[46] The film was less financially successful in theaters, but later claimed an enormous following and revenue when it was introduced on VHS for home entertainment.[47] Also in 1982, Henson co-founded Henson International Television with Peter Orton and Sophie Turner Laing as his partners. The company was a distribution company for children's, teens' and family television.[48]

Henson and producer George Lucas working on Labyrinth in 1986

Henson worked with Oz again on The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), this time with Oz as sole director.[49] The film grossed $25.5 million domestically[50] of a budget of only around $8 million,[51] and ranked as one of the top 40 films of 1984.[52]

Labyrinth (1986) was a fantasy that Henson directed by himself, but—despite some positive reviews; The New York Times called it "a fabulous film"—it was a commercial disappointment.[53] This demoralized Henson; his son Brian Henson described it as "the closest I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed."[29] The film later became a cult classic.[54]

In 1984 Henson traveled to Moscow, where he made a film about Sergei Obraztsov. To make this possible, he had studied Russian for a year at Yale and had spent a summer there in 1982.[55] Henson also donated four dolls to the puppeteer to replenish the Moscow Museum of Obraztsov Puppets: Fraggle, Skeksi, Bugard, and Robin the Frog. Of the show's guests, the Henson Archivist points out that Jim Henson placed a special importance on meeting Obraztsov: "As a teenager learning to make puppets, Jim checked out some books from the public library for instruction – one was Obraztsov’s 1950 book, My Profession"[56][57][58]

Last years: 1987–1990[edit]

Henson at the 1989 Emmy Awards

Henson continued creating children's television, such as Fraggle Rock and the animated Muppet Babies. He also continued to address darker, more mature themes with the folklore and mythology-oriented show The StoryTeller (1988), which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program. The next year, he returned to television with The Jim Henson Hour, which mixed lighthearted Muppet fare with more risqué material. It was critically well-received and won him another Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program, but it was canceled after 12 episodes due to poor ratings. Henson blamed its failure on NBC's constant rescheduling.[59]

In late 1989, Henson entered into negotiations to sell his company and characters (excluding those from Sesame Street) to The Walt Disney Company for almost $150 million, hoping that he would "be able to spend a lot more of my time on the creative side of things" with Disney handling business matters.[59] By 1990, he had completed production on the television special The Muppets at Walt Disney World and the Disney-MGM Studios attraction Muppet*Vision 3D and he was developing film ideas and a television series entitled Muppet High.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Henson and Jane Nebel were married on May 28, 1959, in a small ceremony at Nebel's family home.[60] Their children are Lisa (b. 1960), Cheryl (b. 1961), Brian (b. 1963), John (1965–2014),[61] and Heather (b. 1970).[62] Henson and his wife separated in 1986, although they remained close for the rest of his life.[63] Jane said that Jim was so involved with his work that he had very little time to spend with her or their children.[63] All five of his children began working with Muppets at an early age, partly because "one of the best ways of being around him was to work with him", according to Cheryl.[14][64] Henson was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement.[65]

Illness and death[edit]

Henson appeared with Kermit on The Arsenio Hall Show in Los Angeles on May 4, 1990. This was his final television appearance. Shortly afterwards, he privately disclosed to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but that he believed it would soon go away. On May 12, Henson traveled to Ahoskie, North Carolina, with his daughter Cheryl to visit his father and stepmother. They returned to their home in New York City the following day, and Henson cancelled a Muppet recording session that had been scheduled for May 14, 1990, due to his ill health.[4] His wife came to visit that night.

Henson was having trouble breathing when he woke up at around 2:00 a.m. EDT on May 15, and he began coughing up blood. He suggested to his wife that he might be dying, but he did not want to take time off from his schedule to visit a hospital. Two hours later, Henson agreed to be taken by taxi to the emergency room at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. Shortly after admission, he stopped breathing and was rushed into the intensive care unit. X-ray images of his chest revealed multiple abscesses in both of his lungs as a result of a previous Streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) bacterial infection he had apparently had for the past few days. Henson was placed on a ventilator but quickly deteriorated over the next several hours despite increasingly aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics. Although the medicine killed off most of the infection, it had already weakened many of Henson's organs and, at the age of 53, he died at 1:21 a.m. the following morning.[66]

Dr. David Gelmont announced that Henson had died from Streptococcus pneumoniae, an infection that causes bacterial pneumonia.[5] However, on May 29, Gelmont reclassified it as organ dysfunction resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome caused by Streptococcus pyogenes.[67][68] Gelmont noted Henson might have been saved had he gone to the hospital just a few hours sooner.[69] Medical expert Lawrence D. Altman also stated that Henson's death "may have shocked many Americans who believed that bacterial infections no longer could kill with such swiftness."[67] A lack of familiarity with this possibility, combined with the then-recent deaths of prominent men (including Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, and others) whose AIDS deaths had first been publicly euphemized as other illnesses due to AIDS's pervasive stigma, led to a false but widespread rumor that Henson had died of AIDS--a rumor that was swiftly and directly refuted by Dr. Gelmont.[70] Frank Oz believed the stress of negotiating with Disney led to Henson's death, stating in a 2021 interview: "The Disney deal is probably what killed Jim. It made him sick."[71] Henson was cremated and in 1992, his ashes were scattered near Taos in New Mexico.[72]

Memorials[edit]

Disney artists Joe Lanzisero and Tim Kirk drew a tribute of Mickey Mouse consoling Kermit the Frog, which appeared in the Summer 1990 issue of WD Eye[73]

News of Henson's death spread quickly and admirers of his work responded from around the world with tributes and condolences. Many of Henson's co-stars and directors from Sesame Street, the Muppets, and other works also shared their thoughts on his death.[74] On May 21, 1990, Henson's public memorial service was conducted in Manhattan at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Another was conducted on July 2, at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Harry Belafonte sang "Turn the World Around", a song that he had debuted on The Muppet Show, as each member of the congregation waved a brightly colored foam butterfly attached to a puppet performer's rod.[75][76] Later, Big Bird (performed by Caroll Spinney) walked onto the stage and sang Kermit's signature song "Bein' Green" while fighting back tears.[77] Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, and Richard Hunt sang a medley of Henson's favorite songs in their characters' voices, ending with a performance of "Just One Person" while performing their Muppets.[78]

In accordance with Henson's wishes, no one in attendance wore black, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band finished the service by performing "When the Saints Go Marching In". The funeral was described by Life as "an epic and almost unbearably moving event".[29]

Legacy[edit]

The Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Foundation continued after his death, producing new series and specials. Jim Henson's Creature Shop also continues to create characters and special effects for both Henson-related and outside projects. Steve Whitmire, who had joined the Muppets cast in 1978, began performing Kermit the Frog six months after Henson's death.[79] He was dismissed from the cast in October 2016, and Matt Vogel succeeded him in the role of Kermit.[80]

The Children's Television Workshop was renamed Sesame Workshop, which retained the Sesame Street characters in 2000.[81] On February 17, 2004, the Muppets and the Bear in the Big Blue House properties were sold to Disney.[82][83][84]

One of Henson's last projects was the attraction Muppet*Vision 3D, which opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios on May 16, 1991, exactly one year after his death. The Jim Henson Company retains the Creature Shop as well as the rest of its film and television library, including Fraggle Rock, Farscape, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth.[85] Brian Jay Jones wrote the book Jim Henson: The Biography. It was released on what would have been Henson's 77th birthday, September 24, 2013.[86]

The moving-image collection of Jim Henson, which contains the film work of Jim Henson and The Jim Henson Company,[87] is held at the Academy Film Archive.

Henson's characters are currently performed by the following puppeteers: Matt Vogel (Kermit), Peter Linz (Ernie, Link Hogthrob), Eric Jacobson (Guy Smiley, The Newsman), Dave Goelz (Waldorf) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf the Dog, The Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth).[88][89][90][91][92]

In 2019, the YouTube channel Defunctland released a six-part miniseries on the life and legacy of Jim Henson.

A biopic film based on Henson's life, known as Muppet Man, has been in development at Walt Disney Pictures and The Jim Henson Company since 2010. In April 2021, it was reported that Michael Mitnick was hired to rewrite the screenplay, previously written by Aaron and Jordan Kandell. Lisa Henson will serve as producer.[93]

In March 2022, it was announced that Ron Howard planned to direct a documentary on Henson's life, with Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment collaborating with Disney Original Documentary to produce it. The project was reported to have "the full participation and cooperation of the Henson family".[94] In April 2024, it was announced the documentary was titled Jim Henson Idea Man. It began streaming on Disney+ on May 31, 2024.[95]

Tributes[edit]

English Heritage blue plaque at Henson's former home in North London

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Film Director Producer Screenwriter Actor Role Notes
1965 Time Piece Yes Yes Yes Yes Man Short film
1979 The Muppet Movie No Yes No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Swedish Chef
Additional Muppets
1981 The Great Muppet Caper Yes No No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Swedish Chef
The Newsman
Additional Muppets
1982 The Dark Crystal Yes Yes Story Yes Jen
skekZok/The Ritual Master
skekSo/The Emperor
Puppeteering only
Co-directed with Frank Oz
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan No Executive No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Swedish Chef
The Newsman
Ernie
Additional Muppets
1985 Into the Night No No No Yes Man on the phone Cameo
Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird No No No Yes Kermit the Frog
Ernie
1986 Labyrinth Yes No Story No
1990 The Witches No Yes No No
1991 Muppet*Vision 3D Yes No No Yes Kermit the Frog
Waldorf
The Swedish Chef
3D film attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios, posthumous release

Television[edit]

Year Film Director Producer Screenwriter Actor Role Notes
1954 The Junior Morning Show No No No Yes Pierre the French Rat
Additional Muppets
aired on WTOP-TV
Saturday No No No Yes Additional Muppets
1955–1956 Afternoon with Inga No No No Yes Additional Muppets aired on WRC-TV
1955 In Our Town No No No Yes Sam
Kermit
Yorick
Additional Muppets
1955–1961 Sam and Friends Yes No Yes Yes Sam
Harry the Hipster
Kermit
Professor Madcliffe
Omar
Yorick
Pierre the French Rat
Additional Muppets
1956 Footlight Theater No No No Yes Sam
Additional Muppets
1962 Tales of the Tinkerdee No Yes Yes Yes Kermit the Frog
Additional Muppets
Unaired
Pilot available on YouTube
1963–1966 The Jimmy Dean Show No No No Yes Rowlf the Dog
1969 The Cube Yes Yes Yes No
The Wizard of Id test pilot No Yes No Yes Additional Muppets Pilot available on YouTube
Hey, Cinderella! Yes No No Yes Kermit the Frog
Additional Muppets
1969–1990 Sesame Street Yes No Yes Yes Ernie
Kermit the Frog
Guy Smiley
Bip Bippadotta Harvey Monster />Additional Muppets
1970 The Muppets on Puppets No Executive No Yes Himself
Rowlf the Dog
Kermit
Additional Muppets
Filmed in 1968
1971 The Frog Prince Yes Yes No Yes Kermit the Frog
Additional Muppets
1972 The Muppet Musicians of Bremen Yes Yes No Yes
1974 The Muppets Valentine Show Yes Executive No Yes Wally
Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Ernie
Additional Muppets
1975 The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence No Yes Yes Yes Nigel
George Washington
The Swedish Chef
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Kermit the Frog
Additional Muppets
1976–1981 The Muppet Show No Yes Yes Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
The Swedish Chef
Link Hogthrob
The Newsman
Additional Muppets
1977 Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas Yes Yes No Yes Kermit the Frog
Harvey Beaver
Howard Snake
Mayor Harrison Fox
Television film
1978 Christmas Eve on Sesame Street No No No Yes Kermit the Frog
Ernie
1983–1987 Fraggle Rock Yes Executive Yes Yes Cantus the Minstrel
Convincing John
1983 Big Bird in China No No No Yes Ernie Television film
Don't Eat the Pictures No No No Yes
1985 Little Muppet Monsters No No No Yes Kermit the Frog (live-action puppet only)
Dr. Teeth
1986 The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years No Executive No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
The Swedish Chef
Link Hogthrob
Ernie
Harry the Hipster
The Newsman
Additional Muppets
Television film
The Tale of the Bunny Picnic Yes Yes No Yes The Dog
The Christmas Toy No Yes No Yes Jack-in-the-Box
Kermit the Frog
1987–1988 The StoryTeller Yes Executive No No
1987 Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series No Executive No No
A Muppet Family Christmas No Executive No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Swedish Chef
The Newsman
Ernie
Guy Smiley
Baby Kermit
Baby Rowlf
Additional Muppets
Television film
1988 Sing-Along, Dance-Along, Do-Along No Executive No Yes Rowlf the Dog
Penguins
Kermit the Frog
Entry in the Play-Along Video series
1984–1991 Muppet Babies No Executive No No
1989 Sesame Street... 20 Years & Still Counting No Executive No Yes Ernie
Kermit the Frog
Additional Muppets
Television film
The Jim Henson Hour Yes Executive No Yes Himself
Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Additional Muppets
1990 The Earth Day Special Yes No No Yes Kermit the Frog segment: "Kermit the Frog"
The Muppets at Walt Disney World No Executive No Yes Kermit the Frog
Rowlf the Dog
Dr. Teeth
Waldorf
Link Hogthrob
The Swedish Chef
Television special

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1988 Oscar's Letter Party Kermit the Frog[139] [citation needed]
Let's Learn to Play Together Ernie [citation needed]
1991 Sesame Street Numbers Ernie
Kermit the Frog[140]
Voice only, Posthumous release
Sesame Street Letters

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Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Henson, Jim. "The Red Book". JimHenson.Com. The Jim Henson Company.
  • Finch, Christopher (1981). Of Muppets and Men: The Making of The Muppet Show. New York: Muppet Press/Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-52085-8.

External links[edit]

Listen to this article (28 minutes)
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Preceded by
None
Performer of Kermit the Frog
1955–1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of Ernie
1969–1990
Succeeded by
Steve Whitmire
Preceded by
None
Performer of Captain Vegetable
1982
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of The Muppet Newsman
1976–1989
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of Link Hogthrob
1977–1990
Succeeded by
Steve Whitmire
Preceded by
None
Performer of Rowlf the Dog
1962–1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of The Swedish Chef
1975–1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of Dr. Teeth
1975–1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of Mahna Mahna
1969–1986
Succeeded by
Bill Barretta
Preceded by
None
Performer of Waldorf
1975–1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by
None
Performer of Guy Smiley
1969–1990
Succeeded by
Don Reardon