Jane Henson, who helped pioneer the Muppets with her husband Jim Henson, has passed away at age 78.
Jane met Jim in a puppetry class when the two attended the University of Maryland. Jane was a fine arts major. She and Jim fell in love, got married and introduced a version of the Muppets to TV on NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington.
Their television show, the five-minute Sam and Friends, aired before the national news program The Huntley-Brinkley Report and then again before The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen on the D.C. station. Their characters were forerunners of the Muppets, and the show included a prototype of the Hensons’ most famous puppet, Kermit the Frog.
The puppets’ first national television guest appearance would come on Allen’s Tonight Show, and soon they were making guest appearances on the top variety shows of the day on their way to eventual international acclaim.
The couple married in May 1959 and legally separated in 1986. Jim died in 1990. Two years later, Jane funded and founded the Jim Henson Legacy to conserve, preserve and present the artistic contribution of her late husband. In 2001, she created the Jane Henson Foundation for philanthropic work.
After the couple split, she continued her association with the Jim Henson Co. and actively participated in the company as it became a global family entertainment organization, collaborating with Jim on projects that included the traveling museum exhibit “The Art of the Muppets” as well as “The Muppet Show on Tour” and “Sesame Street Live” arena shows.
Known for her keen eye for spotting puppeteer talent, Jane also became the point of entry to the company for many top puppeteers.
During her career, Jane also served as an assistant art teacher at the Mead School for Human Development in Greenwich and co-founded the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn.
In addition to Cheryl, survivors include daughters Lisa and Heather and sons Brian and John. A memorial mass is planned for next week.