May marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. But while Henson’s personal vision for the Muppets may have ended in 1990, the Muppets endure. As noted in a new article by Jon Irwin, “a puppeteer’s job is to make an audience forget he or she exists,” and that has surely been the duty of Steve Whitmire, the man responsible for portraying Kermit The Frog, Ernie, and many other iconic felt characters in lieu of Henson for the past quarter-century.
Irwin’s article tells the backstory of Whitmire and the impossible task of taking over Kermit, since that Muppet’s character and personality were so closely tied to Henson. With the current revival in Muppet interest, backed by two recent films and culminating with the new ABC television series this month, this story offers insight on a man most didn’t even know existed.
If the piece tells us anything, it’s that Whitmire is content to stay in the shadows. Irwin recalls Whitmire receiving the Kermit puppet in the mail a few months after Henson’s death, keeping it in his closet until he got the nerve to put it on his hand and record himself as the frog. He performed Kermit’s “Bein’ Green,” and sent the tape to Henson’s family. Irwin notes:
Kermit’s central complaint in the song is about blending in, before realizing that same hue is what makes him beautiful. For Whitmire, nothing could be grander than “not standing out,” allowing his work to remain hidden behind the legacy of another.
You can read the full piece at Longreads.