Jim Henson began developing puppets while still in high school. Then he created a short comedy puppet show called Sam and Friends, when he was a college freshman. After he graduated from college, he produced coffee advertisements and developed experimental films. But wanting to be more creative, he founded Muppets, Inc. in 1958.
He began experimenting with puppetry techniques that had previously been used on television. He made sure the puppeteers remained off-screen and began making characters from flexible materials, to allow for a wider array of facial expressions. And instead of using strings to manipulate the puppets, he used rods.
Henson became famous in the 1970s when he helped develop characters for the children's TV show, Sesame Street. He was involved with the show for over 20 years.
“Life's like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.” ~ Jim Henson
In 1976, concerned that the company was being typecast as providing only children's entertainment, Henson, Frank Oz, and his team produced The Muppet Show, mainly for adults. Three years later the Muppets appeared in their first feature film, The Muppet Movie. It was a success, becoming the 61st highest-grossing film ever made (at that time).
The Rainbow Connection, a song from the movie, hit number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Later in his life, he founded the Jim Henson Foundation to promote puppetry in the U.S., and began creating realistic fantasy films that didn't include the Muppets. And Jim Henson's Creature Shop built creatures for many other films and series
Jim Henson died of pneumonia in 1990, but his Foundation and Creature Shop continue. One of his last projects is a show attraction called Muppet Vision 3D, opening in Walt Disney World and Disneyland in 1991, not long after his death.
“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there. ” ~ Jim Henson
Photo by Alan Light on flickr