Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Kermit before he was a frog 1955 -1968

A photo from the Muppet Wiki website showing Jim Henson with the Ideal toy puppets of Rowlf and Kermit that were marketed in 1966. (An interesting TV trivia note: 1966 was also the year that the original Star Trek and Batman TV shows made their debut!)

Sam and Friends
When "Kermit" first appeared on TV in 1955* on Sam and Friends he was simply a lizard like puppet, and because TV was then seen only in black and white, nobody knew he was green (unless this fact was mentioned during a broadcast or in a news article). Aside from possible news clippings about the program, there does not appear to have been any collectable merchandise produced for this show. However, this was where it all began!

*Update: The Wikipedia website states that Sam and Friends made it's debut May 9, 1955 and ran until Dec. 15, 1961. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_and_Friends

Kermit and Rowlf (the only "Kermit" plush toy)
Kermit's long time Muppet pal Rowlf the Dog made his TV debut in 1962 for a commercial about Purina dog food and in 1963 made regular appearances on the Jimmy Dean Show. Shortly after, Kermit and Rowlf were reproduced as toy puppets by Ideal in 1966 (shown above). These two toy puppets have now become "Holy Grail" items for Muppet collectors. As Kermit was not yet a frog, this plush toy is the only Muppet collectable to be made in which the character is simply "Kermit" without his collar and flippers. On rare occasions when the Ideal Kermit puppet turns up in auctions on e-bay it has been valued in the area of $1000 or more if it is in mint condition with the original box. I've seen it sell for hundreds of dollars without the box. The Rowlf puppet also sells for several hundreds.

The Muppet Wiki page has additional images of the puppets and their original boxes: http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Muppet_puppets_(Ideal_Toys)

The puppets are also shown on the Muppet Central website: http://www.muppetcentral.com/collectibles/muppets/dolls.shtml

Other Muppet toys from the era
Some other characters that Jim Henson used in TV commercials during this period also provided some collectables.

The two Muppets characters that were used in the Wilkins coffee commercials during the late 1950's were marketed as plastic moulded puppets and as flat printed fabric puppets. They're names are Wilkins and Wontkins. These are the very first Muppet toys! The Wilkins coffee containers also had an illustration of the Muppets on the lid. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Wontkins

In the late 1960's a three foot tall inflatable figure of the La Choy Dragon was marketed though it looks little like the Muppet character. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Delbert_the_La_Choy_Dragon

In the mid 1970's Henson Associates designed a commercial toy puppet of a kangaroo that was marketed through the Continental Bank. A "real" Muppet of the kangaroo was never made, only the toy version which is quite unique for the Henson company. The toy puppet was featured in a brochure that was distributed to customers at the banks and there was a full page newspaper advertisement featuring an illustration of the puppet. I'm not aware of what the value of this puppet is, but it is quite rare.

Becoming a frog
It wasn't until the mid 1960s, after colour TV came about, that Kermit became "Kermit the Frog" for the TV special Hey Cinderella. Originally intended to be a children's series, the pilot was taped in 1965, then the project was revised to become a stand alone TV special which was recorded in 1968, and it was finally broadcast in 1969 and 1970. This was followed by The Frog Prince (1971) and Muppet Musicians of Bremen (1972) both of which also featured Kermit the Frog. All three of these productions were recorded in Toronto, and were the first of a long list of Henson productions to be recorded there.

In 1970 when Hey Cinderella finally aired, a series of cheap plastic bag style hand puppets were produced and sold as a special offer through Hawaiian Punch drink mix. These puppets were simply an illustration of the character printed on a plastic bag shaped like a hand puppet. They were similar to those made popular by McDonalds restaurants during the same period. (McDonalds offered hand puppets featuring the McDonaldland characters as a free give away to attract families with their kids.) To my knowledge Kermit was not included in the Hey Cinderella set of puppets. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Hey_Cinderella_hand_puppets

Here is the original VHS video release of Hey Cinderella in a modified video rental case next to the unmodified case for Muppet Musicians of Bremen from the same video series. Although the productions were recorded in the mid 1960s and early 1970s, these home videos weren't available until the early 1980s when VCRs first arrived on the market.

Here is the Video Disc release of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (originally produced in 1977) and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen (1972) that was marketed in 1981. They were packaged together on the same disc which is titled Tales from Muppetland.  Below is the back view.

Here is the second VHS release of Hey Cinderella and The Frog Prince from the early 1990s. These were released by Disney during their first go around at owning the Muppets, a deal which eventually fell through due to the unexpected passing of Jim Henson.

Kermit and the debut of Sesame Street
After appearing as a Frog for the first time in Hey Cinderella, Kermit then appeared on the very first episode of Sesame Street in Nov 1969 as a central character. Although he was a regular character on the program, Kermit was not included with the cast of Sesame Street Muppets when they were marketed in the early 1970s as toy puppets, dolls, puzzles and more. However, Kermit did appear in a few early Sesame Street children's books, and the character's soon to be famous song Being Green was included on several of the Sesame Street record albums. Yes, it seems strange today however the song was first recorded for Sesame Street, not The Muppet Show! This same series of records also included albums based on the TV specials of Muppet Musicians of Bremen and Frog Prince (shown below) which featured Kermit the Frog.

This is one of the first Sesame Street books to be published, and it includes Kermit the Frog. It was published in January 1971 by Signet, roughly a year after the debut of Sesame Street. It is from a small series of similar sized Sesame Street books offered by the publisher.

Here is how Kermit appeared inside the book, next to the letter "F" for frog!

This is the very first Sesame Street record album from 1970.
It opens up to reveal a booklet inside....

 Kermit was included on a few of the pages. Here he is in the above right corner. Below is a closer view. The "Beautiful Day Monster" shown above the Street sign would later move to The Muppet Show with Kermit.

Kermit used to sit more frog-like in the early 1970's and sometimes had a double layered collar.

This is the page for Being Green, which was titled as Green. The song appeared on several other Sesame Street records, but Kermit himself was seldom shown.

Another page shows a rather odd cast photo with some of the puppets simply resting on the edge of the shelf including Kermit, who seems to be on a puppet stand. Below is a closer view.
Here are the records for The Frog Prince (above) and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen (below) from 1976, released as part of the CTW Sesame Street record series.

This is the third Sesame Street disco themed album, Sesame Disco!, from 1979 which featured Kermit the Frog as a "Special Guest Star" and included the song Disco Frog from a segment of the TV show that was recorded specifically for Sesame Street. By this point The Muppet Show had already been on TV for about three years, however Kermit still made regular appearances on Sesame Street in various segments.

A 1972 Spiegel advertisement showing the first wave of products from Educational Toys/Topper. Shown here are three Sesame Street hand puppets, five finger puppets, a Big Bird doll, and "Walking Letters" sets. Image found on the Pinterest website. Note that there are no Kermit's among them! (FYI, Spiegel is a direct marketing company in the US which sells products through catalogues. Here is the Wikipedia page about the company: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiegel_(catalog) )

In terms of merchandising, Sesame Street was the first run away success for Jim Henson. He had experienced popular success with Sam and Friends (1955), and then broke ground on licencing his characters as a result of the commercials for Wilkins coffee (c.1957) and Rowlf's run on the Jimmy Dean Show (1963). Yet Sesame Street (1969) was the first Muppet program to be so extensively mass marketed. Henson had retained ownership of his Sesame Muppet characters, which allowed his company to share in the profits of Sesame Street licensing with CTW, the producers of Sesame Street. The volume of Sesame Street toys and other household items to be produced in the early 1970's and onward no doubt prepared Jim Henson for marketing The Muppet Show in 1976.

A 1977 advertisement from Kickerbocker for their line of Sesame Street plush toys that was introduced in 1975.

Woman's Day Magazine, Dec 1969

Less than a month after Sesame Street made it's TV debut Woman's Day magazine published an original Christmas play with a puppet pattern, both created by the Muppets creative team. The concept was for people to make the puppets and perform the play themselves. The play was called "The Purple-Necked Black-Bearded Blatch".

Above is the first of the five page article. This image was found at henson.com on a page that discusses the magazine and shows additional images. Muppet Wiki also has some information about the Woman's Day article with additional images of the pages. None of these sources provide an image of the puppet pattern (shown below) that went with the article, which is quite curious. I found the pattern on Pinterest, though there were no instructions other than what is on the pattern pieces. I suspect the Muppet team probably regretted publishing this pattern very soon after it appeared in print, which may be the reason why it is inexplicably absent from the above noted online sources. The puppet that this pattern is intended to make is a very basic boy or girl Muppet character as seen in the above magazine image.
Curiously, this pattern doesn't actually work which may also explain why it's absent from the above sources. The top part of the mouth is drawn longer than the bottom so that the lips don't match up, and the half-circle mouth piece doesn't fit. In addition, no seam allowance was included on the pattern. For example, look at the hand. How does one sew those fingers without any seam? If the pattern was cut out this way the fingers would have to be glued together flat as they couldn't be sewn. Therefore the pattern would require some adjusting in order to make it usable.

Remarkably, this puppet is very similar to Kermit the Frog himself! If you made this puppet with green fabric you would have a very good Kermit likeness. Add a red nose and some ears to the orange boy puppet shown, and change his hair to black, then you'll have a home-made Ernie puppet! The girl puppet shown is very similar to Sesame Street's Betty Lou and Prairie Dawn. The 1970's Sesame Street character Roosevelt Franklin is also quite similar.

The first "Kermit the Frog" plush toy
Aside from the few Sesame Street books and records (shown above) there was no other Sesame merchandise of Kermit during this era. Therefore, the stuffed doll that was made by Fisher-Price as merchandise for The Muppet Show in 1976 marked the first time "Kermit the Frog" was specifically marketed as a character with his collar and flippers.

The Fisher-Price Kermit the Frog doll from 1976.
When the toy was released, Fisher-Price also produced a puppet of Rowlf the Dog which mimics the 1966 release of the Kermit and Rowlf plush toys by Ideal a decade earlier. A stuffed toy of Fozzie Bear was also produced at the same time. The three toys were marketed together as shown below. Within their Muppet Show line of toys, Fisher-Price would also produce a Kermit the Frog hand puppet, dress-up doll, bean-bag doll and action figure along with some puzzles and a book.

Due to the success of The Muppet Show, several companies marketed an extensive list of items in the late 1970's based on Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, and their new gang of Muppets beginning in 1976. These items included ceramics, jewelry, housewares, posters, toys, books and so on, some of which is shown on The Muppet Show page of this blog: http://mikeysmuppetmemorabiliamuseum.blogspot.ca/p/muppet-show-1976-1980.html

European Kermit Toys
Among the more interesting earlier Muppet Show items to be made (which I unfortunately do not have in my collection!) are the large and small sized foam Kermit dolls by Bendy Toys in 1977, which were only available in Europe. I have the Gonzo from this set which is quite rare (shown at the above link). The others are shown on the Muppet Wiki site: http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Muppet_dolls_(Bendy_Toys)

The Palitoy company produced a finger puppet (1978) and action figure (1979) of Kermit the Frog which again were only available in Europe, where The Muppet Show itself was produced.

Pelham Marionettes, another European company which had produced a wide range of toy puppets since the 1950s, offered a pair of really cool marionettes, Kermit and Animal, in the late 1970's. These are somewhat hard to find today and highly collectable. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Muppet_marionettes

Back to the Home Page of this blog

Text and original photos © Mikey Artelle

No comments:

Post a Comment