Is there anyone alive who doesn’t love the Muppets? From Oscar the Grouch to Kermit, Miss Piggy, from Fozzy Bear to Big Bird, to SnuffloopGuss, to The Count, to Waldorf and to Statler – there is a Muppet for every mood and personality. The Muppets are the brainchild of the great Jim Henson. He started making puppets while in high school. He attended the University of Maryland, where he took puppet making classes and launched a short comedy show with puppets called Sam and Friends. He co-founded Muppets in 1958 when he was 22 years old. Suddenly, he died suddenly at the age of 53 in May 1990. Let’s take a look at his life and when Jim Henson died, he inherited Kermit and his friends.
Hanson was born on 24 September 1935. He grew up in University Park Maryland with his parents and older brother Paul. He grew up inspired by Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist show on radio. His family got their first television in the late 1940s, an event that Henson called the biggest event of his teens. He was a fan of the television puppet show “Kukla, Frank, and Ollie”. During high school, he made puppets for WTOP-TV’s Saturday morning children’s show “The Junior Morning Show”. When he enrolled at the University of Maryland, he was a studio arts major and planned to become a commercial artist. However, the university offered a puppet class, and they signed up for it. In that class, Henson’s direction in life changed. He made a five-minute puppet show “Sam & Friends” during his freshman year for WRC-TV. The show was a precursor to the Muppets and included the very early version of Kermit the Frog. He graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in home economics.
Hansen continued to work for WRC-TV from 1954 to 1961. During this time, he experimented with new methods to shoot puppets for television – a way for puppet artists to work off-camera with puppets in particular. His own life and personality. He started making puppets with flexible foam rubber which he covered with cloth. Then, most of the puppets were made of wood. The foam rubber puppets Henson created could convey more emotions. Instead of wire to move his limbs as marionettes are used, Henson used rods to move the Muppets’ arms. He also made precise mouth movements that made the Muppet look like it was actually speaking the word. Henson was assisted by a fellow student at the University of Maryland named Jane Nebel. “Sam and Friends” was a financial success, but Henson was skeptical about making a career out of performing with puppets. After graduation, he moved to Europe for a few months where he was inspired by puppeteers who, unlike their American counterparts, considered puppetry an art form. Oh, and she and Jane started dating when he returned to the US in 1959 and they married and had five children.
For the next 20 years, Henson emphasized the idea of making the Muppets entertaining for people of all ages before working on commercials, children’s projects, and talk shows. The popularity of “Sam and Friends” led to Hansen starting the era of talk shows and increasing his and the Muppets’ performances in the 1960s.
In 1969, Hanson was approached by a producer at the Children’s Television Workshop and asked to work full-time on “Sesame Street”. The show premiered on November 10, 1969, featuring a character of colorful, witty, fully realized celebrities who were just puppets. Grover, Burt and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, The Count, Snaflupegus, and Fantasy Road were more populated. It was a huge hit and continues to air new episodes even today.
A few years later, Hanson had the idea of making a show for the whole family featuring his Muppets. The American network passed on the idea. Then in 1976, a British producer agreed to finance the show. “The Muppet Show” was shot in the UK and syndicated worldwide. The show featured Kermit as the host and fully hosted Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Animals and other Muppets. Hanson made three wildly popular feature films about the Muppets: 1979’s “The Muppet Movie,” 1981’s “The Great Muppet Semper” and 1984’s “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”
Henson was also involved in several other projects such as the creation of Yoda for “Empire Strikes Back,” the film “Labyrinth” and “Fragile Rock” among others.
In 1989, Hanson began selling his production studio and assets to Disney for $ 150 million. The deal would have come with a 15-year contract for Henson’s creative services. This is equivalent to about $ 300 million today. The deal would not include the rights of the “Sesame Street” characters. Henson owned those people.
On May 4, 1990, Hanson and Kermit appeared in “The Arsenio Hall Show”. His throat was sore at the time and he was tired but he did not think it was anything serious. On May 14, 1990, he canceled the Muppet recording session because he did not feel well. On May 15, around 2:00 pm, he started coughing with blood. He went to the emergency room and stopped breathing shortly thereafter. He died on 16 May 1990 at the age of 53 from untreated bacterial infection of the lungs. His total assets at the time of his death were $ 100 million.
After his death, his five children inherited an equal share of The Jim Henson Company. Disney negotiations broke down in December 1990 when Hanson’s family and Disney could not agree on the exact terms.
In 2000, the Henson family sold The Jim Henson Company to EM.TV and Merchandising AG for $ 680 million for the German entertainment and media conglomerate. Nearly a year later the company’s stock sank and in 2003, the Henson family bought back the property for $ 83 million. In 2004, the Hanson family sold Disney rights to the Muppets for $ 200 million.
Posthumously, Hanson won the Disney Legends Award. Kermit and Rowlf performed “The Rainbow Connection” in his honor. He has been honored as both himself and Kermit on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Henson often called Kermit his alter ego, though he always thought that Kermit was bolder than he was and once said that Krumit “… can say the things I hold back.