Jane Henson may not have been the same sort of household name that her husband, the late Jim Henson, was, but her contributions to the work that Henson did were essential, and without her, who knows if we would have ever enjoyed the genius and the humanity of Henson’s various creations?
She met Jim in the early days, when they were both still students, and when he worked on his first major television project, a show called “Sam and Friends,” she was one of the Muppet performers, right there alongside her husband. It has been said that she was the one who first proposed the system that allowed them to see monitors as they performed, so they had some sense of how their work was playing.
It wasn’t until the late ’50s that the two of them began a personal relationship away from work, and they had a total of five children together, including Brian and Lisa, who both followed their parents into the family business. When Jane stopped performing, it was Frank Oz who was hired to take her place, and she’s the one who trained him and got him ready to perform. Even once she was not officially a Muppet performer, she would frequently jump in for big scenes where there needed to be a lot of Muppets at the same time.
It seems fitting that Jane was the one who found Steve Whitmire and brought him into the fold. Whitmire is the current voice of Kermit the Frog, and I’ve always felt that if she thought Whitmire’s Kermit was the right one, I’m not sure who could argue that with her. She and Jim were no longer together in the final years of his life, but she has worked tirelessly to keep his name alive and active in helping others, and she was a major figure in the ongoing fight to keep funding alive for educational programming in the US.
Frequently in Hollywood, wives end up taking a back seat in terms of the media perception, but they play a key role in the creativity that we celebrate. I envy couples who have built a creative life together. Right now, we see it in couples like Zack and Deb Snyder or Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas or Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and every one of those couples seems stronger for it. So while Jane Henson isn’t as beloved as her husband to the general public, the work she helped him create will live on, and we send our heartfelt condolences to the friends, family, and collaborators she leaves behind.
Jane Henson passed away at her family home after a battle with cancer.