If you’re like me, hearing the words “It’s time to play the music; it’s time to dim the lights” transports you to your childhood, when the week wasn’t complete without your weekly dose of the Muppets. It’s hard to imagine that The Muppet Show turned 40 years old this year and harder to image that Jim Henson himself would have turned 80 this month. So, to help celebrate these events, here are some interesting facts about the Muppets and their creator.
- Jim Henson had a passion for puppetry even when he was a child and TV Puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, from the show Kukla, Fran and Ollie was a major influence in his childhood.
- By Henson’s freshman year of college (1955), he had a bi-weekly bit on Sam and Friends, a children’s program on a local NBC affiliate. Kermit the Frog made his debut on this show.
- Kermit the Frog was originally more lizard-like when he was created and didn’t become an actual “frog” until right before Sesame Street began.
- A Muppet called “Wheel Stealer,” who gained fame by snatching a family’s snacks on a food commercial and later appeared in an IBM commercial taking a bite out of an IBM computer, eventually became the Cookie Monster.
- The first Muppet to gain national exposure was Rowlf the Dog, who starred in Purina commercials and then became Jimmy Dean’s sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show.
- Looking to increase the Muppets reach, Henson developed The Muppet Show and created two pilots, The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. However, he couldn’t sell the show as a prime-time network series in the United States. So, he went overseas, producing the show in England and then selling it through syndication to the U.S.
- Muppets created specifically for The Muppet Show include: Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter and (my favorite) Animal.
- Kermit the Frog is Henson’s most famous Muppet. Henson played Kermit himself until his death in May 1990. Now, Kermit is played by Steve Whitmore.
- Reportedly, Henson was going to sell The Muppets and his entire company to Disney the weekend he passed away. Disney finally purchased the rights to the Muppets in 2004.
- Though Henson supported the rumor that the term “Muppet” was a combination of the words “marionette” and “puppet,” it is not true. Apparently, Henson just liked the sound of the word.
So Happy Birthday ,Mr. Henson, and thank you for giving us the “most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppet-ational, this is what we call The Muppet Show!”