Sixty for 60: Interviews

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday in a couple months. The theme for this month is interviews of Steve (not his characters), and it is unique in that not all five examples are available in video form. As a matter of fact, most of them are not.

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(Technically not a picture of an interview, but one I happen to like.)

I planned out the themes for each installment of 60 for 60 ten months ago. At that time, of course, I had no idea that I would actually have met Steve by this time. A lot has changed since I planned out this project, and the plan for this month has changed more than any other in the interim as I re-evaluate interviews that I was going to use and new interviews emerge. But what hasn’t changed is my wish to celebrate Steve himself rather than just his characters, although they’re important too.

I’m not a Muppet performer, and I’m not really a puppeteer despite a brief amateur stint. So I can’t say that I really know what it’s like, but I imagine that it must be an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the anonymity that it affords you could be very valuable, but on the other hand, I can imagine that it would sometimes get frustrating to be part of something that is so popular and well known but only rarely get credit or recognition for it.

This month is all about that recognition.

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Men in a Tub Interview Steve Whitmire

But first the bad news: I’m having some sort of issue with my left wrist, so trying to lay off typing for a while, which means a delay in the rest of my OCon saga. 

And now the good news: Whatever was going on with my wrist last week seems to have resolved, so I can now talk a little bit about this interview, although I don’t have that much to say about it.

I really appreciate that this interviewer purposely tries to delve into the more obscure stuff. I mean, I knew that Dreamchild exists, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about it before. 

However, I don’t like the fact that, when searching for stock Kermit images, they decided on a screen grab from the first Vogel!Kermit video. I imagine that it wasn’t intentional, but now it seems like Simula-Kerm is looking over Steve’s shoulder and mocking him. I wonder if Steve noticed what graphic they were using at the time. 

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to scour YouTube for more videos or other content from OCon. If anyone has any or knows of any, please let me know. Thanks. 

Meeting Steve Whitmire, Part 1: An Old Friend I’ve Just Met

Before you begin reading, I should warn you: This is an extensive, detailed, impressionistic, lengthy, and potentially incoherent account of my trip to Omaha Comic Con to meet Steve Whitmire. I’m writing it in such great detail not because I think it will be interesting to you (although I hope it will be!) but mostly to fix my own memories of it as firmly in my mind as possible.

If you want the tl;dr version, the entire experience can basically be summed up in five emojis:

😱🤩🤗😊😂

I knew that meeting Steve at OCon was going to be an emotional experience. I anticipated that, as a result, I was going to have difficulty controlling my tears, that all the feels were going to turn my brain into guacamole, and that I was going to have a hard time talking to him as a result.

I tried to prepare myself beforehand to counteract these effects. I made notes about what I wanted to say, and I tried to imagine what would happen when I met him. When it happened for real, I was successful in the former regard (controlling my tears) but had less success in the latter (communicating articulately). All things considered, I think I did pretty well, because there was NO WAY I could ever have predicted or prepared for what actually happened.

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Reasons Muppet Treasure Island Is Better Than Almost Any Other Muppet Movie

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Recently someone on Twitter, and I’m not naming names, referred to Muppet Treasure Island as “garbage.”

Now, if I insist on calling myself a Muppet heretic (and I do), I probably don’t have the right to complain when other people insult Muppet things that I love. But then again, when has not having the right ever stopped anyone from complaining?

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Sixty for 60: Beaker

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of Steve Whitmire and his work in anticipation of his 60th birthday later this year. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as Beaker, specifically in the viral videos that the Muppets made for YouTube.

“I get the impression that Beaker is a guy who goes home at night […] he’s a smart guy, he works in a lab, [yet] he probably doesn’t have much of a social life. He’s pretty introverted because he really can’t talk, so his only means of communication is the internet.” –Steve Whitmire

Despite the fact that Beaker is one of my favorite Muppets, I originally hadn’t included him in this project, for reasons that seemed to make sense at the time but that I can no longer remember. Then I watched the viral videos in which he features again and realized what a travesty it was to leave them out, because each of them is completely brilliant, and it’s some of the best and most Muppety content the Muppets have put out in the last 30 years. By all accounts, Steve had a lot of input into the creation of the viral videos, which means that he gets a lot of the credit for their quality and success.

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Sixty for 60: Kermit the Frog

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his upcoming 60th birthday. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as the most famous and beloved amphibian in the entire world: Kermit the Frog.

“The fact that Steve was there, and that he had the ability to do this [i.e., perform Kermit], was really quite an incredible stroke of luck.” –Dave Goelz

My feelings about Kermit have been raw lately, and it’s hard to know what to say about him. Instead of thinking of something original, let me fall back on my words from 2013:

“[Kermit] is everything I want to be: funny without being mean, smart without being overbearing, and although he sometimes loses his temper, he never says an unkind word. He’s been involved in show business for almost 60 years now, with his integrity still intact. He’s been everywhere and seen everything, and yet he’s never become cynical, never lost his faith in humanity, and always finds something positive to say about everyone. He’s a prince among frogs AND men.”
           — The Muppet Mindset’s “Great Muppet Survey,” published June 3, 2013

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Muppet Heresy: The Many Facets of Kermit

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If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*

However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry“[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”

In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Narrators

At long last, it is the twelfth day of Muppet Christmas, and not a moment too soon because my brain has more or less turned into guacamole. But before we wrap up, we must take a look at the narrators in Muppet Christmas Carol and Christmas Carol ’99.

Narrators

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Dominic West (in his role as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred) provides voice-over narration at the end of Christmas Carol ’99

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Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as himself provide narration throughout Muppet Christmas Carol (Gonzo and Rizzo are performed by Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, respectively)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Charity Collectors

We’re in the home stretch now! It’s day eleven of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, and we’re looking at the two gentlemen in each production who attempt to persuade Scrooge to donate to charity

 

Charity Collectors

 

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Edward Petherbridge as Foster and Jeremy Swift as Williams, the charity collectors in Christmas Carol ’99

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Beaker and Bunsen as the charity collectors in Muppet Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine and Kermit. (Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are performed by Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, respectively)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Mrs. Cratchit

It’s the tenth of 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, and I find myself running out of introductory comments to make. This is about the point where I started getting tired and uninspired when I did 12 Days last year as well. Maybe it would work out better for me if I limited myself to ten days of Muppet Christmas, even though there’s not a song about that. While I contemplate that possibility, let’s look at the role of Mrs. Cratchit, Bob’s wife and Tiny Tim’s mother.

Mrs. (Emily) Cratchit

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Saskia Reeves as Mrs. Cratchit (no first name given) in Christmas Carol ’99

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Miss Piggy (Frank Oz) as Emily Cratchit in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Belle

Well, it’s day 9 of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas. I’ve put it off as long as I can, but it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the character of Belle, Scrooge’s one-time fianceé whom he meets again as one of the shadows shown him by the Ghost of Christmas Past. 

Belle

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Laura Fraser as Belle in Christmas Carol ’99

Belle

Meredith Braun as Belle in Muppet Christmas Carol

In Muppet Christmas Carol, Belle sings a dull, depressing song. In Christmas Carol ’99, Belle does no singing at all, dull or otherwise.

Advantage: Christmas Carol ’99

Well, that was easy!

 

Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Nephew Fred

Depending on the interpretation, Scrooge’s nephew Fred can either be the most admirable character in the story or an even more despicable character than Scrooge. Find out how on this, the eighth day of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas.

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Dominic West as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in Christmas Carol ’99

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Steven Mackintosh as Nephew Fred in Muppet Christmas Carol

One small but significant difference right off the bat between Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart is that Christmas Carol ’99 includes Fred’s backstory: he’s the son of Scrooge’s deceased sister (called Fran in Christmas Carol ’99, although the original story has her name as “Fan”). In MCC, Fred is also Scrooge’s nephew, but no mention is made of his parents one way or the other. This is similar to the approach taken in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (the first “Christmas Carol” adaptation I ever saw and the one by which I judge all others, for better or worse), and perhaps that’s not surprising because nephewism is prominent in both franchises. (Which is fine, by the way; if our choices are nephewism and “cross-promoting,” I’ll take nephewism any day.)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Tiny Tim

Day seven of the 12 days of Muppet Christmas is Kid-Appeal Character Day with a look at the small but significant character of Tiny Tim as portrayed in Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart.

Tiny Tim

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Ben Tibber as Tiny Tim in Christmas Carol ’99

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Robin the Frog (Jerry Nelson) perched atop Kermit’s shoulder as Tiny Tim in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

The 12 Days of Muppet Christmas have reached the halfway point, which means it’s time to take a look at the Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come from Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart.

Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

 

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Composite of Tim Potter as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in Christmas Carol ’99

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Donald Austen (body) and Rob Tygner (puppetry) as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Ghost of Christmas Present

At the present time, it is day 5 of the 12 days of Muppet Christmas, and the time is ripe to consider the Ghost of Christmas Present as he appeared in The Muppet Christmas Carol as well as Christmas Carol ’99.

Ghost of Christmas Present

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Desmond Barrit as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Christmas Carol ’99

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Jerry Nelson (voice and puppetry) and Don Austen (body) as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Muppet Christmas Carol

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