The man behind the muppets

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 11:30 31/03/2014

BOOK REVIEW: Jim Henson: The Biography
By Brian Jay Jones (Virgin Books, RRP $40)

I grew up with Sesame Street and later the Muppets and it has to be said: Jim Henson was a genius.

This biography of the ultimate puppet-master, written by award- winning writer and biographer Brian Jay Jones, is a truly comprehensive read about the legend that was Jim Henson and has been compiled with unprecedented access to his personal files and with the co-operation of Henson's family.

Everyone has their favourite Muppet, with the furry little critters becoming almost real under the guidance of their creator and champion, Henson.

I remember the edge-of-the-seat drama back when Mr Snuffleupagus arrived on Sesame Street and the only person (or in this case, bird) who could see him was Big Bird.

Oh the drama: as no-one believed him that the earless, tuskless, woolly mammoth lookalike existed, we all sat at home in front of our TVs, feeling his pain and frustration as he tried to convince all and sundry that Snuffy was not a figment of his imagination or some sort of hallucination.

Or was that just me?

And then, in 1977, the Muppets managed to knock the Beatles from the No 1 spot in the United Kingdom album charts, with the Muppet Show overtaking The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl for one glorious week in June.

Mahna Mahna, do-doo be-doo-doo.

But I digress.

We all know Henson's many characters: Kermit the dreamer, aggressive go-getter Miss Piggy, gentle giant Big Bird, giggly Elmo and the misunderstood Oscar the Grouch. But - until now - we've really known very little about the man who thought up all those colourful characters.

Dying at the age of just 53 from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, Henson's life was short but certainly action-packed: from the Muppets and Fraggle Rock to Labyrinth and the Storyteller, the man seemed to ooze creativity.

Brian Jay Jones looks at where it all started and at Henson's decade-long campaign to get the Muppets their own TV show.

Of course, none of us is 100 per cent successful 100 per cent of the time, and Henson was no different. There were a few wee hiccups along the way, including his dream of opening an inflatable nightclub.

Henson was labelled "the new Walt Disney" and when you look at the entirety of his work it's easy to see why.

This is a comprehensive and intimate look at a man who was as intensely private as he was creative and covers everything from his Christian Science upbringing and his love of fast cars, to his taste for high-stakes gambling, expensive art, and women.

The author also tells the heart-breaking story of Henson's final days and his death.

That Henson's creations are still so popular today is a testament to just how good he was.

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