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Jim Henson was an American puppeteer best known for creating TV characters, including the Muppets, and for his work on the popular children's show Sesame Street.
Jim Henson - Muppet Master (1:11)
Mel Brooks - Comedic Start (1:11)
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Jim Henson, the man behind the Muppets, was born on September 24, 1936, in Greenville, Mississippi. Henson began working as a puppeteer in college, creating characters like Kermit the Frog. He worked as a producer on Sesame Street, a popular kids' show that launched in 1969, and created The Muppet Show in 1976. The Muppet Movie, the first of many movies featuring Henson's famous characters, appeared in 1979. Henson received several accolades for his work, including Emmys,
Grammys and a Peadbody Award. He died of pneumonia on May 16, 1990.
Jim Henson was born James Maury Henson on September 24, 1936, in Greenville, Mississippi. At a young age, Henson was drawn to the arts. His maternal grandmother, a painter, quilter and needleworker, encouraged his creative passions, including his puppetry. Well before his teen years, Henson was performing puppetry for audiences, including his fellow Cub Scouts. His youth was also spent toying with different visual mediums, including television, which he adored. A major influence of his childhood was TV puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, of the show Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
Henson had his first dalliance with televised puppetry while still in high school. He began performing with his puppets on a local Washington, D.C. Saturday morning program. By his freshman year at the University of Maryland, in 1955, Henson had scored a bi-weekly bit on a local NBC affiliate, Sam and Friends. The program scored a local Emmy Award in 1958, the same year that Henson founded the Jim Henson Company. The Muppets, including an early version of Kermit the Frog, were borne from Sam and Friends.
The puppet characters' popularity continued to grow, and they were soon making appearances in TV commercials, including one for Wilkins Coffee. One of Henson's puppet characters, Wheel Stealer, who snatched a family’s snacks on a food commercial and later chomped on an IBM computer in a TV ad, was an early incarnation of the beloved blue Cookie Monster. The first Muppet to gain national exposure, Rowlf the Dog, went from making appearances in Purina commercials to playing a sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show in 1963. Rowlf was brought to life with the assistance of puppet builder Don Sahlin and puppeteer Frank Oz. Members of Henson's growing puppeteering team also appeared on The Today Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Around the same time, Henson began experimenting with short films, including 1965's Academy Award-nominated Time Piece. Then, in 1969, Henson teamed up with Children’s Television Workshop to produce the now-classic children's show on PBS, Sesame Street. As the show's theme song goes, Henson swept "the clouds away" with various original characters, including Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Snuffulupagus and Elmo. Between his puppetry and animated shorts, Henson perfected his gift for engaging children and making learning fun on Sesame Street.
But Henson's even bigger claim to TV fame came in the 1970s, with the debut of The Muppet Show.
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