So here we are.
You didn’t expect to see me again so soon, did you? You thought I’d be on the floor in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, whispering, holoblomo... holoblomo...
But I just got a comment on one of my recent Horribly Local Blogging Month posts, and I wanted to share it with you, as well as my (edited and augmented) response to it, since I’m sure nobody out there subscribes to the comments. It was regarding “holoblomo day 26: underneath,” which, I am amazed to say, is now my most-read post in the history of web...blah...log.
Here’s the comment, verbatim, from George:
An interesting discussion, but I recall an old interview from Jim Henson that he made it a point to maintain the "illusion" of the characters being separate from their actors (puppeteers) as much as possible. So this seems to be a continuation of his desire on this course.
Take a look at the Kermit appearances on the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson)... most were just "Kermit", occasionally "Kermit and Jim Henson" (but NOT "Jim Henson as Kermit", these were instances where the two actually appeared as unique guests that interacted with each other)... or look at the list of guest hosts of the Tonight Show, you will see a listing for "Kermit and Miss Piggy", but no mention of "Jim Henson and Frank Oz".
Yes, maybe in the modern age it's a bit "too cute" to treat muppets as real characters, interviewing them on morning shows and radio talk shows and red carpets, but the world is pretty short of "cute" these days.
George, I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this.
I think there is a big difference between the Muppets appearing on talk shows, where they should indeed be treated as unique, individual characters, and an actor's performance in a film or television narrative. Of course the Muppet characters are real entities. That's what makes them special. I would never deny the characters their identities, and I think it’s crucial to maintain their integrity. Whenever Piggy showed up on Regis, I would never expect nor want Regis to pull Frank or Eric up off the floor to say, "Let's give this guy a hand!" And I don't even care if the puppeteer's names don't show up in those talk show credits. That's a different thing entirely.
Hell, when I was I was doing all of the press for Avenue Q back in the day, even though you could clearly see me operating Kate Monster, I never allowed Kate to say she was a puppet and I was her puppeteer. I was just someone who followed her around for some reason. For the sake of the narrative of the musical and the integrity of the character, she was a monster, not a puppet. She didn’t have legs, and she knew it, but still, she was a monster. It was vital for us to keep the characters real, even when you saw us performing them. Kate and the other Q characters were only referred to as puppets during things like the skits in the Broadway Cares Easter Bonnet Competition benefit, as a means of lampooning the show (as all the Broadway shows do in the name of fun and charity). Again, entirely different.
I'm talking about credit for the films. Jim Henson's name was on those movie posters along with the other Muppet Performers in all of the other Muppet movies, and even when the characters' names showed up on The Muppet's Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island posters, the puppeteers' names did as well. And the characters were only listed because Kermit, Piggy, et al were technically "playing" other characters - cute, yes, but in an appropriate way.
And you're right - Jim Henson was indeed adamant in protecting the integrity of the characters (as are all of the Muppet Performers), but that didn't mean he couldn't show or discuss the goings-on behind the scenes in specials and documentaries about The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and The Jim Henson Hour. It didn't make the characters any less magical or cute, and it didn't ruin the illusion when they would turn around the next day and appear on the Today Show.
Also, Jim Henson, when talking to Johnny Carson, or Mike Douglas, or Michael Parkinson, would always acknowledge the work of the puppeteers, and talk about Frank Oz's performances as Miss Piggy, Bert and Fozzie. I'm not going to attempt to get into Jim Henson's head, but all evidence points to him making sure the public knew who was ultimately responsible for bringing those characters to life, and that includes the builders, workshop folk and writers as well.
I believe - and again, not trying to get into his head - his comments about keeping the puppeteer separate from the character meant that Kermit wasn't going to look down and start talking to Jim, or talk about Jim in interviews. You'll note that the few times this is brought up (The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, Henson's Place, or when Jim Henson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame), and the characters are asked about Jim Henson, it's handled delicately, but never overtly. The puppeteer and character weren't intended to have the sort of relationship that say, a ventriloquist and his puppet partner would.
George mentioned Kermit guest-hosting the Tonight Show in 1979 and the billing in that situation. This is true. However, in viewing that tape -- and this is not meant to be a snarky one-upping -- I found that while there are no credits for the Muppet Performers in the crawl, as the show ends and the credits roll, Kermit (as performed by Jim) does give a vocal shout-out to "all the guys under the Muppets" and rattles off all of their names (except his own). He prized these guys. He wanted them to get at least some recognition whenever he could, and always when it was appropriate to do so.
I hope George -- and anyone else who might have taken issue with my original post -- understands the distinction I was trying to make here. We all care very deeply for these characters, and no one is trying to take away from them, or make a name for his or her self by wanting the same kind of basic recognition afforded to other fellow SAG and AFTRA members when they take on a role.
I’ll leave it to Fozzie and Kermit in the opening titles of The Great Muppet Caper to finish the point:
Fozzie: Nobody reads those names anyway, do they?
Kermit: Sure. They all have families.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.