The Last Few Days, Part 2

After my all-night therapy session writing responses and as I was putting the final touches on my statement, I received word from the producers at The TODAY Show that they wanted me on Thursday’s show. I threw clothes and a toothbrush in a carry-on bag, and raced to the airport. Having done the morning shows so many times before I knew how early the next morning would be, so I hoped to arrive in time to get to the hotel and go straight to sleep. Almost worked, too…but, not quite.

I’ve done that show dozens of times as Kermit and other Muppet characters, and it’s my favorite kind of appearance. Totally unscripted and completely improvised, those are the types of challenges that, for me, allow the characters to evolve, as opposed to a film or television series that is scripted. On live TV there’s no safety net, and those shows offer a sense of freedom to let a character like Kermit out of the tightly held reigns of corporate control and let him be who I know him to be.

But this time it was to be very different. For the first time in my career, I wouldn’t be hiding under the camera’s probing eye, I would instead be scrutinized by it with news journalists asking the questions of me…no fun, but oddly still a chance for character growth.

I never get nervous about live television because as Kermit the mistakes are so much fun to get out of, but, I was nervous this time. I didn’t know what I’d be asked, or if it might be something I’d chosen not to confront, so it’s a little harder to deal with than a puppet’s eye falling off…although that would be pretty bad.

But from the moment I walked in the door at TODAY it felt a bit like a homecoming with the old familiar faces of so many crew members greeting me and giving hugs and handshakes. There was Al Roker, one of the nicest people I’ve worked with over the years headed my way, saying enthusiastically, “MISTER Whitmire!…”. What a relief. Thank-you my friends for making me feel so welcome.

Afterwards, I walked the city streets to stay awake and soak up some vitamin D. My path took me up Broadway towards Lincoln Center, and I took a detour on Central Park South. Looking east, there was “The Sherry Netherland” where I visited Jim several times in his New York City apartment.

Many years ago for his birthday, I had given him a tiny little store-bought glass bearded ‘head’ with bare arms and legs sticking out of the hair. It looked a little like a two inch tall ceramic cartoon Jim Henson. The little man would stand up on a surface with one arm up in a wave, and I had made a tiny little half-inch Kermit puppet out of felt using the pearl head of a straight pin cut in half for eyes to put on the little man’s arm. It was about the size of a gummy bear.

Years later, he had done away with the little bearded glass man, but the first time I visited his apartment I had been overjoyed to notice he had kept the tiny little Kermit and placed him on a shelf with a handful of other far more impressive art objects.

On my walk, I found myself absorbed in an atmosphere of intense familiarity, as though scenes from the past were somehow happening in front of me.

Ahead of me there was Jim, my wife, Melissa, and me walking back to the Sherry after having dinner the night after one of his masked balls at the Waldorf. To my left, the two of us were in a taxi together heading back to the office on 69th Street after a long day of shooting on “Muppet Take Manhattan”. Then, it was the day after his death when the performers met at the apartment with the family to be asked how we felt on whether or not the Muppets should go on.

And then, I had a feeling that made me actually stop on the sidewalk and look around to see who was nearby. As I walked past Sarabeth’s, I literally felt the presence of Debbie McClellan like a ghost from the past as I remembered the many meals we had together over the years. I really felt as though she was there for a moment and was tempted to go inside.

Feeling Debbie’s presence stayed with me for the rest of the walk. My own wife used to tell Debbie that she was my “work-wife”. I really miss her and our adventures traveling all over the world, working in shorthand to bring the very unique presence that was Kermit to millions of people. Debbie and I would split meals at restaurants after a long day’s work, and our little Kermit team would extend stays in England, Europe, and Australia so that we could vacation together.

Because of the great potential that would have been unleashed if the two of us had began working in tandem, as planned, I had begun saying to people that the most important individual involved in the Muppets today is Debbie McClellan. That’s because navigating the corporate minefield while making sure ‘no Muppet is left behind’ would have been vital as I leaned towards the creative. But at this point Rizzo the Rat, Lips the trumpet man, Foo Foo, Bean Bunny, not to mention Statler, Beaker, Link Hogthrob and most importantly, Kermit the Frog, will never recover.

Right after Jim died I had a few very significant dreams where he spoke to me, and as it was then, since October as my mind tries to process another loss the dreams have happened again. I think it’s because I sense that this time, he’s really gone.

Those dreams have alternated with another recurring one, being in an empty soundstage the day after production has stopped. Anonymous people are clearing out, and there is Debbie. All is well between us and the next Muppet gig is a go with me working on it, then she just disappears.

60 thoughts on “The Last Few Days, Part 2

  1. Damn.

    Seriously…damn.

    I’m sure that confronting those memories would not have been easy for you, but I’m sure you’re still happy that those memories are there to cherish. I’m only 20, so I have little-to-no life experience that I can look back on and say, ‘Wow, those really were the good days.” I look forward to creating those little moments in time, even if I don’t realise what they were until much later.

    And as for your recurring dreams, I don’t have anything specifically insightful or inspiring to say on the matter, but it’s been my experience to look back on the more memorable ones as a kind of chapter-closing page. When my dog passed away a couple of years ago, I would dream of the two of us walking down the same dusty old road he loved so much. I often woke up crying and would lay on my bed just searching for him somewhere in the back of my mind. One night, I had the dream for the last time. My dog began running ahead of me and before I knew it, he was out of sight. However, he has never been out of mind.

    I know losing a beloved pet isn’t the same as losing your mentor or the career you worked so hard to build, but the feeling of loss comes from the same type of pain and it’s up to us to learn how to deal with it in time. I really don’t know what else to say other than that you have every right to be frustrated with your new lot in life and I sincerely hope you’ll pull through it to seek new wonderful memories and produce new, far more pleasant dreams.

    Never let go of your past, but don’t let your future go to waste either, Steve.

  2. Steve, you trained me back in ’90 (along with Kevin Clash) & years later I worked with you again on ‘Muppets From Space.’ You were always friendly and kind to me & I’ve never forgotten it. I’m deeply saddened to hear about the recent events. If there’s ever any way I can help you, feel free to contact me.

    -Greg Jarnigan

  3. when you wake up and still remember the dream as clearly as when you had it I always like to believe their is a hidden message to be found

  4. Hi Steve, and all supporters of Mr. Whitmire who keep checking in here.

    I’m glad to hear there are those in the industry still being professional as well as warm and familiar toward you; not that it will balances those so close dealing such mistreatment. Based on my observations I surmise you leave a set with many smiles and positive memories, please continue to take pride and at this time comfort in that.

    What you say above about Today show spots having been, “my favorite kind of appearance. Totally unscripted and completely improvised” “these types of challenges allow the characters to evolve, as opposed to a film or television series that is scripted.” This certainly always showed though in your character appearances, a pure unfiltered Muppet presence. Those sorts of appearances, established by Jim and Frank was what continuously made the Muppets real to me, no matter my age, where it was totally apparent these characters had lives and experiences outside their various scripted productions! And you carried on that (I hesitate to even call it an) illusion brilliantly, particularly because in addition to your skill and talent, you go in armed with all of Kermit’s memories.

    I commented the following in an earlier post but I feel like its relevant here too, and frankly I feel like saying it again because this is something I believe strongly, and in this you have always demonstrated above and beyond the parameters of your previous job description—–

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my collective perception of Kermit as a “real person” and most of it is from before May of 1990. The Kermit I know, the one I can conjure in my own imagination, exists primarily in the original 3 Muppet Movies, the Muppet show series, and subsequent appearances of the 80’s.

    If I may generalize, I feel most Muppet fans would agree that with the arguable exception of The Muppet Christmas Carol and some selected moments from other projects none of the films or scripted TV projects ever reached the…shall we say level of authenticity, of previous formal productions. Yet the Muppets were still alive and out there trying to secure the right script and their place in modern entertainment, Kermit was still out there and he was still Kermit. So my fondest memories of Kermit, or perhaps more accurately I should say the moments when Kermit was most familiar to me, post-1990 was when he was live on a talkshow, or appeared in unscripted or “informal” moments such as the TED talk Mike Quinn sighted in an earlier post. Therefore it is a fact that a significant amount of what makes Kermit and the Muppets more than only nostalgia to me is due to Steve. A great many people believe in Kermit the Frog because of Steve Whitmire.

    1. This post touches on what I think the on-screen Muppets have lost in recent years. The original Muppeteers were the creators of the characters they performed : they knew them inside (literally!) and out, so any quirks they gave them became a part of that character. And because of this, Jim, Frank, Dave, Jerry, Richard, and Steve were able to – in Jim’s words (according to The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson) “fly with it” in any given situation. It wasn’t uncommon for them to ad-lib while filming The Muppet Show, and those ad-libs made it into the final cut. It seems that nowadays, the scripts – written by a many different voices, none of which are those responsible for bringing the characters to life – are everything, not allowing room for the Muppeteers to play with the characters.

      1. I agree my twin brother and I perform puppets, and some of the best stuff comes from when we ad lib and play around with the characters.

  5. I am sorry.

    I know so many people have said that already, but I truly am.

    There are no winners here.

    You made the world a little bit better with your time as Kermit. Jim is proud. We are proud.

  6. Steve,
    I want to say how sorry I am about Disney deciding to fire you, and even worse the way the Henson family has said about you.

    As much as I am sad about your firing, I am optimistic that Matt is a good choice as Kermit. You have said he is not qualified because he never knew Jim, but in order for Kermit to live on, sooner or later, he will have,to be performed by someone who never knew Jim. I think you should be as supportive as you can be, because as painful as it is for you, the decision is done. Maybe you could someday return to continue performing Rizzo and some of your other characters if you and Disney can come to terms. But for better or worse, your time as Kermit is done. I think you had the best intentions for Kermit and The Muppets, I but based off of what many other people have said it sounds like you unintentionally were being hard to work with. Disney should have given you a second chance before taking such drastic action.

    I want the best for The Muppets. And I think you did an amazing job as Kermit, and I wish that you were still Kermit. But I think the best thing is for you to forgive Disney and the Henson family, and let Disney and the puppeteers do their best to cointinue the Muppets. Disney owns the characters and can do whatever they want with them. And while they may not be the perfect steward of the characters, I don’t think Jim’s children were any better. They should have given you another chance, but as hard as it, the decision is final, and I hope you and Matt and the other puppeteers can be on good terms, and maybe the same thing can happen with you and Disney someday too.

    1. Well let’s be clear here. Disney didn’t let Steve go from just Kermit. They let him go from every character. Steve did every single thing within his power to give them an opportunity to rethink and find a way to bring him back. He tried to negotiate a way back but it wasn’t to be. There is no “coming to terms with Disney” as you say, if they won’t negotiate. It’s not up to Steve.

      I saw no evidence of Steve being hard to work with, unintentionally or otherwise from many other people, as you put it. Only one spokesperson at Disney and some Henson siblings have said that. That’s four people in total with the same interests. There have been literally dozens whom have stated to the contrary. I worked along side him for very many years from the Jim era in 1980 through until 2016. During all the assorted films, TV shows, commercials and guest spots, he was nothing but accommodating, hard working and cheerful. He would make suggestions to help dialogue work better or a comedy spot play better verbally and/or visually. But everything was a collaboration with the Directors and everyone involved. He was never a prima donna. Only ever standing up for the characters and defending what is true, well if that is a crime, then many of us guilty of committing truth and integrity.

      1. Not that it really needed confirming, but this, I think, is the authorative version of whose side to take : that of a long-standing fellow Muppeteer. Thank you, Mike, for defending your colleague so steadfastly, and confirming what we all – deep in our hearts – really know to be the truth.

      2. But they *DID* give him another chance. Steve knows this. Mike knows this as well.

        Shall we talk about 2009?

        1. Yes please, let’s….
          By the way, you would have more credibility if you didn’t hide behind a fake name….

      3. Mike Quinn I’ve been following your opinions on all this throughout the Muppet Fan online community and would just like to say I have the at most respect for you, excited to read every time I see your name attached.

  7. Steve,

    As I walked these same streets so long ago in NYC, I took again this walk, but this time, I go virtually with you through your transcript, so eloquently written. (This is also one of your skills)

    I felt tears coming, when my friend interrupted me for a moment. It was then, I went outside and cleared my mind, to came back to finish my reply.

    Know that your trip back in memory is very important, and Jim would tell you that you need to remember he did everything with God in mind, right up to the time he transcended to Heaven’s Dimensions, and beyond.

    When Jim passed, I remember someone stating, ‘I guess, God wanted Muppets in Heaven.’
    Never forget this, because right now God Writes Through Me; He is with you. The Dreams He Sends you will help you to heal in your heart. It is through you, that Kermit and the beloved charachters you mentioned live on.

    Corporate will never understand this, nor will the press.

    When you are ready there is a way for you to continue being a Puppeteer, for your skills surpass many, and I know there are those whom you know well who would take you under their wing as you reemerge victorious. Make a new character who is all your own, and do this in the name of Kermit who too has a soul which is part of your very own. Jim Henson, would never want to to give up.

    Bless you
    Anne Terri

  8. Omg… just imagine me hearing it all in one gulp today! “Kermit the Frog fired by Big Corp as not aligned with corporate vision, will be replaced by Constantine next week. Henson kids say, way to go.”

    Good. Lord. Help. Us. All.

    Dear Mr. Whitmire, from all our hearts – Thank You So Very Much for BEING the REAL Kermit all these years!!

    All in all, if this faux really sets to pas, could you please, PLEASE write us a book? NOT about this – about the good times – about Jim and Jane and Frank and Jerry and Richard and Dave and Jerry and all the rest – the REAL Muppets story?

    We need it!

    A Muppet Fan since 70s

  9. I’m so confused. Are we supposed to *LIKE* Debbie or should continue to *HATE* Debbie. After all she is one of the people who fired you. Right?

    This last post sure seems like back peddling.

    Asking for a friend.

    1. FT, there is not a drop of “should hate” anywhere around here. That’s what makes Muppets The Muppets, they never were about hate at all.

      1. Maybe “hate ” is the wrong word. It sure seems like Steve wants is to not trust:
        Disney
        The Hensons
        Matt Vogel
        Anyone but him (except maybe Mike Quinn)

        So I’m not sure what this odd post about Debbie is all about.

        1. I don’t see anything about not trusting anyone. All I see is someone who was hurt by some of the people closest to him. He never said to hate them or not trust them. He is just saying how he feels.

          1. I would agree but Steve should have realized he wasn’t hiding beneath Kermit, he’s visible throughout entire shot, how this went unnoticed by the production team I have no idea

          2. I don’t think that’s Steve. That looks more like a toy puppet of Kermit (judging by the seam running down the middle of his face there), and the voice is kind of off. It doesn’t sound like Steve’s Kermit to me.

          3. Pretty sure it’s not Steve’s voice for one very simple reason — it is the voice of Ed Bassmaster, the guy who created and posted this prank call video on his youtube channel – just click on the “YouTube” in the link in the vid to see all of his pranks.

            Are you sure you/Mr Napoli are not the same writers who found Steve’s notes on staying true to Jim’s original character an ‘unacceptable business conduct’ ? Because your posts start to sound like what their idea of a ‘joke’ would be.

      1. Sorry, but that America’s Got Talent clip of “Kermit” just shows how amateur that replacement puppeteer is, compared to Steve. On AGT, Kermit had almost zero facial expression, Kermit’s hand/arm placement looked phony, and don’t even get me started on the voice. By comparison, Steve’s Kermit doesn’t act like a puppet, but rather his own person. And that’s the difference that shows you just how terrific and talented Steve is as a puppeteer. Disney thinks fans don’t notice the little nuances that Steve brought to his performances, which add to Kermit’s realism, but we do. As long as Steve Whitmire is healthy and able to perform Kermit, in my mind, there is no other rightful performer for Kermit that can do justice to Jim Henson’s vision than Steve Whitmire. It’s Disney’s loss without him.

      1. That is a good one although I do prefer this clip of Lady Gaga and Kermit the Frog much better, the puppetry skills here are amazing, so good, sometimes I have no idea how they do it

        1. N. Napoli,

          Man! How does Steve do it?!?!
          I can’t even see him on this. His skills continue to amaze me. Jim Henson wold be proud of that meeting with Kermit(s) and Lady Gag. I’ll post my 3rd favorite video shortly!

        2. I think I’m no longer allowed to comment. My posts aren’t posting!

          I’m amased at how Steve can keep so many Kermits “alive” at the sam time. He a genius.

          I’ll try to post the video of my 3rd favorite performance of his.

          1. That’s a shame, i’m sorry you can’t post your favourite third Kermit clip, maybe I can most by third one in honour of both of us before this part of the discussion comes to an end.

            Please correct if this video is not on your list, I only speak for myself here but would hope it’s one we can both appreciate

          2. “FT” – I’m glad you are such an expert in these matters.
            This clearly isn’t the blog for you. You are trolling Steve’s own pages here.
            The fact that you don’t use your real name tells me you are another keyboard coward.
            You are not being funny (that takes talent).
            I think all of us are here to appreciate and support Steve.
            You have another agenda and this is not the place, sorry.

        1. Good catch. I was hoping someone would pick up on that. No, I’m not Artie. I’m just a guy pointing out that Steve has been replaced before. Jim didn’t roll over in his grave and most of the public didn’t notice.

          The real question is: Why was Steve replaced in 2009?

        2. No, I’m not Artie. I am however someone who wants to point out that Steve has been replaced before.

          I’m glad you picked up on the theme of my video selections.

          Now ask yourself why was Steve replaced in such high profile appearances? They could’ve just written him out like they did with the 2016 Thanksgiving Day Parade.

          1. Of course Steve can be replaced. The whole Muppets thing can be replaced, by something which looks closer to Simpsons, or South Park.
            Indeed, in industry where projects like Jackass-the-Movie bring best ROI it probably takes a great deal of effort not to let it happen.

            In fact, without meaning any disrespect, if your posts are any indication of what’s going on with the team, it probably already did.

      2. Thank you for proving the point that Disney were wrong to want to use multiple Kermits.
        In fact I’m appalled that some not-ready-for-prime-time performances were allowed to be broadcast. Anyone with an eye (trained, professional, experienced puppeteers) can see this isn’t Steve or Kermit. Not the puppeteer’s fault as he’s clearly a good and competent puppeteer, just not Kermit. I couldn’t be Kermit either. That’s just the way it is.
        Now, what is your real name again Fleece Throat?

  10. Oh, Steve. Your pain and sense of betrayal are palpable.

    I went to bed last night with a half-written response to this post on my computer. The emotions you express are so raw that I had a hard time knowing what to say. There was so much I wanted to say to you, but when I tried to put it into words, it all sounded too platitudinous, or too personal, or too presumptuous.

    So instead I went to bed, and I had a dream about you. I don’t remember now whether I was an active participant in this dream or a passive observer, but that doesn’t really matter. The bizarre events of the dream, (you were a spectator at the Olympics, apparently), aren’t really important either. What’s important is that you were surrounded by a group of supportive friends, and while you were still hurting about your unwarranted dismissal, you were smiling and laughing and having fun with people you love, and you were basically okay.

    That’s what I wish for you, Steve. Not only for you to continue to fight the good fight, but for you to surround yourself with supportive people who care about you, and to be able to smile and laugh and have fun, and to heal with time and eventually be okay.

  11. “If we could do it all again. Just another chance to entertain. Would anybody watch or even care? Or did something break we can’t repair?” Never such words since this all happened have broken my heart. I’m sure Jim is with you trying to guide you Steve. Again I say you will ALWAYS be Kermit to me. I 100% stand with you.

  12. So Brian Henson said he should have fired Steve 13 years ago. Interesting as The Muppets was sold to Disney in 2004 (13 years ago).

    1. Somebody must be holding quite a lot of leverage over Hanson kids. I simply can’t imagine anybody saying all that about any of their parents old teammates otherwise. Especially as they no longer have any stake in Muppets after the sale, I think.

      And I mean, huh not funny, c’mon you are talking about Rizzo here, ma’am 🙂

        1. The fact Disney hasn’t debuted their new Kermit on their youtube channel as they had planned two weeks ago to me indicates something is up on several fronts. Im barely coming to terms with the fact we’ll never have Rizzo, Wembly, Bean or Steves Kermit again

          1. I think Disney probably didn’t expect the level of negative feedback that it’s currently getting. They just don’t know what to do.

  13. Steve, I had to figure the Today Show appearance was a quick one as I hadn’t heard you were going to be on and I definitely would have tried to pop down there to say hi and show my support. I hope you are hanging in there with everything. I was at the opening kick starter reception for the new Jim Henson exhibit this past weekend, and loved every minute of it as well was happy to see so many great photos of you included and various puppets and gadgets you used in your work. I hope eventually you get a chance to see it when things calm down and you’re ready to.

  14. This is all so sad. I was listening to a podcast and they were saying that they think Disney used Steve as a scapegoat because they don’t know what the Muppets are all about! They’ve had too many failed projects.

    Here’s the link to the show I listened to if anybody is interested: http://mznow.tv/7-25-17/

    Steve, thank you for everything you’ve done for the Muppets. Your work has been a huge part of my life. As I’m sure the new guy will be fine, Kermit and Rizzo will never be the same.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful memories.
    SG

    1. That podcast is absolutely right. Unfortunatly Disney dont know what to do with the Muppets. A huge entertaiment company should know better what to please the fans. It’s not hard to understand. They should learn from the pre Disney Muppet shows and movies. Jim Henson spirit and vision was there. Steve is part of that vision. Disney should know that the classic Muppet Show ended when it was a huge success all over the wold with fans of three generations. All members of most familys watched it together. Not just kids, adults too. Cutting puppetteers like Steve will make the Muppets much far away from fans and from. Disney should bring Steve back as Kermit and Rizzo.

    2. Stephanie, and All,

      I love this podcast! These guys capture the true irreverent spirit of what the Muppets used to be.

      Thank you for bringing to everyone’s attention.
      S

  15. Hey Steve,

    I saw you on The Morning Show today! I had to wait until after work to watch it online, but it was well worth my excitement! As always you were nothing but honest and gracious about the difficult situation you’ve been placed in over the past few weeks. I would expect nothing less.

    My only, very personal gripe about the interview is that it took this whole screwed up debacle for you to appear as yourself on Australian television. You have no idea how strongly I’ve been campaigning for you. the other performers and the Muppets themselves to come back to Australia for the past five years. My greatest wish was for you guys to come and do some type of panel at a convention like you did at SDCC a couple of years ago.

    I suppose I could still want that, but considering you are my all-time favourite Muppet Performer, I’m more keen than ever to simply meet and talk to you in person someday. Just like I offered to Mike Quinn, who has been a wonderful online friend to me over the past couple of years, if you ever find yourself in Melbourne, please get in touch because there would be nothing I would love more than to act as your tour guide around the city.

    Your best mate from Down Under,

    Marni Hill

  16. I just got this week’s Tough Pigs e-mail, and found this link at the bottom of one of the articles…
    http://www.toughpigs.com/my-week-with-steve-day-1/
    It’s an in-depth interview with Steve from 2008, and if you haven’t seen it before, I urge you to read all of the parts. He touches on resolved issues with Disney regarding “one character = one performer”, and how Brian Henson had had no involvement with the Muppets since the sale to Disney. (And on that subject, follow the link within the interview to the New York Times article : the profit the Henson kids made from the sale/re-purchase/Disney sale is staggering!)
    How things have changed.

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