Last week Jane Henson passed away and, in mourning her, I suddenly realized that I knew next to nothing about her.
Here was a person who had been intimately involved in the conception and realization of the original Muppets and yet chose to allow the glow of the spotlight of recognition to fall solely on her husband, Jim.
Jim became the icon, but he never would have succeeded without Jane. Jim was a terrific and imaginative puppeteer, but he didn’t have more than two hands. Jane was there beside him, performing the puppets on “Sam and Friends” and, most likely, building them too.
After their children were born, Jane quietly stepped behind the camera and instead of managing a group of rambunctious and imaginative adult children (Jim, Frank, Jerry, et al.) she found herself managing a household of five rambunctious and imaginative ACTUAL children. One wonders how much of a change this really was, toilet training aside.
I don’t think that Jane ever really got the true credit she was due. Especially after she and Jim divorced. She still stayed closely involved with the Jim Henson Company, and started The Jim Henson Legacy after he died. Creating the Legacy wasn’t for her own benefit – it wasn’t so that she could gain fame or fortune from her husband’s name – it was because she still so strongly believed in Jim, and what Jim had brought to the world.
I recall reading a book on Sesame Street called “Street Gang”, and in the chapter discussing Jim’s short illness and subsequent death it was reported that Jim called Jane when he felt he was definitely dying. He was scared and he looked to Jane for help. I can’t remember who it was (though I’m pretty certain it was NOT one of the Muppeteers), but one of Jim’s business associates was quoted as saying something like, “To this day I have no idea why Jim would have called Jane.”
This derisive statement (by whomever it was) really rankled me. Of course Jim would have called Jane in this penultimate moment of need. She was his original creative partner, the mother of their children, perhaps the love of his life (likely since he never remarried) it only makes sense that he would have called her because with her he felt safe with her. Perhaps he even felt “saved” by her.
Once again Jane’s importance was being sidelined.
Jane continued to work, quietly, behind the scenes up to her passing. Most of the major accomplishments of the Jim Henson Legacy the past few years were due directly to her. She continued to put Jim ahead of herself. When she was asked to speak directly about her involvement with the early Muppets she would always sidestep and push Jim again to the fore. It was always about Jim.
As a result, to the average fan, Jane Henson was at best an enigma and at worst non-existent. This needs to be changed.
Muppet fan-site Toughpigs.com has compiled a wonderful collection of reminiscences of folks who knew and worked with Jane. You can read them HERE. I urge you to hop over there and take a read. Such lovely memories and insight about an amazing lady deserve to be shared.
And this week’s addition to the Testimonial Gallery is: