Monday, October 20, 2014

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The Book Reader: 'Jim Henson'

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Sohrab Ahmari of The Wall Street Journal reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

Few of us today would think of Fozzie Bear, Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy as being on the cutting edge of entertainment. But as Brian Jay Jones shows in "Jim Henson," his charming biography of their creator, Fozzie and crew were the products of a relentlessly innovative mind. 

Born in Greenville, Miss., Henson was a teenager when he first put his hand inside a sock and pretended it was a mouth. By the early 1960s, Henson and his wife, Jane, managed to have his earliest creations, like Rawlf the Dog, featured on popular shows like "The Jimmy Dean Show" and other variety programs. They also made ends meet by producing commercials.

Henson's big break came in 1969 with "Sesame Street." That show's national success allowed Henson to make the case that his Muppets deserve their own show for adults, and the rest is history. That show would go on to become the most watched show on earth.

Mr. Jones' biography reveals Henson's adult flaws - he was something of a womanizer - and the fierceness with which he protected and consolidated his business empire. Above all, however, Henson was an experimenter, constantly devising new gadgets and techniques for transforming a very old-fashioned art form into a product for the television age. As one collaborator says of Henson, he "was like a sailor who had studied the compass and found that there was a fifth direction in which one could sail." 

For more Wall Street Journal book reviews, visit opinionjournal.com.

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