Sixty for 60: Wembley Fraggle

Welcome back to 60 for 60, my year-long celebration of Steve Whitmire’s work and characters in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. This month we focus on Wembley, decisively the most lovable Fraggle in the Rock.

“Steve with that manic, fragile Wembley. So human, so utterly…you know, you just wanted to hug the guy and say, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry; it will be all right.'”–Eric Till, director on Fraggle Rock

When it comes to Fraggle Rock characters, I aspire to be Cantus, I identify most with Mokey, and I’m probably more of a Boober than I care to admit…but Wembley is the one I love most of all. As I put it to Steve in a comment on his first blog entry approximately a century ago (at least, that’s what it feels like), Wembley is “the funniest, sweetest, most excitable, naive, lovable little furry creature in all of Fraggle Rock, if not the entire Universe.”

I like Wembley because he makes me laugh, but I love Wembley because he makes me cry. Therefore, the five Wembley clips included below skew slightly to the more poignant side of the spectrum.

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Remiss

Bon soir, mes amis! I’ve been very busy working in advance of the upcoming holiday. When you write for a living, it’s kind of hard to keep up a blog in your free time.

I’ve been remiss in not sharing this interview I found recently of Steve from all the way back during the Niagara Falls Comic Con in June:

At three minutes long, it’s a tasty morsel. Enjoy!

Sixty for 60: Rizzo the Rat

In anticipation of Steve Whitmire’s 60th birthday next year, I’m celebrating his work and his characters one month at a time in this year-long series, 60 for 60. This month, the spotlight is on Steve’s first major Muppet character, Rizzo the Rat.

“I’m going to make that rat a star.”–Jim Henson

Who is Rizzo the Rat? According to TV Tropes, Rizzo is a Big Eater, a Lovable Coward, and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, all of which seems accurate and consistent to me.

Personally, Rizzo strikes me as a savvy, street-wise opportunist with a talent for self-preservation. However, he has standards, and even though he was born in the sewers, there are depths to which he will not sink. For example, he’s not above taking advantage of his friends, but he’ll never sell them out completely, and he’ll always be there for them in the clinch. 

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“Long Story Short, Too Late”: Steve Whitmire at Raleigh Supercon

When Steve appeared at the Florida Supercon, I received a Google alert regarding video of a Q&A that he did there. Since Raleigh Supercon is run by the same organization, I was expecting another Google alert regarding Steve’s appearance(s) that weekend.

Unfortunately, that Google alert never came, but over the weekend, as I was watching some of his other comic con appearances, YouTube noticed and helpfully suggested this video of a Q&A out of Raleigh as something I might like. I had been looking for something like this through most of the month of August, but apparently it hadn’t been uploaded until the middle of September. 

The same moderator from the Florida Supercon is back again, although he only interviews Steve for about 10 minutes before opening it up for questions, approximately half the time that he spent on the interview portion at Florida Supercon.

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Fraggle Friday: “Do It Anyway”

I watched this video originally when it first came out in 2012. At that time, I hadn’t seen any Fraggle Rock, except for that one episode that I happened to catch at a friend’s house approximately 25 years prior, and I wasn’t a particular fan of Ben Folds Five either. So when I read on the Muppet fan sites that the Fraggles and Ben Folds Five had made a music video, I was initially underwhelmed: “Oh, two entities with which I am vaguely familiar sang a song together. Neat.”

Then I watched the video and it completely blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to be so affected by it. Whether it was the music or the Fraggles or the combination of the two that touched my heart, I still don’t know.

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Torchbearers Redux

I have some more thoughts that I edited out of my post from yesterday on the grounds that it was still supposed to be a post for Matt’s birthday, and I felt some of what I wanted to say wasn’t necessarily very sensitive. Maybe it would have been okay, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts. 

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.

Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others. 

I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.

These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.

Luceat lux vestra

Muppet Heresy: In Defense of Muppets’ Wizard of Oz

 

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Kermit the Frog will be performing the title role in a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz which, as I’m sure we can all agree, seems really weird and random. Why that production? Why that role? Why just Kermit and not the whole Muppet troupe? It sounds to me like somebody in a decision-making role with the Muppets has a friend who called in a favor. But I digress.

Predictably, some of the reactions to the news involved some variation on the extremely witty comment, “I hope this production is better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, because that really sucked!”

I’ve never understood the hatred that people level against Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Admittedly, it’s not the best thing that the Muppets have ever done, but it’s not the worst thing either, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, especially if–like me–you’re primarily familiar with the story from the original novel rather than the 1939 film adaptation.

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Sixty for 60: The Best of Steve Whitmire

(I know that today is also Jim Henson’s birthday, and I have something special and separate planned for him on Saturday.)

I am sure you are already aware that today, September 24th, 2018, is Steve Whitmire’s 59th birthday. It sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to commemorate the occasion. I thought of showcasing some of his best work as some of his most prominent characters via YouTube video, etc. Then I thought, “Next year is his 60th birthday; maybe something like that would be more appropriate for the milestone?”

Then I realized, with Steve having worked with the Muppets for nearly 40 years, there’s a wealth of stellar material to showcase. Rather than try to confine it all to one day, why not spread it out over the course of a full year? 

Here’s my idea: from now until September 2019, I’ll showcase five examples (be they videos or whatever) of Steve’s best work on the 24th of each month. Each month will feature a specific character or unifying theme. Then the project will culminate next year on Steve’s 60th birthday with a compilation of 60 examples of his best work. 

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Walter and Robin

Based on his appearances in the “Muppet Thought of the Week” videos on YouTube, Walter has now become one of the funniest Muppets. Does that qualify as irony?

Prior to last summer, Walter was sometimes paired with Robin the Frog (as performed by Matt Vogel) in “Thoughts of the Week” and other short videos, a pairing that works pretty well, given that they’re both characters who are supposed to be a little younger. Check ’em out:

However, since Matt started performing Kermit, performing Robin as well would have been difficult, particularly during those live shows that everyone seemed to enjoy so much. Peter Linz now describes himself (on his Twitter profile and elsewhere) as the performer for Robin, so I guess that recast is now official.

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Happytime Hypocrisy

As you’re probably already aware, there’s a movie coming out today called The Happytime Murders, directed by Brian Henson. I haven’t talked about the movie here, and the reason is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the trailer, and I make it a point not to critique things that I haven’t seen. It’s a personal quirk of mine; I call it “integrity.”

There is a certain Muppet fan site, which I will not identify by name, that regards Happytime as Serious Business, and they are Very Concerned about the movie’s R-rated content, concerns that they expressed in an extremely sanctimonious commentary on the movie* that none of them have technically “seen,” raising questions about its worthiness of the Henson name and worrying about its effect on Jim Henson’s legacy.

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Snippets

It’s been a week since I found and posted any long-form video of Steve’s convention appearances, but rest assured that I am still looking and will update as I find them.

In the meantime, I’ve found some short videos that don’t seem to merit blog entries all their own, but make for a good post in combination. First is a minute-long snippet within a slightly longer video that loyal reader and commenter Andrew K alerted me to about the Steel City convention in…Pittsburgh, I’m assuming(?) in which Steve gives a puppetry lesson to a little boy who reminds me a LOT of my nephew. To be clear: the little boy in the clip is NOT my nephew but kind of looks like him. Anyway, I’ve cued up the video so that when you click on it below, you should go right to the good stuff.

Also, I think it’s kind of weird that, as Steve enters to audience applause, the moderator says, “Come on, guys! You can do better than that!” They’re already giving him a standing ovation; what do you want them to do, levitate? It wouldn’t bother me except that the guy almost sounds angry about it; I seem to be getting flashbacks to gym class from it.

Second, I have no idea what “Surge of Power” is or why it needs celebrity endorsements, but here’s Steve giving them a shout-out at the Great Philadelphia Comic Con back in April. Yay!

“From There to Here”

Even though I’ve been actively searching for more video of Steve’s convention appearances, I didn’t expect to find anything out of Gen Con so soon, since it just ended yesterday. And yet, even though I wasn’t looking for it specifically, I found one this morning. It’s not a Q&A this time, but it’s Steve giving an hour-long chat and telling awesome stories:

 

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Breadcrumbs

I’ve been keeping an eye out for more videos of Steve Whitmire convention appearances for two weeks now. I haven’t found any more complete panels yet, but I did find this compilation in which a little girl dressed like Harley Quinn (I think?) interviews a lot of people at the Florida Supercon, including Steve and the Spinneys.

It’s about a 23-minute video, out of which there are maybe five minutes total (probably less) in which she talks to Muppet performers. Unfortunately, these instances are spaced out throughout the entire video. If you’re like me and you don’t want to sit through the other interviews, I’ve provided timestamps and links below to the portions of the video that we’re most interested in: 

8:20
8:45 (Caroll and Deb Spinney)
9:08
17:17  (The question is, “What’s a lesson you learned later in life that you wish you would have known sooner?”)
19:56

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