Happy 60th birthday, Steve Whitmire! And welcome, everyone, to the final installment of 60 for 60. Every month for a year I’ve been celebrating Steve and this milestone by posting five examples of his work per month (mostly in the form of videos, but not exclusively) and making commentary about it. At this point, I’d like to take a look back of the year and choose the best from each month for a “Best of the Best” feature.
(As always, “best” in this case is subjective.)
September 2018: Best-Known Characters
This one is more special than I realized. I’d forgotten until recently that Shawn Colvin is originally from South Dakota. Hey Steve, who knew you knew so many South Dakotans, eh? Cheryl Ladd, Shawn Colvin, and me. Congratulations, you’re probably within six degrees of separation of everyone in the state now!
October 2018: Rizzo the Rat
This was a mildly tough choice, but I picked this one because it seems like kind of a forerunner to what Steve is doing now with Weldon. Kind of.
November 2018: Wembley Fraggle
This one was REALLY hard! I love pretty much everything that Wembley has ever done. I particularly like the sadder, more poignant songs, but they don’t seem altogether appropriate for a birthday celebration. So I picked this one because I feel it strikes a good balance between poignant and upbeat. Also, it’s the first Wembley solo according to broadcast order, so that’s significant.
December 2018: Christmas Productions
At first, this was also a difficult choice, but then I realized, it HAS to be “One More Sleep”; it contains THREE of Steve’s characters!
January 2019: Sprocket
I was so tempted to choose the “Donuts” one because it’s one of Sprocket’s funniest bits, but this one holds so many happy memories, I could hardly choose anything else.
February 2019: Bean Bunny & Lips
This one I feel a little guilty about because this month featured two characters. I was watching the Lips clips (haha, that rhymed), paying special attention to his mouth while he’s playing his trumpet, and I see now what Steve was talking about when he told me that it’s hard to make Lips look good while he’s playing. Then I watched this clip from the Jim Henson Hour again in which Link Hogthrob plays the trumpet, and it’s kind of hard to tell because his snout is in the way, but I rather think that Jim Henson (assuming he was puppeteering Link; it is a crowd scene at the end, after all) just put the mouthpiece inside Link’s mouth.
Steve could probably have gotten away with that too while playing Lips, and 95% of the audience probably would never have noticed. I don’t know if I would have noticed, but if I had, it would have bothered me. I appreciate Steve’s attention to detail and commitment to verisimilitude.
March 2019: Kermit the Frog
I’m not saying this is the funniest that Kermit has ever been. I’m just saying that he’s never been funnier.
April 2019: Beaker
This being a birthday celebration, I can hardly choose anything other than “Ode to Joy,” right?
May 2019: Homecoming and Farewell
I used to sing in a church choir that was once asked to sing at a priest’s funeral. I did not know the deceased or any of his family members. Nevertheless, after listening to the homily, it was really hard for me to stop crying and keep singing.
In other words, I know firsthand how difficult it is to sing at a funeral or a memorial service. I cannot imagine singing at the memorial of someone that I knew and loved. Therefore, I give Steve and the other Muppet performers an enormous amount of credit for being able to do this.
June 2019: Ernie
This was another hard choice, but I’ve decided that we could probably all do with more Muppets interacting with little kids in an unscripted fashion in our lives.
July 2019: Interviews
I could have been self-indulgent again and picked something related to OCon, but this one covers so much in so little time, plus it was our unofficial introduction to Weldon.
August 2019: Live Muppet Appearances
Okay, NOW I’m just being self-indulgent.
One thing that I realized early on in this project was that a year is not enough. For everything I gathered and all the obscure clips I was able to uncover, there’s so much more that I couldn’t include. I didn’t include The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, and I actually only featured a couple of the Muppet movies. I didn’t say anything about Marlon Fraggle or Flange Doozer. I didn’t include one-off characters like Meepzorp or Jack Rabbit. I only included two clips from Muppet Family Christmas, I barely touched upon The Jim Henson Hour, and I didn’t talk about Muppets Tonight at all. From the time that I started until after I finished, there was no content with Weldon available to me, so he didn’t get to be part of this either, which is unfortunate. I also kind of wanted to include other content, like from Instagram or Steve’s archived blog posts, but ultimately decided against it.
At the same time, I am proud of what I accomplished. I don’t always follow through on big ideas like this, so it’s significant to me that I managed to not only finish it but to post each entry at the appointed time (although I had a couple of close calls where I thought I was going to have to give a virtual rain check of sorts). Which just goes to show that trying to do something nice for someone else can be more effective motivation than trying to do something for yourself.
Furthermore, I’ve discovered that one substantial post a month as part of an ongoing series is a schedule that works well for me. I think I’m going to restructure my posting strategy around that model from now on.
Here’s the entire playlist of the YouTube videos that I posted during this project, plus a few extras that I ultimately ended up not using. I don’t know the exact runtime, but it’s several hours:
Once again, Steve, I wish you the happiest of happy birthdays. I’m pleased to be able to congratulate you not only on the milestone but on all that you’ve accomplished this year, including the launch of your new website and the debut of Weldon. From where I’m sitting, it seems like you had a pretty good year, and I’m honored to have been a tiny part of it. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the art of puppetry, for the Muppets, for Jim Henson’s legacy, for me and for all of your loyal fans.
And thank you, fellow fans, for reading, liking, and/or commenting. I’m humbled by the kind appreciation you’ve shown me. If all goes well, I’ll be announcing a new ongoing article series in the near future. It won’t be a continuation of 60 for 60 or focus specifically on Steve. I’ve been trying to decide whether to review the Muppet movies or the 2015 series, but I think that instead of choosing one over the other I’m going to review both concurrently. More details to come in the near future.