Jim Henson: The inspiring creator that Ron Howard called “a really noble guy”

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It’s fair to say that Ron Howard knows a thing or two about the film industry. After all, Howard has enjoyed success in two professions in Hollywood, first coming through as a child actor in the likes of The Andy Griffith Show and later appearing in Happy Days. From there, he turned his talents to the director’s chair, where he has enjoyed widespread success.

Howard always wanted to be a director and largely saw his beginnings in front of the camera as the perfect path to get him a shot at working behind it. After making his first forays in filmmaking with Night Shift and Splash, Howard eventually cemented himself as one of the most reliable directors in Hollywood with a series of acclaimed movies, including Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and A Cinderella Man.

Of course, we naturally equate Howard with fictional or biographical movies, but the truth is that he has also made waves in the world of documentary, particularly with The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and We Feed People. In terms of cinema-based documentaries, Howard has also helmed a film about the American puppeteer Jim Henson, who was best known for creating the Muppets.

Jim Henson Idea Man tells the life story of Henson, from the early parts of his career to his most notorious creations in Sesame Street and his direction of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Howard has a deep respect for Henson, which any documentary maker ought to have for their subjects, regardless of their cultural standing.

In an interview with The Guardian, Howard once spoke of his impression of the legendary puppeteer and animator and explained that Henson had originally been an experimental filmmaker and works from that early era undoubtedly influenced his most famous creations. “He understood that you needed both worlds,” Howard said. “That the creativity and experimentation was vital to him.”

The director added: “That’s where his heart and soul was. But he also knew he needed to apply it somewhere that would not only pay the bills but would get people’s attention.” At the end of the 1960s, Henson joined Sesame Street and helped to develop the Muppet characters that would become central to the show’s success, but it was his experimental short films like Time Piece that would provide the basis for Henson’s eventual success.

“It all informed the stuff that became the huge hits and the iconic characters and scenes that we do all remember,” Howard explained. Sadly, though, Henson died tragically at the age of 53 from toxic shock caused by a previous strep throat bacterial infection. He would become revered as a pioneer in puppetry and animation and continues to be respected today, particularly by Howard, who wanted to reveal personal insight into his life through his documentary.

Signing off his thoughts of the American TV and cinema icon, Howard noted: “You just could see that there was nothing to hide. He was a really noble guy. He was a really good example of a human being walking the Earth.”

Indeed, Henson was one of a kind, and one of his last requests on Earth was that at his public memorial service, no one was to wear black, proving the kind of adamance that he had for having fun, even at the darkest of times.

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