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The inside story of the Muppets

“Jim Henson: The Biography,” by Brian Jay Jones, is one of the most pleasurable audiobooks I’ve spent time with this year.

It opens with a beautiful scene, in which we learn that whenever a child arrived on the set of “Sesame Street,” director Jon Stone yelled, “Blue sky!” so the ragtag band of hippie puppeteers and television crew members knew to moderate their language.

The opening is fitting, because it offers an introduction to so many of the things Jones explores at book length—the tension between the world of the child and the world of the adult which Henson spent his adult life negotiating, the constant intervention of metaphor upon the daily, and, especially, the way Henson’s crew of puppet-makers and puppeteers and technicians come to operate so instinctively as an extension of Henson’s own personality, which blended gentle authority with an occasionally near-anarchic sense of play.

It’s also an opening that makes a promise to the listener about the good stuff he or she had in mind when looking at the cover art—not the birth and the grandparents and so forth, but rather the bearded man surrounded by Muppet heroes of his own creation, such as Kermit the Frog, Ernie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog.

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