POP QUIZ: Frequently Told Tales of Muppet History

Published: February 26, 2019
Categories: Feature, Fun Stuff

Are you a big Muppet fan? Have you read all the books on Muppet history, and watched all the behind-the-scenes films and TV documentaries?

If so, you’ve probably noticed that folks who worked with Jim Henson have some really good stories about their experiences in the heyday of the Muppets, and they love telling those stories, to the delight of fans everywhere. It doesn’t matter if they’ve already told the stories in a few places. If another journalist or producer comes along and asks them about their Muppet memories, they’re going to tell the same crowd-pleasing stories again. And then they’re going to tell them again! To us Muppet nerds, these stories are as familiar and cherished as our own favorite family anecdotes, just with more Antron fleece.

But how well do you really know these stories? It’s time to find out! Below you’ll find a handful of these oft-told yarns, with one significant detail left out. Given a few multiple choices, can you choose the answer that correctly completes the anecdote?

(Sources for these stories include but are not necessarily limited to: the books Jim Henson: The Works, The Wisdom of Big Bird, My Life as a Furry Red Monster, Street Gang, Jim Henson: The Biography, and the film & TV productions Henson’s Place, Great Performances: The World of Jim Henson, I Am Big Bird, Being Elmo, and In Their Own Words: Jim Henson, and various TV talk show appearances and interviews.)

An Inauspicious Puppet Show

The Storyteller: Caroll Spinney

The Story in a Nutshell: Years before Sesame Street, Caroll Spinney attempted to perform an elaborate act at the Puppeteers of America Festival in Salt Lake City. Jim Henson was in attendance, but unfortunately for Caroll, a technical problem involving a spotlight led to everything going wrong. Afterward, Jim approached Caroll to introduce himself and politely said…

a) “I liked what you were trying to do.”
b) “Well, you sure loused that one up, Mr. Klutzy-Pants!”
c) “Hey, do you know where the nearest restroom is?”

The Man at the Meeting

The Storyteller: Joan Ganz Cooney

The Story in a Nutshell: At an early development seminar for Children’s Television Workshop’s revolutionary new educational series, Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney was mildly alarmed to see a bearded hippie-looking man come in, take a seat in the back of the room, and silently stare straight ahead. Fearing the worst in the current politically-charged climate, Ganz Cooney asked executive producer Dave Connell, “How do we know that man isn’t going to kill us?” He replied…

a) “It isn’t very likely. That’s Jim Henson.”
b) “It isn’t very likely. That’s Dan Haggerty, future star of the TV series Grizzly Adams.”
c) “That was no lady. That was my wife!”

Writing the Songs

The Storyteller: Paul Williams

The Story in a Nutshell: Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher were honored to be asked to write the songs for The Muppet Movie. Early in the process, Williams told Jim Henson that they would let him hear the songs in progress as they worked on them, so he could give them any notes and suggest changes. Jim Henson said…

a) No, he would just hear the completed songs when they convened in the studio to record them, because he had complete faith in the collaborators he had chosen.
b) Ascher and Williams should hire a barbershop quartet to sing the songs for him at a clam bake on the 4th of July.
c) He had changed his mind, and the songs for the film would now be written by the Village People.

The Right Voice

The Storyteller: Caroll Spinney

The Story in a Nutshell: Caroll Spinney was scheduled to meet with Jim Henson and Don Sahlin on the set of Sesame Street, so he could see the Oscar the Grouch puppet for the first time. As he anticipated the meeting, he pondered what Oscar’s voice should sound like. In a stroke of luck, he got the perfect inspiration for the voice from…

a) a cab driver from the Bronx who gruffly asked him “Where to, Mac?”
b) a diner waitress from Georgia who sweetly asked him, “Would you like a refill on your iced tea, hon?”
c) a cute little hamster from Sheboygan who went “Squee squee squee squee squee squee squee squee squee! Squee squee squee squee! Squee squee squee squee squee! Squeeeeeee!”


Humble Beginnings

The Storyteller: Jim Henson, and everyone who’s ever written a biography of Jim Henson or a history of the Muppets

The Story in a Nutshell: Jim Henson made the first Kermit the Frog puppet using his mother’s old, discarded…

a) green winter coat
b) purple boxer shorts with yellow smiley faces
c) Kermit the Frog t-shirt

Tossing the Puppet

The Storyteller: Kevin Clash

The Story in a Nutshell: Richard Hunt briefly performed a little red monster puppet on Sesame Street. But Richard just wasn’t connecting to the character, and he was getting frustrated. He wandered into the green room and threw the puppet at Kevin Clash, who just happened to be sitting there, and asked him if he had a voice for it. Kevin Clash took the puppet, gave him a sweet personality and a falsetto voice, and turned him into a superstar. That puppet was…

a) Elmo
b) Leo the Party Monster
c) Dan Haggerty, star of the TV series Grizzly Adams


“In the Navy” Prank

The Storyteller: Dave Goelz

The Story in a Nutshell: The cast and crew of the Roger Moore episode of The Muppet Show were working on the “In the Navy” number, featuring a chorus of Viking pigs. Between takes, Dave Goelz noticed Steve Whitmire’s pig puppet sitting there, and decided to have some fun. He took two small Styrofoam beads from the puppet workshop, and he inserted them…

a) in the nostrils of Steve Whitmire’s pig
b) in the nostrils of Steve Whitmire
c) in the nostrils of Roger Moore



Fraggle Goals

The Storyteller: Various Fraggle Rock contributors, including producer Duncan Kentworthy

The Story in a Nutshell: Jim Henson gathered a group of collaborators he wanted to work on his new TV series, Fraggle Rock. He explained his lofty but simple concept for the show: He wanted Fraggle Rock to be a show that would…

a) bring an end to war in the world
b) convince viewers that subscribing to HBO was a good investment, so they would also be able to watch Arli$$ and John From Cincinnati
c) increase global sales of radishes by 43%


Shopping List

The Storyteller: Frank Oz

The Story in a Nutshell: Frank Oz and his colleagues have created dozens of characters who are known and beloved by fans all over the world. But when Frank goes to the grocery store, nobody recognizes him, so he can go completely undisturbed as he buys…

a) a can of beans
b) a jar of calf’s foot jelly


If you guessed choice “a” for all of these anecdotes, congratulations! You’re a Muppet fan. If you guessed any other choice for any other anecdote, cancel your plans for the next month and go read all those books and watch all those film & TV productions I mentioned above. You’ll thank me later!

Click here to tell me you liked what I was trying to do on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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