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Jim Henson: The Biography [Anglais] [Broché]

Brian Jay Jones

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Chapter One

The Delta


Deer Creek winds casually, almost lazily, through the muggy lowlands in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Its point of origin—near the little town of Scott, in Bolivar County—lies roughly ninety miles north of its terminal point at the Yazoo River three counties away. But Deer Creek takes its time getting there, looping and whorl­ing back and forth in a two-hundred-mile-long amble, looking like a child’s cursive scrawled across the map.

The town of Leland, Mississippi, straddles Deer Creek just as it twists into one of its first tight hairpin turns, about ten miles east of Greenville. Established before the Civil War, the sleepy settlement, sprawled out across several former plantations, had taken advantage of fertile soil and regular steamboat traffic on Deer Creek to become one of the wealthiest in the Delta region. In the 1880s came the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, along with an influx of grocers and landlords and innkeepers—but even with the growing ­merchant class and increasing gentrification, it was still land that mattered most in Leland, and in the Mississippi Delta. In 1904, then, the state legislature called for the creation of an agricultural experiment station in the Delta region, preferably “at a point where experiments with the soil of the hills as well as the Delta can be made.” That point turned out to be two hundred acres of land hugging Deer Creek, in the village of Stoneville, putting the state’s new Delta Branch Experiment Station just north of—and practically butted up against—Leland. By 1918, the facility in Stoneville was housing researchers and their families from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, carrying out research on crops, soil, and animal production for the federal government; by 1930, its findings on animal feed and insect control were particularly welcome to planters and sharecroppers doing their best to scratch out a living from the swampy Delta soil during the Great Depression.

Paul Ransom Henson—Jim Henson’s father—was neither a planter nor a sharecropper. Nor had he come to the Delta region to work a family farm during the Depression or satisfy a random pang of wanderlust. Paul Henson was a practical man, and he had come to Leland in 1931 with his new wife, Betty, for a practical reason: he had accepted a government post at the Delta Branch Experiment Station in Stoneville.

Paul Henson came from a line of similarly sturdy and clear-minded men who sought neither to offend nor agitate, a trait that Paul’s famous son would inherit as well—and, in fact, Jim Henson would always be very proud of his father’s rugged, even-tempered Midwestern lineage. On one side of his father’s family were the Dolton and Barnes lines—good-natured, nonconfrontational, and accommodating almost to a fault—while on the other were the Hensons—practical, rugged, and imperturbable.

One of Jim’s favorite family stories involved his great-great-grandfather, a strongly pro-Northern farmer named Richmond Dolton who, during the Civil War, had been living in a small Missouri town in which most of the residents were Southern sympa­thizers. Rather than offend the Confederate sensibilities of his neighbors, the amiable Dolton simply swapped his farm—in a typically equitable and businesslike exchange—for a similar one in a town in Kansas where the residents shared his own Union tendencies. The move would come to be particularly appreciated by Dolton’s teenage daughter, Aramentia, though for reasons more prurient than political—for it was here in Kansas that Aramentia Dolton met Ransom Aaron Barnes, a New Jersey native who had settled in the area. In 1869, she and Barnes were married; less than a year later, they would have a daughter, Effie Carrie Barnes—Paul Henson’s mother.

On the Henson side, Jim could trace his pedigree back to colonial-era farmers in North Carolina whose descendants had slowly pushed west with the expanding American frontier, setting up farms and raising families in Kentucky and Kansas. One of those descendants was Jim’s paternal grandfather, a sturdy Kansas farmer named Albert Gordon Henson, who, in 1889, had married Richmond Dolton’s levelheaded granddaughter, Effie Carrie Barnes. After an ambitious though unsuccessful effort to stake a claim during the Cherokee Strip land run—where he had rumbled into the dusty Oklahoma countryside in a mule-drawn buckboard—Albert and Effie would eventually settle in Lincoln County, just east of Oklahoma City. It was here that Paul Ransom Henson—the name Ransom was borrowed from Effie’s father, Ransom Aaron Barnes—would be born in 1904, the youngest of Albert and Effie’s nine children.

Each morning, Paul Henson would be awakened at first light to do his chores and walk the half mile to school, a one-room building crammed with fifty children and presided over by two teachers. While Albert Henson never had much formal schooling, he was determined to make education a priority for the children in the Henson household. With that sort of parental encouragement, Paul graduated from high school in 1924 at age nineteen, and immediately headed for Iowa State College—now Iowa State University, a school recognized then, as now, for the quality of its agricultural programs. Over the next four years, Paul was a member of the agriculture-oriented Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, participated on the Farm Crops Judging Team (the team would place third nationally in 1927), and even discovered a knack for performance as a member of the Dramatic Club. In July 1928, he received his BS in Farm Crops and Soils, completing a thesis on the hybridization of soybeans.

Following graduation, Paul began work on his master’s degree at the University of Maryland, enrolling in courses covering plant physics, biochemistry, genetics, statistics, agronomy, and soil technology. One afternoon, while eating his lunch, he caught sight of an attractive young woman walking toward the campus restaurant—when pressed, he would later admit his eyes had been drawn mainly to her legs—and was determined to win an introduction. The legs, as it turned out, belonged to Elizabeth Brown—Betty, as everyone called her—the twenty-one-year-old secretary to Harry Patterson, dean of the College of Agriculture.

Elizabeth Marcella Brown was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Maryland, but had lived in Memphis and New Orleans long enough to pick up both the lilting accent and genteel demeanor of a Southern belle. The accent and the manners were fitting, for Betty had a refined, distinctly Southern, and generally artistic pedigree. In fact, it was through Betty’s side of the family that Jim Henson could trace his artistic ability, in a straight and colorful line running through his mother and grandmother back to his maternal great-grandfather, a talented Civil War–­era mapmaker named Oscar.

Oscar Hinrichs—a swaggering Prussian who had immigrated to the United States in 1837 at the age of two—began working as a cartographer for the United States Coast Survey at age twenty-one, reporting directly to Alexander Dallas Bache, head of the survey and a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin. When the Civil War began in 1860, Oscar enthusiastically enlisted with the Confederacy—even smuggling himself into the South with the help of Confederate sympathizers in Maryland—and loaned his valuable mapmaking skills to the Southern cause even as he survived battles at Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. After the war, Oscar married Marylander Mary Stanley—whose father had helped him sneak into the Confederacy—and moved to New York City. Over the next ten years, Mary bore Oscar six children, including one daughter, Sarah—Betty Brown’s mother, and Jim Henson’s grandmother. It was Sarah who inherited Oscar Hinrichs’s innate artistic streak, and she would learn not only how to paint and draw, but also how to sew, carve, and use hand tools—talents that Jim Henson would wield just as skillfully two generations later as he sketched, carved, and sewed his earliest Muppets.

The Hinrichs family eventually settled in Washington, where Oscar unhappily bounced between jobs, convinced employers were discriminating against him because of his service to the Confederacy. Compounding his misery, Mary became ill with uterine cancer and died in 1891 at the age of fifty-two. Less than a year later, a grief-stricken Oscar Hinrichs took his own life, leaving an orphaned fourteen-year-old Sarah to tend to two younger brothers. Dutifully, Sarah dropped out of the art school into which she had just been accepted and moved with her brothers into a Washington boardinghouse. For the rest of their lives, neither Sarah nor her siblings openly discussed Oscar Hinrichs’s sad demise—a penchant for maintaining a respectful silence about unhappy circumstances that her grandson Jim Henson would also share.

In 1902, twenty-four-year-old Sarah Hinrichs was introduced to Maury Brown, a lanky, thirty-four-year-old clerk and stenographer for Southern Railway. Born in Kentucky on the day after Christmas in 1868, Maury Heady Brown—Jim Henson’s grandfather—was a self-made man with a rugged Southern determination. Raised by a single mother who was totally deaf, Brown had run away from home at age ten and learned to use the telegraph, supporting himself by reporting horse-racing scores for a Lexington racetrack. A voracious reader and quick learner, he next taught himself typewriting and shorthand, eventually becoming so proficient at both that he was hired as the full-time private secretary to the president of Southern Railway. When he met Sarah Hinrichs in the winter of 1902, Brown fell in love immediately—and on their second date, as they ice skated on the frozen Potomac River, Maury Brown pre... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

Illuminating . . . As Jones expertly shows, Henson remained throughout his life an artist who was continuously in motion, conceiving, pitching, and managing multiple projects at once.”The Atlantic
“Consistently surprises . . . Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), Jim Henson joyously documents its subject’s knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world’s newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville.”The Wall Street Journal

“This is a biography that earns the label definitive.”The Dallas Morning News
“In his new biography, Brian Jay Jones tells the story of how Henson turned a quaint art form into an entertainment empire. . . . The result is an exhaustive work that is never exhausting, a credit both to Jones’s brisk style and to Henson’s exceptional life.”The New York Times

“An insightful look at the gentle artist.”—Parade 

“If ever you had a single question about the felt magic Jim Henson managed to create, chances are Brian Jay Jones’ sweeping new biography of the puppeteer will answer it. . . . Jones offers a meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted. . . . It is a better world with the Muppets. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.”—Associated Press
Compulsively readable . . . evocative . . . Much has been written about Henson—during his life and after—but nothing with the same sense of authority and access as Jim Henson: The Biography.”The A.V. Club
“There are so many enjoyable aspects to this book that it’s hard to know where to start. . . . Jim Henson: The Biography is a fantastic story of a brilliant life cut short, but it can also be read as a blueprint for following your bliss.”BookPage
“Brian Jay Jones draws upon new interviews with family and friends, reams of archival material, and Henson’s own journals to provide a nuanced study of a preternaturally gifted, relentlessly driven artist. . . . Jones does a superlative job organizing a massive amount of information.”Los Angeles Review of Books

Jim Henson: The Biography feels comprehensive without bogging down; it will keep readers turning pages and enjoying every scene from Henson’s life.”Shelf Awareness

A heartwarming, endearing, and joyful study . . . [Jones] gives us a real Jim Henson, not a saint to be sure, but a man who devoted his creative genius to making the world a better place. . . . In many places it seems that Henson is doing the talking right off the pages.  This book is fast-paced like his life, zany like his characters, full of fun and laughter. . . . It is all here in this sweeping portrait that is a mix of humor, mirth and poignancy.”Washington Independent Review of Books

Sure to be savored for its exhaustive look at the late Muppet-master.”—Variety

Masterful . . . Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book's theme. . . . [Jim Henson] can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.”Kirkus Reviews

“The story of the innovative puppeteer’s life that Muppets completists have been waiting for . . . The section on Henson’s death and funeral is one of the best parts of the book—moving and elegiac. I dare you not to cry.Hollywood Reporter

“[Brian Jay Jones’s] lucid style, wide-angle perspective, and deep immersion in Henson’s exuberantly innovative approach to puppets, television, and film make for a thoroughly compelling read. . . . With verve and insight, Jones illuminates the full scope of Henson’s genius, phenomenal productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence.”Booklist (starred review)

“I’m a rabid Jim Henson fan—his brilliant ideas spawned shows that entertained and educated millions, myself included. Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods. It’s an absolute must read!”—Neil Patrick Harris
“I worked with Jim for more than thirty years. He was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me. Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity, as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. Jim needed this book to be written. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.”—Frank Oz
“Brings to light a spirit of love, warmth, wit, and so much more.”—Library Journal

“The book’s most engrossing passages explore the extraordinary technical demands of creating naturalistic puppet spectacles in the age before computer graphics: ‘performing’ a Muppet was an intricate, almost contortionistic dance of two puppeteers crammed into a single sleeve. . . . A fascinating making-of documentary.”Publishers Weekly
“I loved it. Brian Jay Jones vividly portrays Jim’s journey, and also the intersecting journeys of his colleagues and friends. In spite of the fact that Jim and I worked together closely for many years, there were compartments of Jim’s life that I hadn’t known about before. I was completely involved and couldn’t put the book down. A tremendous job.”—Dave Goelz, Muppet performer (Gonzo, Boober Fraggle, Bunsen Honeydew)

“This is not only a superb biography for the Jim Henson and Muppet fans but also a sensitively written portrayal of a great and unique human being that will fascinate any and all readers.”—Fran Brill, actress, Sesame Street performer

“Brian Jay Jones, in this marvelous tale of struggle and triumph, tells us how and why Jim Henson and his Muppets have rightly assumed their places in the pantheon of American creative geniuses alongside Walt Disney and Mickey, and Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat.”—Paul Reid, co-author of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill—Defender of the Realm
“Every Muppet fan has wondered who was behind the wide-mouthed, bug-eyed, furry creatures. Before now all we had was a credit line: Jim Henson. Now, with Brian Jay Jones’s riveting Jim Henson, we have a nuanced portrait of the puppeteer—part genius inspired by his Mississippi Delta roots and his Christian Science faith, part flawed human with tastes too rich in everything from his art and cars to his women—that brings new understanding of and empathy for an icon of American popular culture.”—Larry Tye, author of Satchel and Superman --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  191 commentaires
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A must read for any Jim Henson fan 15 août 2013
Par Lizz A. Belle - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
If you love Muppets, Sesame Street and/or just want to get into the creative genius that was Jim Henson, this is a wonderfully thorough and beautifully written biography paying tribute to one of the most creative minds of the 20th century. I highly recommend it for anyone who wondered about the tall, bearded man who brought us Kermit the Frog, the Dark Crystal and most of the cast of Sesame Street.

I don't normally read biographies but this is one I knew I could not pass up. While the book is quite lengthy and does take time to get to the initial creation of what we know today as the Muppets, Henson's life is fascinating in that he never wanted to actually be a puppeteer, he sort of stumbled on to it and resisted it for so long because he did not want to be labeled "a children's puppeteer." Instead, he pioneered that form of entertainment by moving beyond marionettes and wooden puppets with flat expressions, creating the Muppets from anything he had lying around (Kermit was originally a blue housecoat his mother owned). The Muppets were unlike other puppets because they were so lifelike including having facial expressions and eye movements never seen before.

Henson's trip to stardom never went to his head and he continued to do many of the pieces he accomplished because he enjoyed them (see the section on commercials the Muppets made).

The BEST part of this bio in my opinion is seeing the evolution of your favorite characters. Cookie Monster and Grover were both background monsters who were repurposed to become our beloved Sesame Street characters they are now. Gonzo used to be a hooked nosed monster living in a cigar box named Snarl. These are just a few examples of the treasures to be found in this bio.

I share the view of many that we lost Jim Henson tragically early. It is so sad that we did not get to see what else he had in store for his Muppets and I wonder what he would think of the Walt Disney company owning them today and what they have/have not done with his charming creations.

This is a brilliant biography of a brilliant man and if you love the Muppets, this is definitely one to read.
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Henson gets the presidential treatment 10 août 2013
Par Enjolras - Publié sur Amazon.com
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Typically, only presidents and world leaders get 500-page biographies with this level of attention to detail. I'm glad Brian Jay Jones took the time and effort to write a thorough biography of somebody who brought so much joy to people. I grew up with some of Henson's creations, most notably Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies. I've grown up to appreciate some of this other work, such as the Muppet Movie and Dark Crystal. Yet, even more than watching Henson's creations on screen, this book gave me an enormous respect for the boldness and creativity of the Muppets.

Jones crams a huge amount of detail into this book, yet he manages to convey that information in an engaging and exciting manner. Jones clearly respects Jim Henson and appreciates the man's work. Jones' writing beams with genuine excitement when describing the Muppet Show. Readers get a real sense of the playfulness amongst the puppeteers. This is definitely a fun, almost effortless biography to read.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that Brian Jay Jones is candid about Henson but also respectful. Jones does not ignore some of the less appealing aspects of Henson's life, such as his extramarital affairs. However, Jones keeps them in the proper prospective. Unlike many biographies, he doesn't spend pages describing the life and background of Henson's mistress. Jones discusses Henson's relationship with his mistress because it was an important part of Henson's life and work, but it takes only a small portion of the book. The majority of the book is spent on Henson himself and his creations.

I think the book did a pretty good job covering all of the aspects of Jim's career, from the earliest days on "Sam and Friends" to "Labyrinth." The one thing that might have helped give readers a greater appreciation for Jim's work would have been more discussion of the art of puppetry. I actually learned from the book that Henson himself had initially seen puppetry only as a means to his ultimate goal of getting on TV. However, so much of his work deals with puppetry, yet I came away from this biography not really feeling like I'd learned much about puppetry as an art. Granted, this is not the book for an in-depth history of puppetry or discussion of techniques, yet it might have helped to have had a bit more detail about how puppetry works if only so we could then better appreciate how Jim Henson changed the art.

This book is definitely recommended for anybody who grew up with the Muppets and wants to learn more about a creative man with a gentle soul. 5 stars.
14 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Oh, Kermie... 11 août 2013
Par Matthew Coenen - Publié sur Amazon.com
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I've been a fan of Henson since I was a child. I grew up with Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppets. In fact, when asked to write a paper on our "hero" in sixth grade, I wrote mine on Jim Henson. As an adult, I still watch Sesame Street when I need an escape (and a smile), and I own seasons 1-3 of The Muppets on DVD (come on Disney... let's release the rest!). After reading this biography, I ran to my wish list and added other Henson items I'd forgotten about or haven't seen in years.

Brian Jay Jones has won awards for his biographical works, and hopefully he will receive additional accolades for his treatment of Henson. Not only is the book extremely detailed and comprehensive, the level of research is insane! (In a good way, mind you).

From a lengthy introduction covering Henson's family lineage to an emotional (I cried, admittedly) presentation of Henson's last days and funeral, Jones did not miss a beat.

Highly recommended for any fan of Henson!
39 internautes sur 50 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 A fine hagiography... 31 juillet 2013
Par J. Hundley - Publié sur Amazon.com
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While I am certainly quite familiar with a good deal of Jim Henson's work - and admire nearly all that I am familiar with - I came to this knowing little or nothing of Henson the man. After 490 pages, I still don't know much about him. It is certainly entirely possible that Henson was a wonderful person, filled with love and good will toward everyone he met, exuding generosity and kindness toward all living things. That is, it is possible that the biographical aspects of this biography are both accurate and complete. I just don't quite think so.

To expound, I do not think that it is of necessity for a biographer to expose some "dark side" or hidden vices of their subjects, I DO think it is necessary to present a three dimensional portrait of their subjects and that simply is not present here. Whether Henson had any sort of dark side is beside the point: There are a lot of people who manage to live their lives w/o ever being monsters or ogres along the way, including a lot of successful and public people. That is fine. That is admirable. However, author Jones, clearly and admittedly an admirer of Henson, gushes so extravagantly as to rose-color his entire undertaking here. That this is an authorized biography, written with the sanction and cooperation of Henson's family only muddies the issue further.

There are hints here of something deeper than the gentle-genius-who-loves-everyone. We get hints of Henson the serial womanizer, but then we are discreetly ushered away. We see glimpses of a man who buries his emotions and refuses to express what he is really feeling to those closest to him, but then a Muppet is waved in front of us and we are distracted again. Acknowledging quirks and faults does not malign a man; it makes him real and relatable. For something calling itself THE Biography, this is a serious transgression. Henson is a major figure in popular culture. He deserves better than the "Saint Jim" treatment.

What he deserves is the attention and detail Jones lavishes on Henson's work. This is where the book shines and what makes it readable and worthwhile. Henson created some astonishing and astonishingly wonderful work during his life and Jones does not stint on it. Here he does go into detail and open doors and it is the part that is worth the price of admission. Here again, Jones is hardly objective, but it is not so much of a problem here. He does allow critical voices to have a say when talking about the work, much to the benefit of the book. In dealing with Henson's work, Jones allows for a full and rounded picture. If only he'd shown the same generosity to the man himself.

Because the treatment of the work is so good, and the body of work itself is so significant, the book is useful to most anyone interested in Henson's career. I can readily recommend it on that. As to the man himself, well, the biography that allows him to live and breath as a fully-developed human will apparently have to wait.

NOTE: This review is based on a galley proof. I suspect some of the odd phrases and grammatical issues are errors that will be corrected in the final publication. Also - no photos were included. I suspect they will add a good deal of value to the book.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An intimate portrait of the man behind the muppets 21 août 2013
Par E. Swope - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Like many people I grew up with Sesame Street. It was a focal point in my home as a child, mom rescheduling dinner around it, and again when my children were young. I came to appreciate Jim Henson's warmth, wit, morality and unique ability to entertain and educate children and adults.

I picked this book up because I have been engaged in the study of creativity and genius for much of my adult life and Henson is a man who truly is a creative genius. I wanted to find out more about what made him tick. Brian Jay Jones has provided a thorough, expansive, warm, intimate and very readable portrait of one of America's best loved artists. He goes back generations to explore the genesis of Henson's ideas, abilities and talents, collecting stories from family, friends, neighbors, performers, artists...it seems a lot of people had something to add to ensure the legacy of a very well loved man.

I learned not only about his humanity (which shines through all his furry creations) but also that his achievements were well beyond what I knew, starting in the early days of TV and at a very young age himself, bridging and creating genres, as well as puppets, artists, performers.

For my purposes and interests I could not ask for a better book as seldom have I seen so much detail in a biography. It is an enormous work, well written and an easy enjoyable read. Recommended for anyone interested in learning about Jim Henson regardless of your interests or where you are coming from.
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