Recently, I received a comment on one of my blog posts saying that I had been “harsh” toward Brian Henson. This surprised me for several reasons: (1) The blog post in question didn’t even mention Brian Henson; someone else brought him up in the comments, and I responded. (2) I know the things in my head that I’ve wanted to say about Brian but have held back; compared to those things, the criticisms I have made have been pretty tame.
I asked the commenter why they felt that I had been harsh, and when they explained, I felt the point was valid. I think it is fair to say that my criticisms of Brian have been a bit more pointed than the ones I’ve made of Lisa and Cheryl. This is partially because of Brian’s position of authority within the company and partially because his actions in regard to the Schism are in direct opposition to statements he made in the past regarding forgiveness and his father’s legacy.
After I saw the 2011 movie, I entered a phase that I called my personal Muppet Renaissance. I’d been interested in Muppet content all my life, but that was the first time I became interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff. Following a deep dive on Muppet Wiki, I began reading all the behind-the-scenes articles that I could find, even the ones about Jim’s death that made me cry.
During this time, I came across a series of articles about the fallout of the original plans for the Muppet sale on a Disney fansite called LaughingPlace.com. The articles dated back to 2001. In one of the latest, the author, Jim Hill, described how Brian, in his role as head of the Jim Henson Company, made a deal with Buena Vista in 1991 to distribute VHS tapes of Muppet content despite having waged copyright lawsuits against Buena Vista’s parent company, Disney, the previous year. The article cites an interview Brian gave to People magazine in 1991 in which he said that his father’s example inspired him to resolve his differences with Disney. Here is an exact quote:
“[Jim Henson] didn’t believe in holding grudges. That inspired me to make peace. We’re such a vengeance-driven culture. We’re taught to get even, get justice. That can become your purpose in life. But it wasn’t my father’s way.”
While acknowledging the inspirational nature of the quote, Jim Hill nevertheless expresses some skepticism that Brian was motivated by a completely selfless desire to make peace. He pointed out that the company was deep in debt at the time and making a deal with Disney may well have been the only way it could have stayed afloat. Hill’s argument was that Brian stood to gain more by “mak[ing] peace” with Disney than by pursuing justice, which is very different from “vengeance,” in my opinion, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.
At the time that I first read the article, circa 2012, I was more inclined to give Brian the benefit of the doubt. I was willing to believe that he really was driven by a desire for forgiveness and conciliation. Although I was later proven wrong, I don’t regret believing the best of Brian at the time. I will never regret believing the best of anyone as long as it is reasonable to do so.
Nevertheless, when I read the hateful and hurtful words that Brian said about Steve to the Hollywood Reporter in 2017, the first thing I thought of was that old article, and how the sentiments that Brian had expressed in that previous article were completely incompatible with his response to the Schism. Because, even if Brian had had a valid grievance against Steve, a person who really believed in forgiveness, in making peace, in not holding grudges, and in not seeking vengeance would NEVER have said those things, or at least wouldn’t have said them to the press.
And yet, I didn’t specifically cite the article in the early criticisms that I made of Brian because I couldn’t find the article online. I remembered the gist of it but was fuzzy on the details and didn’t want to cite it incorrectly. Despite its problematic URL, LaughingPlace.com still exists. It has a section for legacy content, but its archives don’t appear to go back as far as 2001.
It was only last year that I finally rediscovered the article, and only because I used Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, an invaluable resource for those who want to do accurate research among the ever-shifting sands of the internet.
I finally found the article, and here it is: Brian’s hypocrisy clearly demonstrated for all to see.
So, why am I bringing this up now? Well, thanks to the commenter on the previous blog post, I have discovered some new business in regards to Brian that I hope to address in the near future, and I needed to get this out of the way first, once and for all.