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Friday, December 19, 2014

Biographer of Muppet creator visits UNM

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Aaron Tinnin scans through UNM alumnus Brian Jay Jones’ book Jim Henson: The Biography with his puppet Maron at the Centennial Engineering Center Auditorium on Thursday evening. Jones’ book is about the life and legacy of “The Muppets” creator Jim Henson.

assistant-news@dailylobo.com
@ChloeHenson5

A biographer of Jim Henson pulled the heartstrings of fans of “The Muppets” Thursday night as he spoke on campus about his recent bestseller.

Brian Jay Jones, a UNM alumnus, presented his new book titled “Jim Henson: The Biography” at the Centennial Engineering Center Auditorium.

Jones gave a two-hour biography of Henson and showed both obscure and well-known footage of the puppeteer’s work. Clips included scenes from “Sesame Street,” “The Muppets” and old Wilkins Coffee commercials.

Jones, who is originally from Kansas, grew up in Albuquerque. He said he began writing his book on Henson five years ago.

“I started in 2008, and that was two years of sort getting to know the family and the family getting to know me,” he said. “And once they said they would let me do it, I wrote it in about two and a half years.”

Jones said he decided to write the book on Henson because he grew up during the puppeteer’s prime television years and had acquired an early interest in the craft.

“There was a great book that came out when I was around 13 or 14 called ‘Of Muppets and Men,’ and it’s sort of behind the scenes at the Muppet show,” he said. “And I checked that thing out of the library and read it until it almost fell apart. I loved that book. So Jim was one of those people I always knew about.”

While he never met Henson himself, Jones said he met a lot of the puppeteer’s friends and family while writing the book.

“I got to know all five of the kids and his widow,” he said. “I got to interview all the Muppet performers who are still living, and the people he worked with back in the early ‘70s. That was really neat.”

One “spooky” finding Jones said he made while writing the book was that Henson’s family lived in New Mexico through most of the ‘70s.

He said he discovered this while listening to an old tape of Henson interviewing his father, who retired to Albuquerque after his work as a government official.

“At the very end of that tape — this is very Jim — he always like to document things,” he said. “And you hear him say, ‘We’re in Albuquerque. We’re at Dona Rowena.’”

Jones said that while people generally like to think celebrity lives are “turgid and gossipy,” Henson didn’t have a lot of dirty drama. “This is about a guy who is really kind of what you think he is,” he said. “He’s a genuinely kind guy, who loved to collaborate, loved to work. His work was always fun. He really wanted to do good things, really wanted to make a difference.”

Aaron Tinnin, a lifelong Henson fan who attended the event with his puppet, Maron, said he enjoyed the presentation.

“I thought it was really good,” he said. “Brian did quite well.”
Tinnin said he was glad Jones traveled to New Mexico to give the presentation.

“I think that it’s great that Albuquerque has the chance to have Brian come in,” he said.

Jones will stay in town and will present abbreviated versions of his UNM lecture to various locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe over the weekend and the beginning of next week.

Saturday
Book talk and signing
2:30-3:30 p.m.
Page One Bookstore

Sunday
Book talk and signing
1-2 p.m.
Bookworks
4022 Rio Grande Blvd.

Monday
Book talk and signing
6-7 p.m.
Collected Works Bookstore and Coffee House
202 Galisteo Street
Santa Fe

All events are free and open to the public