By AERIEL MERILLAT
The sea of people that crowded Dodd Auditorium on Tuesday, Jan. 28 Rolled with laughter when New York Times best selling author, Brian Jay Jones, shared the story of Muppet creator, Jim Henson, as part of the Great Lives Chappell Lecture Series.
Last October, Jones published his book, “Jim Henson: The Biography,” to rave reviews from papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post.
Jones’ book was the first full-length biography of Jim Henson to be published. During his lecture, he let the crowd in on his immense proficiency and knowledge of Henson’s life.
Not even one minute into the lecture, Jones had the audience cracking up, opening his talk with a famous clip from Henson’s “The Muppet Show.”
The seats of Dodd were nearly full to capacity with people of all ages from the University Mary Washington, as well as the Fredericksburg community.
Whether the crowd was captivated by curiosity or fond memories of singing along with Kermit the Frog and learning to count with the puppets of Sesame Street, everyone was united by a sense of admiration for Henson and his work.
According to Jones, Henson claimed there to be “children in all of us.” The audience was flooded with the memories and laughter of childhood as Jones shared humorous insights into Henson’s life and work.
Jones’ lecture took the audience on a linear look at Henson’s life, beginning with his early childhood in Mississippi, the start of his career during his adolescence in Maryland and the height of his legacy, ending with his tragic death at 53.
Jones fascinated the audience with his focus on Henson’s humor, love of life and, most of all, his iconic films featuring the beloved Muppets. “Jim’s work was his life,” Jones claimed as he showed the audience several segments from Henson’s programs such as “Sam and Friend” and “The Muppet Show.”
Freshman, Hannah Morgan was one among several members of the audience who appreciated Jones’ incorporation of clips from Henson’s works, stating, “getting to see the Muppet clips was my favorite part, because I was too young to enjoy them when I was little.”
Throughout Jones’ talk, the audience learned oddities about Henson that would have otherwise gone unknown. For example, the original Kermit the Frog was not a frog at all, and Henson’s first project was building a character named Kermit the Thing. He was sewn from Henson’s mother’s coat, and had ping pong ball halves for eyes.
Jones also led the audience through a whirlwind tour of Henson’s artistic work, starting from his 1950s television debut on a Washington D.C. NBC channel, to his 1960s act with Frank Oz as Ralph the Dog on “The Jimmy Dean Show.”
Although highly praised in his lecture, Jones did not sugar coat Henson, telling truths about his separation, infidelity and many failures in the television and movie business.
Jones had the crowd laughing the moment the clock struck 7:30 P.M., and despite Henson’s tragic death in the May of 1990, Jones was able to show the audience the great legacy he left behind for generations to come.
By the end of the night, the crowd was teary eyed and laughing as they watched a clip of the Muppets singing a song at Henson’s memorial service.
When the evening ended, the crowd left knowing a little bit more than before about the man behind the Muppets.