Obit of the Day: The Muppets’ Mom
Jim and Jane Henson met in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland in 1954. He was a freshman; she was a senior. They would spent the next four decades together as creative and financial partners in what would become a veritable Muppet empire
Although Mrs. Henson would never voice any of the famous felt characters, she would perform from the earliest incarnations of the unique puppets that were more for adults than children. They first worked together on Sam and Friends, a five-minute show that aired on WRC-TV in Washington, DC from 1955 until 1961. The would marry in 1959 during the run of the show.
The Hensons would be together as the Muppets’ fame grew. They made their first national television appearance on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen on November 4, 1956. This was followed a few years later with appearances on Today.
In 1969, the Muppets made their premiere on the new experiment in television for preschoolers - Sesame Street. Mrs. Henson would continue to perform on the show, usually without speaking, but did perform in the occasional music number like “Women Can Be.”
Mrs. Henson, who was also a mother of five, taught art at the Mead School in Greenwich, CT while remaining involved in the development of The Muppet Show (she worked on the first and third episode), The Muppet Show on Tour, and Sesame Street Live!
The Hensons separated in 1986 but remained friendly. Mrs. Henson would serve on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation, and after his death in 1990*, she helped found The Jim Henson Legacy Foundation. The Jane Henson Foundation was established in 2001. She was also a co-founder of The National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater.
Jane Henson died on April 2, 2013 at the age of 78 after a long battle with cancer.
(Image caption: Jim Henson and Jane Henson pose with characters from the TV show Sam and Friends, ca. 1956/57. From left, Moldy Hay, Jane Henson, Sam, Harry the Hipster, Jim Henson, Kermit and Yorick. Courtesy of smithsonianmag.com and copyright The Jim Henson Company and The Muppet Studios LLC)
* There is a myth that Jim Henson died in 1990 at age 53 because as a Christian Scientist he refused medical care. According to his family, though, Mr. Henson was not a practicing Christian Scientist for at least 15 years prior to his death. Jane Henson was at his side during his last days and believed that he did not choose to go to a hospital earlier because he wanted to be “as little trouble to everyone as possible” and his Christian Science upbringing would push him “to see it through by himself.” - People and Toledo Blade