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Untitled Jim Henson biography

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An August 16, 1993 article by David Owen for The New Yorker mentions that a biography of Jim Henson was being written by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers, to be released the following year. The biography was written, but the book was never published.
According to a 1994 New York Times article:

After Jim Henson died four years ago and a number of publishers expressed an interest in a biography, his heirs began interviewing authors for a family-supported book. They settled on a seasoned writer: Ron Powers, the author of seven books and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his work as television critic for The Chicago Sun-Times. Random House was to publish the book, and Mr. Powers was to receive an advance of $150,000.

From the beginning, the three-way relationship was complicated, confusing and unusual. For one thing, although Mr. Powers's contract was with the Hensons, not with Random House, the publisher was given complete editorial control over the final book. So Mr. Powers thought, he said in an interview, that he was to serve as an independent author whose work would reflect the Hensons' opinions, but only up to a point. He said, "I was never told that it would be a possibility that the Hensons could nix the project."

But authorized biographies can be much trickier than unauthorized ones, in part because the author's analysis of his subject can be drastically different from that of the subject's friends and family. And that's what happened here. Initially, Mr. Powers contends, Random House didn't seem to have a problem. When Mr. Powers turned in his completed manuscript last September, he says, he received a letter from his editor, David Rosenthal, saying that the book needed some changes but was "a tremendous piece of work" and might be published in October 1994.

But that was before the Henson family saw the manuscript. They were appalled by the psychological portrait of Mr. Henson, and wrote long letters to Mr. Powers describing their objections. "The family doesn't believe the book represents an accurate portrayal of their father," said Michael Gross, a spokesman for the Hensons. But, he stressed, it was up to Random House -- not the Hensons -- to accept or reject the manuscript.

After much to-ing and fro-ing during which, Mr. Gross said, both Random House and the Hensons tried to persuade a stubborn Mr. Powers to reinterview people and recast his conclusions, Random House finally told Mr. Powers in January that it was not going to publish the book. Of course, both sides have different explanations. Mr. Powers says that Random House caved in to pressure from the Hensons. Random House denies that flatly, saying that it became clear after the Hensons reviewed the manuscript that the work had serious problems. "It was a rejection based on the contractual requirement that he turn in a satisfactory manuscript," Mr. Rosenthal said.

Lawyers for the Hensons and for Mr. Powers have been trying recently to resolve an impasse that has Mr. Powers insisting that the book be published and the Hensons insisting that they won't allow it. To make matters more complicated, a clause in the contract says that if Random House deems the book unpublishable, as it has, then Mr. Powers's work -- his notes, his interviews, his manuscript -- is supposed to become the property of the Hensons. But so far neither Mr. Powers nor his lawyer, Andrew Davis, is inclined to go along with that, arguing that the Hensons breached the contract by undercutting the book with the publisher. The Hensons vehemently disagree.

Mr. Powers says his only recourse is to find another publisher, and he has instructed his literary agent, Geri Thoma, to begin looking for one. [1]

Apparently, nothing came of Powers' attempt to find another publisher, and the book was never published. Since then, Powers has written two biographies of Mark Twain, and a third book about two young people who murdered an old man in Hannibal, Missouri, Powers' hometown.

Sources

  1. Lyall, Sarah. "A Henson Hullaballoo". The New York Times. September 21, 1994.

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