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Kermit the Frog

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Performer:
Jim Henson • (1955 - 1990)
Steve Whitmire • (1990 - present)
Kermit the Frog
Kermit Banjo

Kermit the Frog is Jim Henson's most famous and popular Muppet character. He has appeared in many of the Muppet productions, with his "debut" on Jim Henson's first YV show, Sam and Friends, as a lizard-like creature. He was also the host of The Muppet Show. He also appeared on Sesame Street, giving various lectures, and serving as a news reporter in the infamous "Sesame Street News Flash" skits, reporting on various fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and historic moments.

Kermit has been described as the only Muppet who is not crazy. Steve Whitmire was made the new performer for Kermit after Jim Henson passed away. Kermit continued appearing on Sesame Street until 2001, when Sesame Workshop lost the rights to him.

Kermit's signature song is "Bein' Green", which he first sang in his first episode of Sesame Street.

Character origins

The earliest version of Kermit first appeared in 1955 on Sam and Friends, Jim Henson's 5-minute puppet show that aired twice daily on WRC-TV. The soon-to-be-famous frog had humble origins, as Henson explained in 1977: "I'd paint the scenery, and Janie would carry it in the station wagon. We made the first Kermit from one of my mother's old coats with Ping-Pong balls for his eyes." [1]

In the early days of the character, Kermit wasn't yet a frog -- he was more of a lizard-like, abstract character. As Henson explained, "Kermit started out as a way of building, putting a mouth and covering over my hand. There was nothing in Kermit outside of the piece of cardboard -- it was originally cardboard -- and the cloth shape that was his head. He's one of the simplest kinds of puppets that you can make, and he's very flexible because of that... which gives him a range of expression." [2]

In later years, Henson said that Kermit didn't become a frog until the 1971 special The Frog Prince, [3] a claim that made its way into the 1993 book Jim Henson: The Works. [4]

However, Kermit's froghood asserted itself as early as 1965, when Johnny Carson referred to him as "Kermit the Frog" on a December 31st Tonight Show appearance.[5] The 1966 Montgomery Wards catalog which featured the Ideal Muppet puppets refers to Kermit as a "fanciful frog". Kermit refers to himself as a frog in the 1968 special The Muppets on Puppets. The special Hey Cinderella!, which was recorded in 1968 [6], featured a redesigned Kermit puppet; his round feet were replaced with flippers, and he was given a fringed collar with eleven points. By the time that Kermit appeared on the Sesame Street Pitch Reel, he was a full-fledged frog.

Kermit sported a double collar for a brief period in the early 1970s, including in the TV special The Frog Prince and several early seasons of Sesame Street, but by the time he took over as the level-headed but often exasperated host of The Muppet Show, it had changed back to the trademark single collar that he still wears today.

See also Kermit's Froghood.

Kermit on Sesame Street

Kermit's most famous role on Sesame Street was his appearances as a news reporter for the Sesame Street News Flash segments, interviewing characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

One of his most memorable works was the song "Bein' Green". Some of his other famous Sesame Street songs include "This Frog", "I Love My Elbows", "On My Pond", and "Caribbean Amphibian".

He has also given many lectures on simple subjects. Some of Kermit's Lectures have been for the letter W, hands, and "Tall and Short." He appeared in the "Monsterpiece Theater" segment "Gone with the Wind," as well as an appearance in a "Miami Mice" sketch.

Kermit was also seen at his home on Sesame Street; Grover would often come to Kermit's house and sell things a frog can't use (such as toothbrushes and earmuffs). When he wasn't being disturbed, Kermit would occasionally sing to an imaginary audience at home; on one occasion, he performed "My Polliwog Ways" while imagining that his living room was a nightclub full of guests.

Kermit also took part in several talk spots with kids.

Unlike other Sesame Street characters, Sesame Workshop never had any ownership of Kermit the Frog. Because of this, Kermit has rarely been part of Sesame Street merchandise. He has appeared in many Sesame Street videos, most notably Big Bird's Storytime and, of course, The Best of Kermit on Sesame Street. His songs have also appeared on many Sesame Street albums. The only Kermit toy released as a Sesame Street toy was the Magic Talking Kermit the Frog plush, released in 1999. In 2005, he appeared on a Sesame Street winter hat by Berkshire Fashions. For more info on Sesame Street products featuring Kermit, see Kermit in Sesame Street Merchandise.

Although the rights to Kermit the Frog are owned by The Walt Disney Company, and the rights to Sesame Street are owned by Sesame Workshop, Sesame Workshop currently has permission from Disney to show old Kermit segments in Sesame Street home video and DVD productions, Play with Me Sesame, The Sesame Street Podcast, and online. However, his segments are rarely shown in current episodes of the show. Kermit made his first new appearance on Sesame Street since Disney's acquisition of the Muppets in the season 40 premiere episode, making a cameo in Elmo's World: Frogs and also appeared on the cover of the Silly Storytime and Best of Sesame Street Spoofs! DVDs.

At 1 point in 1970, Kermit the Frog was going to be dropped from Sesame Street, due to criticism that the character was too commercial. "When the new season starts November 9, expect changes. There will be no more know-it-all frog, since Kermit, the one Muppet who is not exclusive to Sesame Street, is opting out to do commercials" (Look, Sept. 22, 1970). Time Magazine reported with slightly more detail: "Kermit the Frog is being canned for commercialism. When Sesame Street was just a glint in Joan Ganz Cooney's eye, Kermit taped a special in Canada. When it was given a network airing, the frog was compromised. Or so Henson decided. .... He is being phased out of the show. He will be replaced by such Muppets as Herbert Birdsfoot and Sherlock Hemlock" (Time, November 23, 1970).

However, Kermit made at least one sketch during the second season (as evident by the appearance of a blue-nosed Herry Monster) on a lecture about "between." The frog returned as a regular Sesame Street character in the third season (1971).

The Muppet Show

Kermit became a star when he hosted The Muppet Show, acting as the host and the person ultimately in charge of what went on during the show. During the first season, it seemed as if he treated his fellow cast and crew members more like employees, but later on, as the characters developed, it became clear that they were his friends as well.

In addition to hosting, Kermit regularly got to chat with the guest stars, in the Panel Discussions and Talk Spots, as well as backstage and in some numbers. Some of the guest stars whom Kermit has sung duets with have included Linda Ronstadt, Connie Stevens, Andy Williams, and Debbie Harry.

Kermit also sang on his own on the show many times, singing songs such as "Happy Feet", "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", "Disco Frog", and, of course, "Bein' Green". His duets with other characters include singing "Friendship" and "Octopus' Garden" with his nephew, Robin; he also participated in many group numbers.

Being the main character, Kermit interacted with most of the main cast of the show. He was often pursued by Miss Piggy, who made no secret of her love for him, but Kermit generally rebuffed her advances. Although Piggy loved him, that didn't stop her from karate-chopping him whenever she got mad at him. Miss Piggy unsuccessfully tried to make Kermit jealous of guest star Avery Schreiber, but on some occasions Kermit actually has gotten jealous of male guest stars who Piggy liked, including Peter Ustinov and Christopher Reeve. Kermit has also performed a few duets with Miss Piggy, such as "Waiting at the Church", "I Won't Dance", and "Ukelelee Lady". They even danced together in an At the Dance spot in episode 123.

There have also been many episodes that revolved around Kermit and Miss Piggy. episode 107 revolved around Miss Piggy persuing Kermit. In episode 211, Miss Piggy had Scooter pay the audience to cheer at her so that Kermit would notice her more. In episode 423, Miss Piggy got some shoes that were too small for her feet, but when Kermit complimented on the shoes, she reluctantly kept them. One of the biggest episodes for them was episode 502, in which, after being annoyed over Miss Piggy telling the gossip papers that they were secretly married, Kermit fired Miss Piggy. However, Kermit eventually did hire her back. In episode 310, Piggy tricks Kermit into a wedding sketch with a real minister she secretly booked. He realized the minister was a real one in the nick of time, however, to Miss Piggy's rage.

He was also good friends with Fozzie Bear. They have appeared together in acts such as "Any Old Iron" and Kermit has reluctantly joined Fozzie for some of his monologues, such as "Good Grief! The Comedians a Bear!" and Fozzie's phrenology act. Kermit let Fozzie help him plan the show for episode 201, and when Kermit suddenly became sick in episode 206, Kermit chose to put Fozzie in charge of hosting.

Other episodes illustrating Kermit and Fozzie's relationship include episode 122, in which Fozzie brings his agent, Irving Bizarre, to the theater to negotiate Fozzie's contract with Kermit; episode 303, in which, after Fozzie mistakenly sends the stagehands to the country, Kermit makes Fozzie do their work, threatening to fire him if he blunders; and episode 105, where Kermit kept asking Fozzie who the many phone calls to the theater were from.

Although he generally functions as the "normal" and calm center of the show, at times Kermit would panic or become annoyed and frustrated with the chaos around him. Sources of his frustration include the antics of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's teleportation device (in episode 219), the presence of Mickey Moose (in episode 220) and a robot version of himself (in episode 104), and the various pranks pulled by Fozzie in episode 115. Kermit expressed annoyance at the acts proposed by Gonzo for the show and Crazy Harry's many explosions, and was discomfited by Scooter's frequent reminders that his uncle owned the theater.

Kermit has had major parts in many episodes of the show, and many episodes revolved around Kermit. In episode 112, Kermit became jealous of Peter Ustinov when Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Hilda, and Scooter all talked about how great Peter is, especially since Fozzie and Scooter were saying things about Peter that they had previously said about Kermit. In episode 310, Miss Piggy attempted to wed Kermit by writing a sketch in which they got married, and then tricked Kermit into signing a marriage license; she even booked a real clergyman to play the part of the minister. In Rogers episode 410, Kermit hurt his flipper after falling off a trapeze, getting hit by a faulty light fixture, and later catapulting into Statler and Waldorf's box (this episode put Piggy in the "over-protective mother" position). In episode 523, Miss Piggy was jealous because Kermit had a crush on guest star Linda Ronstadt and decided to lock Kermit inside a trunk. Kermit's birthday was celebrated in episode 406, although at the end of the episode, it was revealed that it was actually a few months before his real birthday.

The Jim Henson Hour

Kermit was in charge of MuppeTelevision, the TV station run by the Muppets in The Jim Henson Hour. One Kermit-centric episode was "Monster Telethon," in which the other Muppets convinced Kermit to let them help run the show. However, after allowing them to do so, Kermit decided to take a vacation, leaving the others in a panic over what to do.

Other dilemmas that Kermit dealt with included going inside Digit's brain in order to fix him, keeping the ratings up, and dealing with mutated garbage.

Kermit also sang some songs on this show, including "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "Sweet Vacation". In episode 109, he told a story about how the nightingale got its voice.

In "Secret of the Muppets," Kermit introduced the Muppet Performers of his fellow Muppets to the viewers and even stated that Jim Henson was the one who performed him.

Changing Performers

Steve Whitmire assumed the role of Kermit the Frog after Jim Henson passed away. Whitmire's first performance as Kermit was in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. Kermit appeared at the end of that special. For the next few years, Kermit's function in Muppet productions became reminiscent of his earlier roles in the from Muppetland and other specials, functioning as either narrator or in supporting roles, observing or commenting on the action but rarely as the central focus or starting point of the plot. Examples include his literary parts in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and the direct-to-video Muppet Classic Theater. On Muppets Tonight, though Kermit still introduced the guests, he usually played a more detached role, as producer.

As performed by Whitmire, Kermit also hosted the Muppet Sing-Along videos and starred in his own album, Kermit Unpigged. After supporting roles on Muppets Tonight and the 1st 3 Muppet movies made after Jim Henson's death, Kermit became the central character in Kermit's Swamp Years and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.

Jane Henson reflected on the recasting, in a 1990 interview: "Steve Whitmire as Kermit: "When Jim was alive, he said if anything happened to him, Kermit must go on right away. Because of Kermit's significant place, Jim had essentially chosen who he thought could do it. But we don't want to say who it is before the show. The performer needs time. Kermit won't come back so strong at first. Then little by little, he will get his whole personality back." [7] Before Steve took over Kermit, he did some assistant puppetry by using a remote control device to operate Kermit's hand during The Rainbow Connection number from The Muppet Movie.

John Kennedy performed Kermit for a demonstration at Muppetfest in 2001 (opposite Whitmire's "young Kermit") and in 2006 for Muppets Ahoy! In 2009, Kermit was performed by Artie Esposito during an appearance on America's Got Talent, the MTV Video Music Awards and the second day of the D23 Expo singing "The Rainbow Connection" (Kermit was mute in other footage taped for the event, and absent from subsequent days. It was explained to the audience that this was because he was in New York at the VMAs).

Muppets Tonight

On Muppets Tonight, Kermit was the producer, and gave hosting duties to Clifford. However, Kermit was still a major character on the series, and even announced who the guest star was in the show's opening (just like he did on The Muppet Show). Kermit appeared in many parody sketches such as NYPD Green, City Schtickers, Flippers, and The Muppet Odd-Squad, as well as in the Psychiatrist's Office sketch.

Kermit also sang "Firefly" with Tony Bennett and attempted to sing "I Remember It Well" with Cindy Crawford. On his own, he sang "Once in a Lifetime", "Strolling Through the Park One Day" to Heather Locklear, and "Dancing in the Dark", the latter a flashback to Kermit's short-lived mid-life crisis.

In one episode, Kermit was part of a contest, "Win a Date with Kermit." The winner turned out to be Gilbert Gottfried, who was a big fan of Kermit. In another episode, the station got a new owner, Ernst Stavros Grouper, and after being annoyed with Grouper's demands, his insistence that Kermit become Virgil the Monkey, and his treatment of the Muppets, Kermit quit. After Mr. Grouper apologized, Kermit agreed to come back.

Movies

For the 1st 3 Muppet motion pictures, Kermit was very much the protagonist. His role as a leader, first established on The Muppet Show, was perpetuated in the movies as well.

The Muppet Movie, presented to the viewer as a movie made by the Muppets to explain how they met, revolved around Kermit's journey to Hollywood and the new friends he encountered along the way, friends who shared his dream to make it big in show business. However, Kermit's motive for becoming famous was the chance to "make millions of people happy," rather than financial gain. When offered to appear as the spokesfrog for the Doc Hopper's French Fried Frog Legs restaurant chain, Kermit denied all of Doc Hopper's requests, regardless of the threat of death by the over-zealous Doc. Two of the most well-known moments from the movie involve Kermit. One is the opening sequence, in which he sings 1 of his best-known songs, "The Rainbow Connection", while playing his banjo in the swamp; the other, his bicycle ride shortly after.

In The Great Muppet Caper, Kermit was a reporter who traveled to England with Fozzie Bear and Gonzo to investigate a jewel thief robbery. In this movie, Kermit and Fozzie portrayed themselves as identical twin brothers.

In The Muppets Take Manhattan, Kermit wrote a musical called Manhattan Melodies, which he attempted to put on Broadway. He also worked part-time at Pete's Luncheonette, and wore a few disguises in his attempts to sell the show to Broadway producers. During their big Broadway premiere musical finale, Piggy tricked Kermit into marrying her.

Although he appeared as himself in Muppets from Space, Kermit also took on different identities in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and the TV movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, playing the roles of Bob Cratchit, Captain Abraham Smollett, and The Scarecrow, respectively. In all of these films, Kermit played a more secondary role, acting as part of the ensemble rather than the main character.

In 2002, Kermit was featured in the direct-to-video release Kermit's Swamp Years, which offered a glimpse into Kermit's life in the swamp as a young frog.

Also in 2002, Kermit was one of the main characters in the full-length TV movie It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Loosely based on the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, Kermit learns what the world would be like if he was never born.

Kermit will be a main character in The Muppets, a new Muppet movie scheduled for release in US theaters November 23rd, 2011. Disney's official description of his role in the film is as follows; "In Disney's The Muppets, Kermit the Frog lives a quiet, solitary life. It's been a few years since the Muppets last performed together and Kermit doesn't realize how much he misses his friends until he's tracked down by Walter, Gary and Mary from Smalltown, USA, and convinced to reunite with the rest of the Muppets to save Muppet Studios.

Returning to the role he made famous in 6 previous Muppet movies, "The Muppet Show" and countless TV specials and internet videos, is Kermit the Frog. "I've played other parts, like Bob Cratchit in The Muppet Christmas Carol and Captain Abraham Smollett in Muppet Treasure Island, says Kermit, "but I think me is my favorite part."

The role is a bit of a departure for the frog known for his unifying spirit and award-winning songs like "The Rainbow Connection." "The movie is filled with comedy, music and adventure—like all the Muppet movies," says Kermit. "But I play quite a dramatic role. You see a side of me that maybe you haven't see before—and I'm not just taking about new camera angles. Acting wise, I really stretch to play me. One of my favorite moments is singing a brand new original song called 'Pictures in my Head.' I walk through the halls of a big mansion looking at portraits of my Muppet friends and missing those guys. It was very emotional…and I think it will disprove critics who've said 'the frog can't emote.'"

Kermit, who's always the glue that holds the Muppets together, has a big job in this movie, going head to head with Tex Richman—a guy who's lost his laugh—to save the studio.

Casting History

Main Performers

Alternate Performers

Awards and Honors

Trivia

  • The first Kermit puppet was made by Jim Henson's mother's coat and a ping pong ball cut in half.

Sources

  1. "Is This Any Way for Grownups to Make a Living? Yes, for Muppet Masters Jim & Jane Henson", Nellie Blagden, People. November 7, 1977.
  2. Jim Henson: The Works, Christopher Finch, 1993, Random House, p. 19.
  3. Henson agreed with the interviewer's statement that Kermit was first a frog in The Frog Prince in a 1982 interview conducted by Judy Harris for a feature in Cinefantastique. Jim claimed this on UK TV Show 'Wogan' on 06/12/85. Henson and Kermit also made this claim in a 1990 appearance on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee .
  4. Jim Henson: The Works, Christopher Finch, 1993, Random House, p. 49. "The Frog Prince, which for the first time featured Kermit as a frog, was very much in the same idiom as Hey Cinderella!"
  5. Video on YouTube.com (Accessed February 17, 2010.)
  6. Jim Henson: The Works, Christopher Finch, 1993, Random House, p. 244.
  7. TV Guide, Nov. 17-23, 1990.

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