Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jane Henson R.I.P.

Jane Henson, the widow of Muppets creator Jim Henson who collaborated with him through the years, died 2 April 2013 at the age of 78. The cause was cancer.

Jane Henson was born Jane Nebel on 16 June 1934 in St. Albans, Queens, New York. She majored in fine art at the University of Maryland  in College Park. She had been planning to become a commercial artist. All of this changed when she went to work on the puppet TV show Sam and Friends on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. with puppeteer Jim Henson. Together with Bob Payne they created characters for the show and created skits for it. Among the characters on the show was the prototype for Kermit the Frog. Miss Nebel and Mr. Henson were eventually asked to appear on The Tonight Show in 1956 (then hosted by Steve Allen), where they performed "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" with Miss Nebel voicing Yorick and Mr. Henson voicing Kermit.

When Jim Henson left to tour Europe for a year in 1958, he left Sam and Friends in the hands of Jane Nebel. After he returned from Europe the two would formally become business partners. After she graduated from the University of Maryland, Miss Nebel studied fine art at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. In 1959 Jim Henson and Jane Nebel married.

In 1964 the Hensons moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. In Greenwich Jane Henson served as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development. Through the years she continued to work with the Jim Henson Company. Over the years she worked on such Muppets related projects as the TV special Tales of the Tinkerdee, Sesame Street, the TV special The Muppets Valentine Show, and The Muppet Show. She also worked on the touring exhibit Art of the Muppets in 1979 and various touring stage shows of Sesame Street. Beginning in 1982 she served on the board of the Jim Henson Foundation.

Jane and Jim Henson legally separated in 1986, although they would remain friends until his death in 1990. In 1992 she established the Jim Henson Legacy to continue to promote the achievements of Jim Henson.

Although not as well known as her husband, Jane Henson had an impact on the development of the Muppets. She was there at the very beginning, when the original Kermit was created. When she left working for the Jim Henson Company in the early Sixties to raise her children, it was Jane Henson who trained Frank Oz in lip-syncing. She would later be responsible for the hiring of Steve Whitmire in 1978, who voiced Rizzo the Rat and Lips (of the Electric Mayhem) and would go on to voice Kermit the Frog. Having a huge impact on the history of the Muppets, Jane Henson would then have an impact on American pop culture.

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