Jim Henson and Frank Oz did much more than create some colorful talking puppets. They created a whole segment of popular culture directed at children and their parents. We can all see a bit of ourselves in beloved characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Bert and Ernie. Through Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and a number of movies the muppets have spread joy and humor to generations of kids while encouraging them to be better people. The Muppets are iconic and have been imitated through works like the Broadway musical Avenue Q as well as the forthcoming R rated comedy The Happy Time Murders.
10. Street Of Dreams
Sesame Street is much more than a place for millions of kids who grew up watching the program on television; it holds a special place in their fertile imaginations. Sesame Street is a children’s educational program created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett that debuted in 1969. The show was a hit was kids, parents and critics from the beginning and ran continuously on the tax payer supported channel, PBS, until 2015. HBO started airing the iconic show instead of PBS in January 2016. Sesame Street is a combination of live action, animation and of course Jim Henson’s colorful puppets known as the Muppets. People who watched the show will remember the simple lessons about letters, numbers and words because they were entertaining, but the muppets were always the stars. These endearing puppets were used very effectively to teach kids without being boring or preachy. Roommates Bert and Ernie provided lessons in sharing and friendship and Count von Count encouraged kids to sharpen their basic math skills. Researchers have studied the negative effects of television on kids for decades, but most agree that Sesame Street has had a positive influence on kids.
9. Vaguely Familiar
Gonzo is the name of the strange looking blue Muppet with the long, crooked nose. His expression seems to be a permanent mix of melancholy and befuddlement. Dictionaries define a sad sack as an inept or blundering person and this seems to perfectly describe the long suffering Gonzo. He is the lovable loser who ironically is sometimes known as Gonzo the Great because he likes to freelance as a daredevil. Over the years Gonzo has been shot out of cannons and performed a host of other dangerous stunts with mixed results. Gonzo is also known as quite the musical performer with his heartfelt rendition of songs like I’m Going Back There Someday. Even after appearing on the hit television program The Muppet Show for several years as well as a number of movies fans are still left to wonder – what is Gonzo? While he has been described as a Frackle on at least one occasion there has never been a definitive statement regarding his origins. Gonzo is like the sad clown who longs to be adored by the crowds and he is adored because he makes us laugh – not at him, but with him.
8. The Good Ship Swinetrek
Pigs in Space was the name of one of the regular recurring skits on the Muppet Show. The little skits were a funny and clever send up of science fiction classics like Star Trek as well as the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. These spacefaring pigs roamed the galaxy in the USS Swinetrek looking for adventure and usually finding trouble. Miss Piggy serves as first mate to Captain Link Hogthrob and the crew also includes a Dr. Strangepork. First Mate Piggy’s abilities were under appreciated by the male members of the crew even though she would often save their bacon. Most of the episodes found the crew dealing with some ridiculous problem that could be wrapped up in a few moments time. One of the most memorable episodes came in season four with a skit called “Dearth Nadir” In this parody of Star Wars Gonzo appeared in a black helmet and cape as the infamous Sith, Darth Vader. Gonzo’s imitation included the loud, ominous breathing and a gaggle of chickens as his stormtroopers. The Muppet Show aired 32 Pigs in Space skits were great, but they were endearing and continue to be among the most popular of the show.
7. R-Rated Puppets
The Muppets have had a lasting effect on popular culture and for evidence of this fact check out the Broadway hit called Avenue Q. The musical was written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and opened on Broadway in July 2003. The popular production went on to win a pair of Tony Awards including an award for Best Musical. The productions uses puppets and unconcealed puppeteers to tell a somewhat sobering story of coming to terms with adulthood. The production questions entertainment like Sesame Street for giving kids a false sense of themselves because they are encouraged to think of themselves as special. People will inevitably encounter difficulties as the enter adulthood such as broken relationships and drinking problems. Avenue Q contends that these issues are made worse by the unrealistic expectations programming like Sesame Street supposedly encouraged. While some of their criticism may be valid the musical’s can come off as a bit too cynical. After all, the musical’s message could be interpreted as don’t let kids have instill kids with too much positivity and joy because its just going to get ground out of them over time. Regardless of how viewers respond to its messages, Avenue Q owes a debt to the lasting legacy of the Muppets.
6. The Peanut Gallery
This pair are the original grumpy old men. Statler and Waldorf were created by Jim Henson and first appeared in a pilot episode of The Muppet Show in 1975. Their names are taken from two famous New York City hotels the Statler Hilton and the Waldorf -Astoria. The pair immediately became a hit with viewers for using their sharp wit to heckle the Muppet performers from their seats perched up in the balcony. They seemed to particularly relish heckling the hapless, but lovable comic Fozzy the Bear whenever he’d work up the courage to appear on stage. Fozzy turned the tables on the grumpy old men during one of his standup performances and heckled them. One of the running jokes on the Muppet Show involved the duo remarking that they keep showing up to watch even though they were inevitably disappointed by the performances. In addition to appearing regularly on the Muppet Show Statler and Waldorf had small roles in several of the Muppet movies and the 1996 show Muppets Tonight. The pair also starred in an award winning web show called From the Balcony in 2005-2006 where they would discuss upcoming movies.
5. The Odd Muppets
Jim Henson came up with the idea for Sesame Street’s most beloved roomies, Bert and Ernie. Henson performed Ernie and Ernie was performed by his creative partner, Frank Oz. Like the sit-com roommates Felix and Oscar from the classic show The Odd Couple, Bert and Ernie showed that two very different people or Muppets, can live together and be friends. Ernie is always coming up with a whacky idea and Bert is often exasperated with his friend, but in the end they make things work. Many of their skits revolve around sharing food such as licorice and Ernie usually tries to put one over on his friend, but kids watching the pair would get the message that sharing with each other is what friends do even if they’d rather keep all the licorice for themselves. Bert and Ernie are two of the few Sesame Street characters to appear on The Muppet Show. Unlike Kermit the Frog who was a regular on both, Bert and Ernie made occasional cameo appearances. Some people have argued that Bert and Ernie are meant to be an example of a gay relationship. Sesame Street’s production company has adamantly denied this and supporters of the show have pointed to Ernie’s interactions with female Muppets and women.
4. It’s The Muppet Show!
Between 1976 and 1981 children and their parents tuned in to watch the half hour comedy variety program called The Muppet Show. Although the show was eventually a hit Jim Henson and his creative team initially had trouble convincing an American network to air it. After disappointing pilot episodes in 1974 and 1975 Henson was offered a chance to do the show in The United Kingdom. The show was shot at Elstree Studios outside London and aired in Syndication in The United States. 120 episodes of The Muppet Show aired over five seasons. The show was designed to appeal to both children an adults with a mix of puppets, comedy sketches, musical numbers and human guest stars. An impressive collection of A-list entertainers appeared on the show including Roger Moore, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, Mark Hamill and Diana Ross. Although Kermit the Frog was not one of the main performers, he was the real star of the show as he was an charge of the theater tried to make sure the show went on despite problems constantly cropping up. The beloved show was nominated for twenty-one Primetime Emmy Awards and won four.
3. Kermit The Frog Here!
Kermit the Frog is Jim Henson’s most famous Muppet and has been recognized around the world by adults and children alike. Henson created Kermit in 1955 and performed the character himself until he died in 1990. Kermit was one of Sesame Street’s original characters and one of its most popular. He appeared in several capacities on the program, but he is probably most associated with his appearances as a hard working reporter who tried to interview storybook characters for Sesame Street News. In addition to Sesame Street Kermit starred on The Muppet Show as well as in a number of movies, specials and public service announcements. The frog also demonstrated in musical talents with his 1970 recording of “Bein’ Green.” He followed this performance up in 1979 with a recording of “Rainbow Connection” which reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Because of his continued popularity it was inevitable that his likeness would be used extensively on the Internet. Numerous unauthorized videos and memes featuring Kermit have appeared over the years that contradict his child friendly image. Regardless of these abuses, Kermit the Frog will continue to be a favorite of children around the world.
2. The Muppets Take Hollywood
The Muppet Movie was released in 1979 and was the first in a series of successful movies featuring the famous puppet characters. The movie is squarely in the tradition of classic road pictures as Kermit the Frog is determined to leave his little swamp and travel across the country to Hollywood, California. He’s convinced by a talent agent played by Dom DeLuise to pursue a musical career after he hears the frog singing “The Rainbow Connection.” Kermit soon picks up baggage along the way such as the hapless and lovable comic Fozzy the Bear. Kermit and his friends are pursued by an aggressive restaurateur who is determined to have Kermit be the face of his frog legs business. The movie is known for the many cameos and guest stars including Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Cloris Leachman, Richard Pryor and Madeline Kahn. Before production on the movie began screen tests were done outside London to see how the puppets would look on film in real-world settings. Fans responded very well to The Muppet Movie and it was nominated for Academy Awards for the musical score and the song “The Rainbow Connection.” In 2009 the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
1. Puppet Master
James Maury Henson was born in 1936 in Greenville, Mississippi. Henson was a man of many talents who worked as a cartoonist, screenwriter and inventor, but he will always be known as the creator of the Muppets. His interest in puppets started in high school and he found work at a local television station where he helped created a children’s show called The Junior Morning Show. While attending college he created a short sketch comedy show with puppets called Sam and Friends. Henson began Muppets, Inc. in 1958 which was later changed to The Jim Henson Company. In 1963 Henson hired a puppet performer named Frank Oz who would become a long time collaborator and colleague. Frank Oz is best known as the performer and voice of Yoda from the Star Wars movies. His rise to fame started in 1969 when he joined a new television series called Sesame Street and helped develop the puppet characters. He continued his association with Sesame Street for 20 years but he went on to create The Muppet Show, and several movies and specials starring his beloved Muppet characters. In 1989 Henson decided to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company so he could focus his energy on the creative process instead of being concerned with business matters. Jim Henson’s unexpected death came came on May 16, 1990 after he succumbed to toxic shock syndrome. Henson will be remembered as a creative genius who brought joy to millions of adults and children around the world.