The Last Few Days, Part 1

I apologize for neglecting all of you at this site as I try and deal with so much negativity being played out in the press. Let’s talk…

I was given the opportunity by The Hollywood Reporter to respond to Brian Henson’s statements about me. After reading his words this past Tuesday and pulling an all-nighter writing down my responses, I sent this as an official statement instead:

It’s really difficult to be blamed for the degradation of the Muppets lead character on the one hand, while having been terminated for how I was outspoken against poor creative direction on the other. While I agree with the character issues brought up by the Hensons, I am a contract player who is ultimately bound to perform characters any way the owner of the characters directs me to.

The headlines are now turning this into being between the Hensons and me. With a war of words in the press with the Hensons, Disney executives will never be held accountable for mediocre creative directions that lay at their feet, or for the way I have been treated.

After literally refuting every one of Brian’s allegations on paper throughout the night, I cannot bring myself to send it to the media out of respect for Jim. No matter how carefully I frame it, because I know so much about them, it feels like a counterattack that might do real personal damage. I am tortured by knowing half the public will think no defense means they are right, and half would think I’m being petty if I adequately defend myself. I am intentionally choosing not to do that because it adds fuel to a media fire.

In true Muppet-style I have been blessed by the support of the many people I have worked with over the last 39-years, from celebrities to crew, from all over the planet they have reached out privately expressing their love.”

I was on the record with that statement and wanted to share the intent of my direction with you here.

Both Brian and I had unimaginable life changing responsibilities thrust upon us in 1990. As we both struggled to find our own footing in the face of our mutual loss, we continued to work together for 14-years until the Muppets were sold to Disney in 2004. I have had no business dealings with the Henson Company for the last 13-years and have only seen the family socially at weddings, memorial services, and most recently the November 2015 ribbon cutting at the Jim Henson Museum at The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

I will continue to speak about the issues surrounding my dismissal by Disney, but I cannot in good conscience speak against my mentor’s children. It flies in the face of a great man’s philosophy of watching out for each other and loving and forgiving everybody.

As an aside, if you are in the area go see “The Jim Henson Exhibition” at The Museum of the Moving Image.

41 thoughts on “The Last Few Days, Part 1

  1. I’d love to see any of the many Muppet exhibitions. Unfortunately, I’m in the UK, which nowadays might as well be another planet when it comes tp anything regarding the Muppets. The last Muppet exhibition over here was at least 15 years ago. Another is well overdue. Perhaps the touring version could spread its wings a little further and make it over this side of the swamp?

    1. Sorry about that. I’m a little spoiled because I live in Ga about an hour away from Atlanta. So I can and do visit The Center for Puppetry Arts when ever I want. I have seen the Jim Henson Museum section there on multiple occasions. It’s really a great experience.

  2. Steve,
    I believe you. I believe in you. Thank you for taking the high road. I feel bad for all those who have been caught up in this; you, the other performers and the Henson family. Stay strong, just keep in mind that time will show it is Disney who is responsible, not you.

  3. Dearest Steve

    You have so totally taken the right path with this. I can only imagine how hard it must be for you to deal with the terrible negativity surrounding all of these issues. I confess I was shocked to read the article by Brian. A man I’ve always felt was a really good, kind and talented man who was thrown into an incredibly difficult position when Jim died and he had to take the helm. Whenever I’ve met you and had the great pleasure of working with you, you have been so kind and supportive and absolutely lovely to work with. When I was lucky enough to puppeteer Kermit’s legs dancing down the street with Robin on his shoulder in ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ I was so unbelievably grateful to you for giving me that extraordinary and unforgettable experience. I shall never forget it or your generosity of spirit. Likewise the great Jerry Nelson who let me puppeteer the legs for the ‘Marley and Marley’ number. It was such an honour to work so closely with you both and to still count the wonderful Dave Goelz and his family as friends. I felt welcomed and loved as part of the great and far-reaching Henson Family. I’m so terribly sad that things have gone so horribly wrong.

    Sending love, support and positive thoughts
    Pat xoxox

  4. Your post is brilliant. You have kept to the high ground and through your articulation served up a beautiful example of what is morally correct and honorable. That cannot be honestly disputed by anyone. Keep the torch burning!!!

  5. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you … when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”–Matthew 5:38-39

    I’ve never seen a better contemporary, real-world application of those Bible verses, Steve, than what you’ve posted here today. The fact that you don’t wish to do the Hensons any personal damage, in spite of their unwarranted personal attacks against you, speaks volumes about your character. I wouldn’t have expected any less of the man who brought Wembley Fraggle to life. 🙂

    And you’re absolutely right. Even if the Hensons have been disingenuous, Disney has been more so in leading the public to believe that the Hensons’ opinions factor into Disney’s personnel decisions. It’s important for all of us to try to channel whatever anger and frustration we feel into constructive channels, and to direct our energy toward the real source of the problem. Thank you for reminding us of that.

    With that in mind, I want to thank you for your illuminating interview on the Today Show a few days ago. While I am not surprised that Disney would try to buy your silence with flashy awards and hollow honors, I am nevertheless appalled by it. I’m so proud of you for not stooping to their level by accepting their bribe.

    1. Also, while I agree with your decision not to publicize your responses to Brian’s interview, I’m glad that you were able to get them out on paper anyway. Sometimes that can be therapeutic. 🙂

    2. Steve, you don’t need to be recognised as a “Disney” Legend (and it always galls me that Disney takes credit for JIM HENSON’S Muppets). The people that count – us true Muppet fans, who waited patiently through the years when no new projects were forthcoming, and tolerated what crumbs we were thrown – already recognise you as a MUPPET LEGEND. And reading your blog just proves how much you deserve it.

  6. Steve – 18 years of life spent in youth (go Patriots). The next 40 in the Henson world. By my math you have a good 30 years of something different and interesting ahead for you and M, then you get another 10+ to be old, wise, opinionated, and enjoy stodgy good times.

    What passion project totally unrelated to your past 40 years of focus is waiting to be claimed for the next 30? I know it’s there… tomorrow presents a start line of your choosing.

    I so look forward to hearing about the direction you take. It will be great. You will be great.

    much love,
    LxoJ

  7. This is exactly how I imagine Kermit would have responded in this situation. With honesty, discretion and respect. You really are Kermit, Steve. That’s why we will always stand by you. You’ve brought us so much happiness. I’ve said before in my comments on this blog that you’ve helped me through a lot of really tough times. I really hope that we can help you through this tough time too. We are here for you.

  8. Nothing makes Disney or the Hensons look worse than you chosing to be consistently kind, as Jim repeatedly urged all of us to do.

    Hugs and love. You make me proud to be a Muppet fan.

  9. Dear Steve,

    While I’m still on the fence of who to believe in this debacle, I wish to say I am proud of you for not slinging any mud toward the Henson family. I agree, it does add fuel to the fire, and is unnecessary. I think Jim would be proud of you, too, for stating your peace, and not saying things like “So-and-So is full of horse-puckey!” (I don’t swear, so please forgive me for some strange euphemisms in place of swear words) and “Where do these idiots get off saying something like that?! It’s not true, and they can go suck a lemon!” etc. etc. etc. Jim Henson is one of my heroes, and the world had lost one of it’s wonderful creative geniuses in 1990 (two days before my eighth birthday, actually. I’m beginning to think my birthday is cursed, but I digress).

    I would LOVE to see any Jim Henson exhibit. When I saw one coming to Washington, DC, I dragged my sister with me to see it. Awesome stuff. I can’t see this one, though, because a trip to New York is not in my budget at the moment. Wish I could, though. Looks like a lot of fun.

    As always, fuzzy love from Snowball the Wonder Cat.

    Live Long, and Paws-Purr,
    Erin T. Aardvark

    1. Jim Henson died on my 25th birthday. I was feeling pretty down at the time and it was already a crummy day, so for the only person I considered my hero to die on that particular day just about ruined it. Ever since, I do my best to mark the anniversary in some small way, like watching a Muppet DVD.
      What I like about this blog is not only the stories Steve tells about his working life with the Muppets, but also the responses from people who have also worked with them (like the leg operator elsewhere in this section!) : it fills in little gaps that we never knew were there until those people mention their involvement.
      And (very nearly) all of the contributors sound like nice people. It seems like Jim’s life’s work went a lot further than entertaining us… he seems to, as he hoped in that famous quote, left the world a nicer place.

  10. Steve,

    I really love and admire your work and have for years. Fraggle Rock helped me get out of a bout of depression as a teenager, largely because of the unfailing kindness and positivity of Wembley. This whole situation has made me incredibly sad. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now. Thanks for reaching out to your fans with your own words.

  11. Hi Ho, Mr. Whitmire,

    I want to take this opportunity to say a few things. The first is to thank you for the years of service to the Muppets and particularly Kermit the Frog. That’s a massive and humbling undertaking that you always publicly carried with dignity and respect. That means the world to fans.

    The second thing I’d like to mention is just how ugly this has gotten. A friend of mine has mentioned that for the Muppets, this situation is all too human. The Muppet characters have been through turmoil and come out the other side. So has the franchise. But this seems a tougher nut to crack. The great Jim Henson once called everyone to, “Please watch out for each other; love and forgive everybody,” so trying to lay blame is counterproductive at this point. It is my experience that every circumstance has enough of that to go around.

    The final thing I’d like to do is quote your performance in one of my favorite films, “Life is made up of meetings and partings; that is the way of it.” Bob Kratchit expresses a willingness to surrender to the things beyond our control no matter how unjust they feel or how much they hurt. You dedicated the best years of your life to the Muppets and that’s amazingly honorable. I thank you and every fan thanks you for that. I will always be inspired by your performances of Kermit, Rizzo and Wembley (particularly Wembley because I love that little Fraggle) over the years. You are a master puppeteer. That’s a skill few people have. To be honest, that’s a skill that very few puppeteers have!

    What confuses me is what is happening now. You will definitely not be working for the Muppets Studio, Sesame Workshop or the Henson Company from this point on. That’s clear. If it wasn’t before, the blogging has sealed that fate. That’s just how it works when things get this far out of control. You have every right to be angry without need for permission from Disney or anyone. You have a right to shout your legitimate concerns into the void and hope someone will listen and agree, but we’ve pretty much heard more than anyone needs to know. So how will anything further help you, your legacy, the Muppets, your former coworkers, or the memory of Jim Henson move forward? All I see is the destruction it’s causing; how needlessly volatile and un-Kermit-like this whole situation has become.

    At this point, I don’t know what Jim would do. After watching 4 Muppet series, 8 Muppet films and countless Muppet specials, I know what Kermit would do. When the fight was so clearly lost, he would find the important things and people around him, value those things more and cling to them tighter. He wouldn’t linger in the past. He’d mend his wounds and forge something new and better. I have no right to ask this, but I’m gonna. As a fan of the Muppets, as a fan of Kermit and as a fan of yours, please find a gracious stopping point. There are a lot of people with the Muppets who are carrying the responsibility of Jim Henson in a way that honors him. As for the companies, I don’t know what’s going on there, but it’s time for someone to be the bigger person. Let’s get that started. I’m nominating you.

    Frog Bless. A. Fan.

    1. Even Kermit knew that sometimes you have to stand up to a bully. Cf. the showdown scene in the original Muppet Movie.

      And Steve IS being the bigger person here. He’s not the one making it ugly by engaging in name-calling and mudslinging and personal attacks; he’s just trying to set the record straight. He has the right to tell his story. You have the right to not read it if you so choose. But you don’t have the right to speak for the rest of us by decreeing what we do or do not need to know.

  12. You sir are truly an inspiration. Thank you for choosing the right and respectable path, even if it isn’t the most popular one. Thank you for everything!

  13. Dear Steve, I have held close to my heart two amazing bits of wisdom and advice from two wonderful modern philosophers. The first, never eat singing food and life is made up of meetings and partings. Steve the fans love you and stand with you. And the series was a disaster for so many reasons, even panned by most critics. I think I speak for most when I say we love your life’s work. That will never be diminished. Praying for you and praying for a miracle! Love, Rocco

    1. Hey Steve, I have a radio show on the ESPN network, entertainment not sports related. Covers all of LA and Orange County, am 830. If you want to come on and blow off some steam, more than welcome! We are heard around the country on the ESPN feed. We have had Bill on before, it was great. I basically told him how great he was for a half hour, haha. I would love to tell you how great you are for a half hour. My email is below.

  14. On a light-hearted note, I’m wondering if you meant this pun: “…the Muppets lead character on the one hand…” That one made me smile.

    Hang in there.

  15. As a bystander fan just interested in following what creative professionals do in the entertainment industry, I am wondering where the differing perspectives on what is professional conduct stem from. Brian Henson’s statement seemed rather cold to me and not considerate of what the stories over the years mean to an actor who has put a lot of thought into them over a long period of time. However, his comment probably comes from spending more time dealing with corporate representatives and gaining the business negotiation skills to keep the company afloat. And Disney is so epically huge as a corporate machine, I can’t even fathom how many cooks are involved in decisions about what the show is as an entertainment product to corporate people as differentiated from a show and story to share as art with an audience.

    I feel like there is an important lesson to be learned here about the different ways artists and entrepreneurs see entertainment, and I hope it can be learned without villifying either perspective.

  16. Before it was deleted, I read your part 2 and I think I speak for most on here that you absolutely need to write a book. Im sitting on a bench reading your blog and your memories of New York and dreams had me completely transported. Im so glad you wete able to relive all those memories, good and sad, on your recent trip. Sometimes I wonder if memories and unconscious dreams is all we have. Some say they feel youve said all that you should and its ‘time to move on’ and not blog. But were with you as long as you want to express your ideas, even if its just a few silly lines or an epic tome.

  17. It’s awfully strange that these things had been going on for years and nobody said anything until now? Sorry I don’t believe it. I don’t know what’s going on here but something isn’t right.

    1. I don’t believe a word of it, on their end anyway… I felt for years the Henson kids were jerks, don’t ask me how I know and felt this, I just did and this proves it. They didn’t get a bit of Jim’s wisdom or kindness did they?

      1. As they say, there are two sides to every story. You’re free to believe what you want about the Henson kids, I respect your opinion, but we don’t know for a fact that they are jerks all the time. I do agree with you, if what they are saying is true, then how come they’ve waited this long to do anything about it? This is why I’m so confused about this myself, and I’m not sure who to believe.

        Side note to Mr. Whitmire, I’m sorry for bringing that whole thing up again, but it is a lot of he said/she said that’s going on.

        Live Long and Paws-Purr,
        Erin T. Aardvark

        1. If you cannot tell the difference between what is being said about and against Steve and Steve’s telling of his situation, then perhaps you should re-read Steve’s comments. They in no way mirror each other, not even remotely.
          You are not qualified to judge a man defying his innocence. Seriously!!!

          1. Just want to thank you Mike for your kind words and standing up for Steve. I know both publicly and especially behind the scenes online there is an extremely ugly concerted effort to completely besmirch and taint the work and name of Steve, which breaks my heart. But it is also heartening to hear people who worked with him sharing their experiences with him and standing up for his name. Also thank you for posting the TED TALK from 2014, I had seen it when it was first uploaded but three years later it really was amazing soaking that 23 minute talk in.

          2. Mr. Quinn,

            I was just stating an opinion, and I’m sorry that it came off sounding judgemental. I was just trying to see things from both sides. Apparently, I am now a bad person for doing so. I love Steve Whitmire’s work, and he’s done one of my all time favorite characters (Wembley Fraggle). I didn’t mean to be a big jerk for trying to see this from another point of view.

            Live long and paws-purr,
            Erin T. the Apparently Evil Aardvark

        2. It’s not really “he said/she said” because, in a “he said/she said” situation, no one else has witnessed what happened, so no one is able to corroborate either side of the story. In this case, there’s scads of research that’s been published revealing Disney’s penchant for shady dealings with employees, business associates, other companies, etc., that establishes a clear pattern of corporate behavior that is questionable at best and corrupt at worst.

          Here are some books that I’ve found particularly helpful in my research on the dark side of Disney:
          “Disneywar,” by James B. Stewart
          “The Keys to the Kingdom,” by Kim Masters
          “Team Rodent,” by Carl Hiassen

        3. Wanna know the Henson side of things? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
          Disney wanted Steve out and no one on his side.
          They paid a load of money to the Hensons to help in the smear campaign.
          That’s why their only saying something now.
          Read the writing on the wall, kid. Honestly. Use your brain.

          1. Debs,

            I’d really like to know how you know that for sure. That’s all I’m asking. I am not on the side of Disney, I can tell you that much, but is there solid proof?

  18. Dear Steve,

    You have pleased many of us for the way you are choosing to handle this situation. In showing your respect for Jim Henson and his family, many of us here will never forget how you have risen above the internal pain, this nightmare is causing you.

    The media tends to go for the readers jugulars rather than their hearts.

    In writing all night, you are clearing your own mind, getting it off your chest so to speak.
    I too feel what you are experiencing, having be in the public eye myself in the past.

    Your fans are true to you and your characters. Please remember we Love you.

    Anne Terri

  19. You, Steve, are an incredible human being, and there is only one other thing I can think to say:

    Your character, the essence of who you are, is made of diamond — priceless, adamantine, and to be treasured.

    Much love and support! <3

  20. Dear Steve,

    I wanted to write this to you because I know you’ve been going through alot over the last 9+ months now.

    Please know that regardless of everything that has gone on, everything that has been said, I have nothing but respect, admiration, appreciation, and eternal gratitude for portraying this character that was literally a HUGE part of my childhood growing up in New York. You keep the legacy of Kermit alive, and I have nothing but eternal gratitude. I was born two years after Jim Henson died, and since I started watching the Muppets, you have always been “my Kermit”. The Kermit I grew up with. I appreciate everything that you have done and just know that there are millions of people who have the same feelings. Don’t ever lose sight of that!

    You are a good man. I think that through all of this, you chose to take the high road and that speaks volumes. Again, thank you for everything! Thank you for being apart of my childhood, thank you for making me smile and thank you for giving me and millions of other children around the world, a feeling of great joy!

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