Biographer Jones (Washington Irving: An American Original, 2007) relies on strict chronology to tell the life of Muppets creator Jim Henson (1936–1990).
With the cooperation of the Henson family, the author portrays his subject as not only innovative, but also mostly upbeat and pleasant to work with. Since the Muppets are mostly feel-good creations and Henson was mostly a feel-good guy, the biographical narrative sometimes lacks tension. That is a minor shortcoming, however. Jones is masterful at explaining how Henson grew up to become a daring puppeteer and scriptwriter, how he managed to attract so much remarkable talent to his side, and how his stressful business relationship with the Disney Company might have aggravated the bacterial infection that weakened the normally healthy Henson, who died at age 53 while trying to negotiate the planned Disney purchase of the franchise. (Note: While there was speculation at the time of his death that the Disney negotiations had a detrimental effect on Henson's health, there is no medical proof that this was the case.) Jones does not ignore Henson's separation from his wife/creative partner, nor his extramarital affair with a much younger woman, but the downside of Henson's personality is not Jones' primary focus. In an era of pathography, this biography stands out as positive. The writing is clear throughout, and the chronological approach allows Jones to clearly demonstrate cause and effect. Forced to become a businessman to manage what became an unexpectedly large empire, Henson often struggled with the portion of his days that felt noncreative. Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book's theme. The author ably shows many reasons why Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and many other Henson creations are recognizable more than two decades after his death.
A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.