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He spent several months in Europe, where he was inspired by European puppet performers, who looked on their work as an art form. The popularity of his work on Sam and Friends in the late 1950s led to a series of guest appearances on network talk and variety shows.
Henson himself appeared as a guest on many shows, including The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Program and The Ed Sullivan Show (although on his appearance on the September 11, 1966, episode of the show — released to DVD on 2011 as part of a collection of episodes featuring the Rolling Stones—Sullivan mis-introduced Henson as "Jim Newsom and his Puppets").
Believing television puppets needed to have "life and sensitivity," A marionette's arms are manipulated by strings, but Henson used rods to move his Muppets' arms, allowing greater control of expression.
Additionally, Henson wanted the Muppet characters to "speak" more creatively than was possible for previous puppets—which had seemed to have random mouth movements—so he used precise mouth movements to match the dialogue.
James Maury Henson (September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) was an American puppeteer, artist, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter, and filmmaker who achieved international fame as the creator of the Muppets.
Born in Greenville, Mississippi, and raised in Leland, Mississippi, and Hyattsville, Maryland, Henson began developing puppets while attending high school.
When Henson began work on Sam and Friends, he asked fellow University of Maryland sophomore Jane Nebel to assist him.
The show was a financial success, but after graduating from college, Henson began to have doubts about going into a career performing with puppets. Despite the success of Sam and Friends, Henson spent much of the next two decades working in commercials, talk shows, and children's projects before being able to realize his dream of the Muppets as "entertainment for everybody".
Henson's 1960s talk show appearances culminated when he devised Rowlf, a piano-playing anthropomorphic dog.
" Henson later explained, "Till then, advertising agencies believed that the hard sell was the only way to get their message over on television. We tried to sell things by making people laugh." The same setup was used to pitch Kraml Milk in the Chicago area, Red Diamond coffee, several bread products, and even Faygo.
In 1963, Henson and his wife moved to New York City, where the newly formed Muppets, Inc., would reside for some time. Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl in 1961 and puppet performer Frank Oz in 1963 to replace her.
Henson became famous in the 1960s when he joined the children's educational television program Sesame Street, and there helped develop characters for the series.
He also appeared on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live.
Henson remained a Christian Scientist at least into his twenties when he would teach Sunday School, but in 1975, Henson wrote to a Christian Science church to inform them he was no longer a practicing member.