Heaven is for Giving Souls

Out there among the heavens, there is a special place for a giving soul. People who by their living example have given us their time and energy to teach and love from their heart and share their talent, knowledge and wisdom.

Such is my description of Jane Henson.

She was not just a mother to her children, but was also motherly to hundreds of puppeteers who she willingly and lovingly shared her talent, knowledge, and wisdom with us.

I myself was fortunate to be one of those. As she championed her cause for me to be hired on Sesame Street and later saw to it that I was employed at their cooperate headquarters.

Jane also introduced me to Jim.

One year, I brought two coffee mugs for them for Christmas. One said 'J is for Jane' and the other said 'J is for Jim'.  Jim thanked me for the gift for them.

Jane (along with Richard Hunt, Jim Henson and other Muppeteers in the Henson Company) taught me the art of puppetry. While Richard was loud and funny, Jane was modest, sweet and educational in her art of teaching.

I recall leaving with her a few evenings from 117 East 69th Street (their former headquarters) out into the cold dark winter evenings where I walked her to the garage a few blocks away where she kept her car. She seemed to have a passion for wearing shawls at one time. We spoke about family, health concerns for her kids and relatives visiting and other topics that have long since been forgotten.

One time in her office, where the walls were surrounded by gold records the company had been awarded. I was telling her about a tongue surgery I had, and she was laughingly grossed out by it. But it was nice to see her laugh concerning it.

Jane once ran a puppet workshop where she assigned Heather Henson to my puppet improv team. We did some improvs about a restaurant being on fire and silly ways puppets would respond. Cheryl Henson was in the room as well, and I heard Jane tell Cheryl; “Cheryl pay attention to Gabriel.” I did not know what to make of that, but not long after that I was offered the lead role in Sesame Street ‘A is for Asthma’. I’m sure it was due to Jane’s doing.

I also saw once on her face how concerned she was that ‘Muppets Tonight’ was on the verge of being cancelled. I know in those days, the company had been struggling and I could tell she was worried for the future of the company.

Years later, having sold Muppets to Disney I saw a more relaxed and happy Jane. As if a great weight was lifted from her. She was happy.

She did mention around that time how she wasn’t into “edgy” adult content puppet sketches, but preferred traditional puppet entertainment.

 When I auditioned to back up Eric Jacobson on Sesame Street, it was a real personal pleasure to see Jane laughing and really enjoying my musical interpretation of “Doin’ Pigeon” while performing Bert. She mentioned quietly that I wasn’t being “dull enough”. Which is really hilarious, accused of not being dull. Watching the smile on her face during my performance of a classic Muppet scene is one of the highlights of my Muppet memories.

One time I asked her at a round table session with other puppeteers and Martin Baker in attendance, if at the start of her and Jim Henson’s puppeteering careers if they found it difficult to find puppeteering work. She looked up and thought about it for a moment and said: “No… everything we always went after we got.”

Over the years I would send her letters saying hello and occasional Christmas cards. Every now and then I would receive a Henson Christmas card in return. When Jim died, I received a thank you card from her for my concern.

One time she mentioned to me that when Ethyl Merman died, Merman had requested that a flower from her grave be sent to Jim and Jane. Merman appreciated them very much.

So out in heaven with all those we have ever loved, there is a special place for those souls that were ‘giving’, a name synonymous with Jane Nebel Henson.

You shall be missed my friend.

                                   Jane Henson & Gabriel Velez

                                                       Jane Henson & Gabriel Velez