1. Jim Henson first developed The Muppets for his TV show Sam and Friends. It was aired locally in Washington, D.C., on WRC-TV in black-and-white, and later, color on weekdays from May 9th 1955, to December 15th 1961. Amongst the characters featured were Sam the bald human puppet, Yorick, Harry the Hipster, Professor Madcliffe, Chicken Liver, and a lizard character named Kermit (who later evolved into Kermit the Frog).
2. Henson had said that he coined the phrase Muppet by combining the words "marionette" and "puppet", but it appears the word was in use long before Henson began his career. Whether he knew the word or not is unknown.
3. The original Kermit now resides at the Smithsonian. It was made out of an old coat that once belonged to Jim Henson’s mother, with ping-pong balls glued on for the eyes.
4. Rowlf the Dog was actually the first Muppet to appear regularly on network television and achieve popularity, when he was featured as Jimmy Dean's sidekick on "The Jimmy Dean Show" in the 1960s.
Rowlf was said to be the character closest to Jim Henson's personality, with his son Brian saying:
"Kermit was my father's best known character, but a lot of people think he was more like Rowlf in real life except he couldn't play the piano as well."5. After the debut of Sesame Street in 1969 (for which Henson designed and performed several characters), Henson decided to pursue the creation of a television series that would be aimed towards adults and children. The results came in the form of two pilot episodes, The Muppets Valentine Show (which aired on ABC on January 30th 1974) and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (which aired on March 9th 1975)....
In this half hour special the Muppets parody the proliferation of sex and violence on television. Nigel, Sam the Eagle, and hippie bassist Floyd Pepper prepare for a Pageant based on the Seven Deadly Sins, with Muppets representing the Sins -- Envy, Anger, Gluttony, Vanity, Lust, Avarice, and Sloth.
ABC decided not to proceed with a series.
6. Instead of Kermit, it was Nigel the orchestra conductor who hosted the “Sex and Violence” pilot. He was dropped because he was deemed “too wimpy” to host the show.
7. Lew Grade, head of the British commercial station ATV and accustomed to the idea of puppet television considering he underwrote the various 1960s Supermarionation series produced by Gerry Anderson such as Thunderbirds, liked what he saw in Henson's work and so offered him a deal to produce the show at Grade's ATV studios in Elstree, England. ATV, as part of the deal, would broadcast the show over ITV stations in the UK. The show was then sold to the U.S. as part of syndication deal.
And The Muppet Show was born.
8. Nearly all of the Muppets are left handed. The reason being because the puppeteer uses their right hand to operate the head, while operating the arm rod with their left hand.
9. Miss Piggy’s full name is Miss Piggy Lee (named after legendary actress and singer Peggy Lee). Her first appearance was on the Herb Alpert’s 1974 TV special Herb Alpert and the TJB...
10. Many of The Muppets were given their own back story, often to help the puppeteer get into character. According to Miss Piggy's puppeteer, Frank Oz, she had a pretty rough childhood. In 1979, Oz told The New York Times:
“She grew up in a small town in Iowa; her father died when she was young, and her mother wasn’t that nice to her. She had to enter beauty contests to survive, as many single women do. She has a lot of vulnerability which she has to hide, because of her need to be a superstar.”11. Talking of Frank Oz, there is a common misconception that Fozzie was named after him, however he was actually named after puppet builder Faz Fazakas, who among other things, helped create the mechanism that allowed Fozzie to wiggle his ears.
12. Gonzo began life as Snarl, the Cigar Box Frackle, in the 1970 TV special The Great Santa Claus Switch
13. In 1979 The Muppets headed to the movies. Kermit’s version of “Rainbow Connection,” from The Muppet Movie, reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1979, and the song was even nominated for an Oscar.
14. Jim Henson’s final public performance was on May 4th 1990, on an episode of The Arsenio Hall Show...
Two weeks later Henson would die from organ failure cause by Streptococcus pyogenes.
At his funeral the song "It's Not Easy Being Green" was played, and for several years afterwards Rowlf the dog was retired out of deference to Henson's memory.
15. Throughout his long career, Jim Henson created over 2000 different Muppet characters.
The Muppets return to prime-time from 8pm, Tuesday September 22nd, on ABC.
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