“My sister wants to see the world the way John Lennon saw the world. My nephew wants to see the world the way Kermit saw the world.”
A child of the ’80s, I was one of those kids who wanted (and still wants) to see the world as Kermit sees it. He believes in dreaming big, following your heart, and in bringing together creatures of all sorts to sing and dance. Kermit was, and still is, the friend you want in your corner – the peace-keeping, loyal frog who also happens to play a mean banjo.
And now he’s back on the big screen! In honor of the new Muppet movie out today, we’ve uncovered memorable Muppet moments in the Archive’s collection, and there are a-plenty! Many of the cast members of Sesame Street, including Roscoe Orman, Loretta Long, Sonia Manzano, and Bob McGrath, spoke with us about working with Muppets. Several interviewees recalled guest appearances on The Muppet Show, and many shared what it was like to work with the Muppet Man himself, Jim Henson. Our collection holds a plethora of Muppet memories, and has once more brought out the Kermit-loving kid in me.
When you hear the word Muppet, a few characters probably come to mind: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Bert and Ernie, maybe Fozzie and Cookie Monster, or even Red from Fraggle Rock. I was always a fan of Snuffleupagus and The Swedish Chef. There are a lot of Muppets out there, and each has its own distinct personality. Yes, technically, they’re puppets fashioned of fabric and rods, but through their facial expressions, voices, movements, and interactions with others, they seem as real as the flesh and blood actors with whom they appear on screen. For inanimate objects, they’re always sooo animated. (Think of Kermit’s “sheesh” and his gulp, when he scrunches up his face, or Miss Piggy’s snout when she’s mad at Kermit.) In his Archive interview, Sesame Street’s Roscoe Orman, who plays “Gordon Robinson,” sheds light on why the Muppets always feel like living, breathing beings: “The Henson puppeteers are extremely talented actors,” Orman explains. “They just happen to act with dolls. Whereas we act with our own selves, our own bodies, they act with these dolls. They become these dolls.” Gifted individuals like Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, and Carroll Spinney performed the Muppets – skilled actors whose puppets were extensions of their personae. Enjoy for yourself as Orman and others on Sesame Street describe what its like to have Muppets and Muppeteers as co-workers:
The Muppet Show was more adult in nature than Sesame Street, and a hard sell for that very reason. In his 2001 Archive interview, Jim Henson’s manager, Bernie Brillstein shared the difficulty he encountered in convincing people that Muppets did not have to be solely for young audiences. The Muppets appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1975, in sketches that Bernstein described as not a great fit, but the Muppets finally found a primetime home in London, where The Muppet Show was shot in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Brillstein and Archive interviewees Andy Williams and Florence Henderson, who appeared as special guests on the program, recall their experiences with Jim Henson on The Muppet Show:
Statler and Waldorf, “Pigs in Space,” “Mahna mahna”- which my sister and I mistakenly believed was called “Phenomenon…” so many incredible characters and skits emerged from The Muppet Show. Turns out the Muppets were ready-for-primetime players, and Jim Henson knew how to make them shine. So when Henson’s own light went out on that day in May of 1990, his death came as a shock, and many wondered what it would mean for the future of his beloved Muppets. Several of our Archive interviewees reminisced on working with Henson, and on the atmosphere he fostered on his shows:
Though there will never be another quite like Jim Henson, his death did not signify the end of all things Muppet. Disney, Jim Henson Studios, and The Sesame Workshop continue to provide the world with the joy of Kermit, Ernie, and friends, and I sincerely hope that there will never be a world without Muppets. I hope that today’s new Muppet movie is simply the latest adventure in a long list of great Muppet capers yet to come, and that the film honors the characters I cherish from my youth. In my book, every child should have the chance to see the world according to Kermit.
- by Adrienne Faillace
For more on Jim Henson, the Muppets early television appearances, and The Muppet Show, visit manager Bernie Brillstein’s interview
For more on Sesame Street’s Muppets, visit our Sesame Street show page