Adventures of a Semi-Wild Animal Tamer

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Book Review: Jim Henson: The Biography

After about a year-and-half of off-and-on reading, I recently finished Brian Jay Jones's "Jim Henson: The Biography". At 490 pages (not counting the hefty notes and bibliography sections), it's definitely not light reading, but it's by far the most in-depth biography I've ever read.

I cannot praise the quality of this book enough. I really felt like I was right there with Jim all the way through his life, from his early years in Mississippi to his youthful quest in Maryland to get into television; through his many years of advertising work and his attempts to popularize his Muppet characters and land them a weekly half-hour television show; from the early Sesame Street and Muppet Show years, through the amazing ups and downs of producing his masterpiece movies (Dark Crystal and Labyrinth), and on into his later years when he focused back on television and tried unsuccessfully to sell the Muppets to Disney just before his death. It's all in there, and with the level of detail that can only come from years of research into Jim's life.

On the dust cover, there's a quote from Frank Oz stating that, in spite of knowing Jim for so long, he still learned things he had never known from reading Jones's book. I thought that was probably mere sales hype, but after finishing the book, I am not surprised at all that someone who had been close to Jim could learn something new about him. Honestly, it's so thorough and detailed, I wouldn't be surprised if Jim's own family even learned a few things about him from this book.

What I found most interesting was how reading this book made me realize some things about myself as a puppeteer. Jim's life story has given me a different perspective on what it means to be a successful puppeteer and what it takes to get there. I couldn't help looking for possible similarities between Jim and myself, and while I'm certainly no Jim Henson, I did notice a few commonalities that I would never have thought about before.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone truly interested in learning about Jim Henson: his life, his family, his accomplishments, his failures, his dreams and aspirations. I will warn, though, that there are more than a few quotes (primarily from Oz) with uncensored expletives, so this book would not be suitable for all audiences. I'll also warn that the next to last chapter is a real tear-jerker with its detailed description of Jim's final days and memorial service. Have a full box of tissues handy before you start that one - you're going to need them.

Mood: pensive