Jane Nebel Henson, along with husband Jim Henson (pictured left with the Muppets) proved a successful partnership with his creation The Muppets. She played an ‘influential’ role in getting The Muppet Show commissioned. When all the American networks turned the series down, it was ultimately made in Britain by ATV for ITV before finding global success.
Although Jane and Jim divorced in 1986, she continued to promote his work after his death in 1990, forming The Jim Henson Legacy to promote his work.
The Muppets came to life in the 1950s following Jane and Jim becoming friends while both taking part in a puppetry class at the University of Maryland. Not long after the pair formed a long lasting creative and business partnership which ultimately devised ‘the muppet puppets’.
As a fine arts education major studying at the University of Maryland in 1954, Jane Nebel shared with Jim Henson a unique approach to puppetry that was joyful and sophisticated. While still an undergraduate, Jim Henson was offered a spot on the local NBC outlet in Washington known as WRC-TV. He asked Jane Nebel to join him as a co-performer and creator.
The television show, Sam and Friends, began to attract an enthusiastic audience. It wasn’t long before the Muppets were making special guest appearances on the top variety shows of the time. Their first national television guest appearance was on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show. Jane Nebel graduated in 1955, but continued working with Jim Henson at WRC-TV as a performer, puppet designer/builder, and business partner.
By the end of the decade the friendship and professional enterprise had also turned to romance and in May 1959, Jane Nebel married Jim Henson with children swiftly following with Lisa born in 1960, Cheryl in 1961, Brian in 1963 and John in 1965. Heather arrived a little later in 1970.
Today the children run the family business, however The Muppets left for Disney some time ago. They had become a world wide success over the six decades of television and film appearances. But it almost came to an end in 1975. The Henson’s tried all the major American broadcasters with an idea of a family, primetime, entertainment series fronted by ‘The Muppets’.
The executives saw Kermit the Frog and friends, such as Miss Piggy, as something along the lines of educational children’s series Sesame Street and no such evening format would ever rate. Jim and Jane took the idea to Lord Lew Grade, the boss of ATV, who loved the idea and snapped it up. The Muppet Show was produced at the ATV Elstree studios for five years, becoming a global hit. (right, the final day of recording of The Muppet Show at ATV)
Jane Ann Nebel was born on June the 16th, 1934 in St. Albans, New York. Her parents were Winifred Johnson Nebel and Adalbert Nebel. Her father was known professionally as Dal Lee, an astrologer.
Older siblings include her sister Margareta Regina Nebel Jennings and brother Brereton Edward Nebel.
In addition to her work on the Muppets, Mrs. Henson she also worked as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development.She also served on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation, founded in 1982 by Jim Henson to promote and develop the art of puppetry. Each year the Foundation introduces thousands of adults and families to puppetry through grant-making and public awareness efforts.
Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than 675 grants to more than 300 American puppet artists for the creation and development of new work.Jim Henson died in 1990 of organ failure following a bacterial infection aged 53. In 1992, Jane funded and founded The Jim Henson Legacy, to conserve, preserve and present the artistic contribution of Jim Henson.
In 2001, she went on to create the Jane Henson Foundation, where she continued her philanthropic work. She also co-founded The National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre, where she displayed a notable talent for discovering new performers and supporting their work.
Jane Nebel Henson died on Tuesday aged 78, at her home in Connecticut, following a long battle with Cancer.
A photo celebration of Jane has been placed online by the Henson company, it can be seen here
Jane Nebel Henson, June the 16th, 1934 – April the 2nd, 2013