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Rowlf the Dog is one of Jim Henson's oldest muppets. He's been on TV many times. After the death of Jim Henson, Rowlf became a non speaking Muppet until 1996 when Brian Henson asked Bill Barretta to take over the role.
Rise to Fame
Rowlf rose to stardom as Jimmy Dean's sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show. The show ran from 1963 until 1966. Rowlf the Dog was a regular on the show, and was billed as Jimmy's "ol' buddy". Between 7 and 10 minutes of every show were devoted to a spot with Rowlf and Dean. Many of the comedy sketches ended with the two singing a duet together. Rowlf's tenure on The Jimmy Dean Show allowed Jim Henson to develop the character over a period of time.
Rowlf appeared in the 1965 Wilson's Meats Meeting Film, as an example of the Muppets' exposure ("I'm the Muppets' big lovable shaggy dog Rowlf, from ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show!"). He did a similar thing by "stopping by to say 'Howdy'" in the 1966 La Choy Chow Mein Presentation Reel.
He also appeared in the Sesame Street pitch reel, explaining the concept and production process to a wary Kermit, as both characters were the most familiar Muppets at the time. He also appeared in season 1 of Sesame Street, making a cameo appearance in the "Song of Nine".
The Muppet Show
When The Muppet Show debuted, Rowlf was a part of the cast. Rowlf was assigned the role of resident pianist (abandoning his ukulele skills from The Jimmy Dean Show). At the piano, Rowlf would often perform classical music, and sing solos or duets. Rowlf also performed in the pit orchestra and sometimes sat in with the Electric Mayhem. Despite Rowlf's established fame among American audiences, a majority of his musical numbers were not seen in the US, as the sketches and songs starring Rowlf dominated the list of UK Spots.
Apart from displaying his musical talents, Rowlf continued his comedic style from The Jimmy Dean Show with his customary puns and gags – most notably as Dr. Bob, "the quack who has gone to the dogs", in Veterinarian's Hospital, or with a female partner in the recurring the Dance segments. During season 1, Rowlf also appeared in 2 Poetry segments. Rowlf would occasionally take on other character roles in the on-stage productions - including Sherlock Holmes and a Western bar piano player. Whether in featured roles or non-speaking cameos, Rowlf appeared in 89 of the 120 episodes of The Muppet Show. Although he's one of the big stars of the show, Rowlf has never been spotlighted in a backstage plot.
Due to Rowlf's musical skill, it is sometimes incorrectly assumed that he was a part-time member of The Electric Mayhem Band. Although Rowlf played in the orchestra and back-up on several numbers with musicians in the Mayhem band, Rowlf only accompanied the Electric Mayhem 3 times: in episode 424, in episode 513 and at Fozziwig's Christmas party in The Muppet Christmas Carol. In fact, when the Electric Mayhem walked out over the apparent lameness of The Muppet Show theme song in episode 123, Rowlf was the only musician left. As a result, Rowlf had to play the closing theme single handedly.
In 1985, Rowlf hosted 2 hour-long video compilations of The Muppet Show. In Rowlf's Rhapsodies with the Muppets, Rowlf sat at his piano and presented a compilation of his best numbers and other songs from The Muppet Show. In Country Music with the Muppets, Rowlf rented a barn and hosted his own country music program while showing clips from the show.
The Muppet Movie
Rowlf was prominently featured in The Muppet Movie as a piano player at The Terrace Restaurant, where he first meets Kermit. Rowlf share his motto in life, a motto even he can't follow - "stay away from women", when Kermit is feeling down. They sing "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along". An original draft of the script describes the song as "a sad/funny little duet based on the old 'can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em' theme, designed to allow for some good harmony howling from Rowlf".
The song featured a rare pairing of characters, as Jim Henson virtually performed a duet with himself. In order to achieve the effect, the vocals of the two characters were recorded separately by Henson and then combined. So since Rowlf and Kermit are now played by 2 different performers (Bill Barretta and Steve Whitmire respectively), they were able to perform a duet again at the 2011 D23 Expo in honor of Henson's naming as a Disney Legend.
Rowlf soon joined Kermit and the rest of the gang on their way to Hollywood. Before joining the Muppets, Rowlf's life was simple - he lived alone, would "go to work, come home, read a book, have a couple of beers, take [himself] for a walk and go to bed." While in the desert, Rowlf played harmonica as Gonzo sang "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" (while Fozzie played ukulele). Rowlf served as the film's cameraman in the finale, as the Muppets prepare to shoot their movie.
The Great Muppet Caper
In The Great Muppet Caper, Rowlf was a resident of the Happiness Hotel. He played piano during the song "Happiness Hotel" and commented on the chambermaids, bugs, and lice. He joined the Muppets on their quest to thwart Nicky's plot to steal the Baseball Diamond (accounting for the whoopie cushion, which he thinks is on the bus). Rowlf saves the day with his bilingual ability to speak dog as well as English. He is able to reason with Henderson's attacking guard dogs at the Mallory Gallery (a skill he would use again in A Muppet Family Christmas to communicate with Sprocket).
The Muppets Take Manhattan
In The Muppets Take Manhattan, Rowlf was a supporting player, co-starring in Melodies. As the gang disbands, Rowlf leaves New York on a bus headed to Delaware. Rowlf displays cinematic range as the conflicted manager of a dog kennel, looking after Mr. Skeffington's dog Snookums and other canine tenants. When Rowlf gets the news that the show is on, he excitedly returns to the Big Apple, bringing along a host of Muppet dogs from the kennel.
A baby version of Rowlf appeared in Miss Piggy's fantasy, I'm Gonna Always Love You. The young pup played piano, sang along, and abstractedly hammered away at a Big Bird doll. Baby Rowlf was also part of the regular cast of babies in the animated series Muppet Babies. Baby Rowlf's role was of course that of the nursery's resident musician, often leading the others into on-the-spot songbreaks, with his ever-present baby piano. His voice in the animated program was performed by Katie Leigh.
TV specials and appearances
Rowlf subsequently appeared in the special Rocky Mountain Holiday. John Denver takes Rowlf on a wild plane ride, performing one stunt after another, in order to cure Rowlf's hiccups. In another scene, Rowlf relaxed on an inner tube in the river, until Gonzo popped the inner tube (and tried to break a world record, "Longest time underwater with a dog sitting on you").
In A Muppet Family Christmas, Rowlf chased the truck all the way to Emily Bear's house. Once there, Rowlf made himself at home, communicating with Sprocket, playing "Sleigh Ride" on Emily's out-of-tune piano, and joining in the festivities.
Rowlf hosted his own play-along video, Sing-Along, Dance-Along, Do-Along, in which he taught viewers how to do a variety of musical activities.
Rowlf also appeared in The Muppets at Walt Disney World. In the special, Rowlf was captured by the Walt Disney World pet care center manager, as Rowlf had no owner or tags. While detained, he performed "I'm Doggin' It", "live from the detention hall of the Walt Disney World Pet Care Center" with the other dogs.
Rowlf was a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show. When Rowlf came out, he immediately pointed to Arsenio and remarked, "Son of a bitch!" After the audience's hysterics died down, Rowlf added, "Coming from a dog, that's a compliment."
An all-Rowlf album, titled Ol' Brown Ears is Back, was released by BMG Records in 1993. The album featured several songs from The Muppet Show, as performed by Rowlf at the piano with an orchestral accompaniment. Though it wasn't released until after his death, Henson recorded the vocals in 1984.
Transition after Henson (1990 - 2010)
After the death of Jim Henson, Rowlf continued to appear in Muppet productions, silently (and usually briefly). A rumor arose that the character would be permanently silent as a sign of respect for Jim Henson. As Brian Henson commented on in the audio commentary for The Muppet Christmas Carol, Rowlf continued to appear as a tribute to the character and Henson's legacy. Still, Rowlf was not immediately recast and kept in the forefront like Kermit, because at the time, the Muppeteers didn't feel there was a suitable and appropriate performer for the task.
Bill Barretta took on the character and gradually transitioned into the role. Although Rowlf only appeared in 1 episode of Muppets Tonight, he uttered his first word since Henson's passing in episode 102; while playing piano during the closing number, Rowlf exclaims "Oh yeah!" He also appeared in Muppets from Space as a resident of the Muppet Boarding House and, at one point, muttered an audible "Oogh!".
Rowlf had several lines of dialogue, a 1st since Henson's passing, in Muppet Show Live in 2001 and also spoke 2 lines of dialogue ("Hey, Kermit!" and "Yeah! Heh, heh. Oh!") in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie in 2002. Rowlf appeared in the "Keep Fishin" music video for rock band Weezer. Although he's only briefly seen (one can hear him muttering "Good job, River" and "Yeah"), Rowlf had a more prominent role in the behind the scenes making-of special that accompanied it, Weezer and the Muppets Go Fishin'.
In 2005, Rowlf had a 190-word monologue in the second episode of Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. Additionally, Bill Barretta recorded the vocals as Rowlf singing "The Christmas Party Sing-Along" for the 2006 album A Green and Red Christmas album.
For The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, in the extended interview with Quentin Tarantino, Tarantino commented on how he was disappointed that Rowlf didn't appear much in the movie. Pepe explained this by saying Rowlf was in a car accident and broke his tail, and preferred to not do too many scenes.
Rowlf was prominently featured in a pair of online videos in 2008, "Rolling with the Skateboarding Dog" (where Rizzo comments on his age), and "Skateboarding Dog Gets Served" (where Rowlf tries to show up Tyson, a skateboarding bulldog).
Rowlf has a speaking cameo in the "Game Day" episode of The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora. Referencing his absence in recent years, he comments "It's a small part, but times are ruff."
Rowlf has also been spotted with the main cast of the Muppets on the set of The Muppets, again played by Bill Barretta. The dog has also been seen sporting a purple Newsboy cap in the fourth official trailer for the movie. He was also notably featured in the OK Go music video for "The Muppet Show Theme Song".
The Muppets (2011)
Rowlf appeared as one of the main characters in The Muppets, again performed by Barretta. He rejoins the Muppets to help put on the telethon to save the theater. At one point he laments being excluded from the montage gathering the Muppets; a clip is then shown of Kermit, Walter, Gary, and Mary asking Rowlf, who is laying in a hammock, if he wants to join the reunion, to which he replies "Okay."
Rowlf returns to his role as pianist for the Muppet theater - playing for both "The Muppet Show Theme" and the musical finale of "Life's a Happy Song". Rowlf also performs in the telethon as a part of the Muppets Barbershop Quartet - along with Link, Sam and Beaker - singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" while shaving Jack Black.
A sinister doppelgänger of Rowlf, named Roowlf, appears in the film as a member of The Moopets.
Rowlf starred in the Muppets' promotional tie-in commercial for Alamo Rent a Car, and Yamaha Entertainment's Muppets sweepstake. Rowlf was also featured in a series of promotional posters spoofing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn as WereRowlf. He also appeared in the OK Go music video for "The Muppet Show Theme Song".
According to an interview with Yamaha All Access, Rowlf considers Jason Segel "a fine piano player. During the movie, we jammed together between takes. Boogie-woogie! Jason plays a mean boogie, and my woogie is still wagging, even if I say so myself.".
- Purina Dog Chow commercials - Rowlf and Baskerville the Hound
- The Jimmy Dean Show - Rowlf was Jimmy Dean's sidekick
- The Julie Andrews Hour - guest
- The Muppet Valentine Show - cameo at the end
- The Muppet Show - Rowlf played the piano and appeared as Dr. Bob in the Veterinarian's Hospital sketches
- The Muppet Movie - we discover how Kermit met Rowlf
- The Muppets Take Manhattan - Rowlf gets a job in a dog kennel
- A Muppet Family Christmas - Rowlf meets Sprocket
- The Jim Henson Hour - four episodes only
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World
- The Muppet Christmas Carol - cameo
- Muppet Treasure Island - cameo
- Muppets Tonight - Garth Brooks episode only
- Muppets from Space
- It's a Very, Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
- A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa