A Muppet History Part 1

A timeline of all things Muppets
December 01, 2011
Retrodave here again. I love the Muppets, and who doesn't? Did you ever wonder where the word Muppet comes from? Well my research on Wikipedia says that Jim Henson said that Muppet is a combination of the words "Marionette" and "Puppet." Jim was pretty clever wasn't he? The Muppets were and still are Jim's great gift of entertainment that is still being used today; even 20+ yrs after his death. In fact there is a new theatrical Muppet movie simply called "The Muppets." So I thought It would be a good time to write about the history of the Muppets.

1955 to 1961"Sam and Friends"

"Sam and Friends" was a children's television show that aired locally in Washington D. C. on WRC-TV. This was Kermit's first appearance on television. Most of the puppetry was done by Jim Henson and Jane Nebel. Jane and Jim were dating at the time. In 1959 Jane had married Jim Henson. As for "Sam and Friends," the show lasted for six years and in that time there has been 86 episodes. As far as I know this show is not on DVD but, here is a clip from YouTube.

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1957 to 61 Wikins Coffee Commercials

The Wilkins Coffee Commercials that aired in the late '50s had two unnamed Muppet characters. One a bald headed character that looks similar to Kermit but is not Kermit. This character was known as "Wilkins." The other one was "Watkins." As far as I know these character were not mentioned by name on the commercial but were named on the Wilkins Coffee can label. In these commercials "Wilkins" punishes "Watkins" for not drinking Wilkins Coffee. How does he punish him? Oh all sorts cruel ways like beating him with a mallet, shooting him, throwing him out of a plane, etc. Here is a collection of the Wilkins Coffee commercials off of YouTube. This is not all of them but I think most of them.

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1960 Lisa Henson is born

Lisa is the Co-CEO of the Jim Henson Company along with her brother Brian Henson. Lisa Henson overseas all television and feature film productions for the company. Lisa was also a production runner for the film "The Great Muppet Caper." Outside of the Muppets Lisa has been president of Columbia Pictures and Production Executive at Warner Bros. At Warner Bros. Lisa has worked well known successful pictures such as "Lethal Weapon," "Batman," and "Batman Returns."

1960's Muppets appear on various talk and variety shows

The Muppets fame started to build as they appeared on different variety and talk shows such as, "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Today Show," "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" etc. Here is a clip of some Muppets on "Johnny Carson" from 1965. This clip may be the only time you see an alcoholic Muppet.

1961 Cheryl Henson is born

Cheryl is the director of the New York base of operations for the Jim Henson Company. She is also the president of a non-profit organization known as the Jim Henson Foundation. This organization provides grant funding for puppetry and art programs. Cheryl has helped make puppets for "The Muppet Show," "The Dark Crystal," and "Labyrinth."

1961 Jerry Juhl joins Muppet staff

Jerry Juhl (July 27, 1938 - September 26, 2006) Jerry started out as an amateur puppeteer at the age of 11. At that age he had performed puppet shows for children at his local library. Jim had found Jerry doing a puppet performance at Puppeteers of America National Festival in Asilomar, California. Early on in Jerry's career with the Muppets, Jerry was a puppeteer. Later on he had transferred into writing, and became Jim's head writer. Jerry's writing credits include: "Sesame Street," "The Muppet Show," "Fraggle Rock," and five theatrical Muppet movies.

1962 Don Sahlin joins the Muppets

Don Sahlin (June 19, 1928 - February 19, 1978) Don was Jim Henson's main puppet designer and builder from the 1960's and 1970's. The first puppet he built was Rowlf the dog which was originally made for a series of Purina Dog Chow commercials. He is also credited with creating these "Sesame Street" characters: Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert and Ernie. Don had also made Beaker, Sam the Eagle, and Dr. Teeth for "The Muppet Show." In addition to his puppet designing/ building skills he loved playing pranks in the office with other members of the staff.

1963 Frank Oz joins the Muppets

Many people already know besides Jim Henson Frank Oz was the main man that worked with the Muppets. However many people probably don't know his real name is Richard Frank Oznowicz. Frank took over for Jane Henson because Jane had became a mother and spent time with her children. Frank was one of Jim's main puppet performers. Frank was the original voices of Bert, Cookie Monster, Grover, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, etc. However he does not currently do the voices and sadly did not do the voices in the new movie "The Muppets." Frank was also the director of the Movie "The Muppets Take Manhattan." Frank has done other projects outside of the Muppets such as providing the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars franchise. Frank Oz has also directed his own non-Muppet related movies: Such as "What about Bob?" "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and "Bowfinger."

1963 Brian Henson is born

Besides being the Co-CEO of the Jim Henson Company Brian has done puppetry work for his father early in his career. One notable performance from Brian was the facial movements and voice of Hoggle in the movie "Labyrinth" Later he took over his father's company after his death. Brian had directed the first Muppet movie after Jim's passing "The Muppet Christmas Carol." He also has some other director credits; one of which is "Muppet Treasure Island."

1965 John Henson is born
John Henson took on the role of Sweetums after Richard Hunt (the person who originally performed as Sweetums) was physically unable to do so in 1990. John had continued the role after Richard Hunt's passing. As for those who don't know who Sweetums is you may know him as Mad Man Mooney's "jack" in "The Muppet Movie." But "Jack not name, jack job."

1968 "The Muppets on Puppets" television special airs

I've seen this special before; only because it is a special feature on the Season Three DVD of "The Muppet Show." It had aired on National Educational Television (NET.) NET would eventually become PBS. This special is an educational and entertaining in-depth look at puppetry. This special is hosted by Jim Henson and features, Muppets: Kermit, Rowlf and some unnamed characters. It also includes appearances from Jerry Juhl, Frank Oz, and Don Sahlin. This is a great special. This special talks about the different kinds of puppets, the history of puppets, and behind the scenes on how Jim and his puppeteers put on a show. This special also shows you how to make your own puppet using household materials. I really like this program. "The Muppets on Puppets" special is very insightful as well as entertaining. This special is on YouTube so you can check it out for yourself there. It is a seven part video.

November 10, 1969 Sesame Street premieres

Sesame Street is perhaps one of the most lovable children's shows of all time. Heck it has been on for over 40 years. Who could for get such classic characters as Big Bird, The Count, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert and Ernie, etc? Also later characters such as Elmo, The Three Bears and Zoe have been a big influence on young children. Elmo has especially been a big part ever since they had adapted "Elmo's World" as part of Sesame Street in 1998. However Elmo's World or not we all love the show as kids or some of now may have kids that love it today.

1970 Heather Henson is born

Heather Henson was the last child born of Jim and Jane Henson. Heather serves on the Jim Henson Company. She also serves on the Jim Henson Legacy which is a non-profit organization that celebrates Jim Henson as an artist and helps locate part of his work that is yet to be part of the Jim Henson Company archives. She is also a member of the Jim Henson Foundation board of directors. When Heather was younger she had played in these roles: a cameo in "The Muppets Take Manhattan," an uncredited part in Jim Henson's "Storyteller" in the episode Hans my Hedgehog. Also she had a part in "Little Shop of Horrors." Heather now produces the annual Orlando Puppet Festival. In addition to that she is part of Handmade Puppet Dreams a touring festival of independent puppet films.

1970 Richard Hunt joins The Muppets

Richard Hunt was a primary performer for the Muppets in the 70's and 80's. He had performed and voiced Scooter, Janice, Sweetums, and Statler. As well many others. Including many characters from "Fraggle Rock." and some character for "Sesame Street."

1974 Dave Goelz joins Muppets Inc.

Dave Goelz is most famous for being the voice of Gonzo and had continued the role for the new movie "The Muppets." Other character he has done and is doing for "The Muppets" are Zoot, Beaureguard, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Dave has also taken over the role of Waldorf after Jim Henson has passed away, and will also do so in "The Muppets." What is interesting is that Dave Goelz has no background in puppetry or acting but was still hired by Henson. Goelz had got interested in puppetry after meeting Frank OZ at a puppet festival in 1972. He also went to New York to see some Sesame Street taping. Months after that he had showed Jim his portfolio and was hired by Henson as a puppet builder. Dave had made some Muppets for Jim and he started performing with some of them eventually he dropped the puppet building part and stuck only with performing.

1975 New Muppets created for Saturday Night Live

Different Muppets, King Ploobis, Queen Peuta, Skred, Vazh, Wisss, and the Mighty Fovah were used in a regular sketch for the first season of Saturday Night Live. These Muppets were only used for the show and never brought back except for the large group shot at the end of the Muppet Movie. When my brother had bought the first season of SNL and I saw on the opening credits that Jim Henson's Muppets were performing I got so excited. Then when I found out that they were a different set of Muppets I was disappointed. These sketches weren't funny and part of the problem was they were written by the SNL writers and not Jim Henson's writing staff. Since they didn't work out and Jim was going to do "The Muppet Show" in '76 they did not make it to the second season.

September 26, 1976 "The Muppet Show" premiers.

The Muppet Show was released only as a syndicated show to local stations and five CBS affiliates in the nation and it became a sucess lasting for five seasons. When it comes to Muppets The Muppet show was where most people were introduce to them The Muppet Show is sketch comedy with musical numbers and back stage scenes thrown in. Each episode has had a guess star that would do some, but now all the scenes with the Muppets. The guess stars were added for adult appeal, while the Muppets were for kids. However I think Muppets are for all ages.

As a kid I thought the there was a live audience for the taping of the show. Now I know it is a just a false laugh track. The show was really funny. Some of the best jokes come from Statler and Waldolf - the hecklers from the balcony. Imagine characters making fun of their own show. Evening the Muppets backstage poke fun of it sometimes. Now I said they had made five seasons. However only three seasons were released on DVD. Why? Because, according the Muppets Wiki the studio is trying to get the music cleared on the remainder seasons before they can get released. As a special treat for you here is the original pitch for "The Muppet Show" That can also be found on the season one DVD enjoy.

1979 "The Muppet Movie" is released

Out of all of the Muppet Movies this one is probably my favorite, I like the jokes I like the story and I like the guest cameos. Such Cameos as Steve Martin, Dom Deluise, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, the legendary Orson Welles and others. Also "The Muppet Movie" has a great selection of songs. One of which is The Rainbow Connection which was nominated for an Oscar but didn't win and should have. The song that did win was It Goes Like It Goes from "Norma Rae," oh well. So with that being said here is Moving Right Along.

Well that's it for part one stay tuned for part two. It may be a long time before part two is ready because I put a lot of time and research into this part and this took me forever. So until then please enjoy this last clip of Kermit singing It's not Easy Being Green from "The Muppet Show."

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