Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog in 1982

Jim Henson
Hundreds of millions of kids — and adults — have been entranced by the Muppetmaster

Intro: Technology Shaped the Show
21st Century: The Future of Arts

Monday, June 8, 1998
Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson's greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.

Louis Armstrong
Lucille Ball
The Beatles
Marlon Brando
Coco Chanel
Charlie Chaplin
Le Corbusier
Bob Dylan
T.S. Eliot
Aretha Franklin
Martha Graham
Jim Henson
James Joyce
Pablo Picasso
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Bart Simpson
Frank Sinatra
Steven Spielberg
Igor Stravinsky
Oprah Winfrey

Born in 1936, Henson grew up in the small town of Leland, Miss., where his father worked as an agronomist for the Federal Government. When Henson was in fifth grade, his father took a job in Washington, and the family moved to a suburb in Maryland. There, in high school, Henson became fascinated by television. "I loved the idea," he once said, "that what you saw was taking place somewhere else at the same time." In the summer of 1954, just before he entered the University of Maryland, he learned that a local station needed someone to perform with puppets on a children's show. Henson wasn't particularly interested in puppets, but he did want to get into TV, so he and a friend made a couple — one was called Pierre the French Rat — and they were hired.

The job didn't last long, but within a few months, Henson was back on TV, puppeteering for another station, the local NBC affiliate. Soon he had his own five-minute program, called Sam and Friends. It aired live twice a day, once before the network news with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and later preceding the Tonight show, which at that time starred Steve Allen. Remaining in college, where he studied art and theater design, Henson produced Sam and Friends for six years. Assisting him was a fellow student named Jane Nebel, whom he married in 1959.

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