Jane Henson
Jane Ann Nebel

(1934-06-16)June 16, 1934
Queens, New York, U.S.
DiedApril 2, 2013(2013-04-02) (aged 78)
Alma materUniversity of Maryland, College Park
Years active1955–1993
Board member of
(m. 1959; sep. 1986)

Jane Ann Henson (née Nebel; June 16, 1934 – April 2, 2013) was an American puppeteer and co-founder of Muppets, Inc. with her husband Jim Henson.

Early life

Jane Ann Nebel was born and raised in St. Albans, Queens. She met Jim Henson when she was a senior and he a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park.[1]

Nebel was a member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority.[citation needed]


Jane Nebel and Jim Henson worked together on the live 1950s television show Sam and Friends, where Jane collaborated with Jim in performing Muppets and devising several of the show's technical innovations, including the use of television monitors to watch their performances in real time.[1] When, in the late 1950s, Jim took a year off from Sam and Friends to travel in Europe, Jane ran the show with the help of a University of Maryland classmate.[2]

Christopher Finch wrote, "Among the first of [Jim's] assignments at WRC-TV was Afternoon, a magazine show aimed at housewives. This marked his first collaboration with Jane Nebel – the woman who later became his wife."[3] They did not begin dating until Jim returned from Europe, a trip which he undertook in order to be inspired by European puppeteers who viewed their work as an art form.[1] They were married on May 28, 1959 at Jane's family home in Salisbury, Maryland.[4]

When she quit full-time puppeteering in the early 1960s to raise their children, Jim hired Jerry Juhl and Frank Oz to replace her.[5] She helped Oz learn how to lip sync,[5] and continued to perform non-speaking muppets on Sesame Street from time to time through at least the 1980s.[1] She was also responsible for the hiring of puppeteer Steve Whitmire in 1978 after he gave her an impromptu audition in an airport restaurant.[6] Whitmire took over performing Kermit the Frog and Ernie of Sesame Street after Jim Henson's death in 1990.

In 1990, the Henson Company forged an agreement with Disney to present a live stage show, Here Come the Muppets, at Disney-MGM Studios. Jane was the main developer in the training of performers and profile creation for the walkaround versions of the Muppets. She was able to share the Henson spirit of the ten characters that joined Disney at the time: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Bean Bunny, as well as five members of the Electric Mayhem.

Towards the end of her life, Jane conceived the idea of a stylized puppet show based on the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. Together with a small group of collaborators, she created a live theatre piece featuring tabletop manger figure puppets built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Jane Henson's Nativity Story premiered at the 2010 Orlando Puppet Festival.[7] After Jane Henson's death in 2013, vignettes from the stage show were used in the CBS television special A New York Christmas to Remember, narrated by Regis Philbin. A tribute to Henson from family and friends was part of the national broadcast.[8]

Personal life

Jane and Jim Henson married in 1959; together they had five children: Lisa (b. 1960), Cheryl (b. 1961), Brian (b. 1963), John (1965–2014),[9] and Heather Henson (b. 1970).[10] Although Jane and Jim had separated in 1986, they remained close until his death in 1990.[11] In 1992, she established The Jim Henson Legacy to preserve and perpetuate the work of her husband. She served on the boards of the Jim Henson Foundation and the American Center for Children's Television.[12]

Illness and death

On March 20, 2013, her daughter Cheryl revealed that her mother had cancer and was paralyzed; she asked fans to keep Jane in their prayers. Jane Henson died at the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut, on April 2, 2013, at the age of 78. She was buried at Saint Bridge Cemetery, Cornwall, Connecticut.[13][14] The 2014 film Muppets Most Wanted was dedicated to her and to fellow Muppet puppeteer Jerry Nelson who died in 2012.


  1. ^ a b c d "The Man Behind the Frog". Time. 1978-12-25. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  2. ^ Harris, Judy (1998-09-21). "Muppet Master: An Interview with Jim Henson". Muppet Central. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  3. ^ Finch, Jim Henson – The Works (1993). p. 15.
  4. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2015-05-05). Jim Henson: The Biography. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-52612-0.
  5. ^ a b Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Frank Oz", IGN FilmForce, 2000-02-10. Retrieved on 2007-05-06.
  6. ^ Plume, Kenneth (1999-07-19). "Ratting Out: An Interview with Muppeteer Steve Whitmire". Muppet Central. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  7. ^ Palm, Matthew, Nativity Story in puppetry this Sunday at Pinocchios Marionette Theater, Orlando Sentinel, archived from the original on 28 December 2012, retrieved 9 May 2017
  8. ^ "Jane Henson Nativity Story Airs Christmas Eve on CBS Featuring Orlando Talent". Orlando Weekly. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  9. ^ "It is with great sadness that we confirm... - The Jim Henson Company". Facebook. Archived from the original on 2022-02-26. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
  10. ^ "From the Archives: Jim Henson Dies at Age 53; Muppets' Creative Genius". Los Angeles Times. May 17, 1990.
  11. ^ Collins, James (1998-06-08). "Time 100: Jim Henson". Time. Archived from the original on June 12, 2000. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  12. ^ Muppet Co-Founder Jane Henson to Speak at WVU Archived 2007-04-26 at the Wayback Machine, WVU News.
  13. ^ "Jane Henson, Muppets Co-Creator And Widow Of Jim Henson, Dies At 78". USA Today. 2 April 2013. Retrieved April 2, 2013.
  14. ^ "Jane Henson, Who Helped Create Muppets With Husband Jim, Dies at 78". Variety. 2 April 2013. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013.