Kermit the Week: In Memory of a Coat

Published: May 7, 2015
Categories: Feature

Welcome to Kermit the Week!  Celebrating Kermit the Frog’s 60th birthday with a week’s worth of articles celebrating the life and career of the world’s most famous frog!

Henson&Kermit1950'sSure, you could celebrate sixty years of a frog entertaining and enriching the world. It might seem tempting to reflect on how Kermit went from a character on a local television show to a global star on the big and small screen. There’s even an opportunity to discuss how after six decades, a character like Kermit can still be relevant and entertain people of all ages. But let’s not forget what’s really important.

Sixty years ago, the world lost a coat.

In the March of 1955, Betty Henson nobly sacrificed her old blue-green coat so that her son Jim would have a puppet for his fledgling career. With the material from that coat, plus a valiant ping-pong ball that would go un-ping-ponged, Henson was able to make Kermit. It would be the first step on Kermit’s path to stardom. (Though, to be fair, being created is usually the first step for anyone to do anything.)

KermitoldBecause of Betty’s generosity, Jim was able to create an indelible character that entertains people to this very day. She gave him the opportunity to become successful. Isn’t that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child? But we should remember the shoulders that stayed chilly in the face of a stiff breeze, the back that went slightly uncomfortable in the air of a spring or fall night, and the ankles that could not roam free for fear of it being too nippy out.

Betty Henson is truly the hero of the Muppets. She was content to freeze, so long as her son had a fighting chance at stardom. To think of the times that coat could’ve kept her warm staggers the imagination, not to mention the stains it could’ve covered up when she was out to dinner. She chose opportunity over personal comfort. I can only hope that I don’t have to make that choice someday when I have a child of my own.

Samfriends-earlyTo be honest, I’m surprised Jim took the coat. Did he not think of his mother and her shivering shoulders? How dare he! He should be ashamed of himself for being so selfish. And for what, a puppet?!?! Who in their right mind puts artistic expression over the health and safety of a loved one? Jim had no regard for his mother when he tore into that defenseless coat, eviscerating it for the sake of amusement. Why, Jim Henson is a no-good, mother-hating–

[Editor’s Note: Matthew, you do know Betty had another coat, right?]

Oh. That changes a lot. Sorry for the Kermit-level freakout.

SamFriends2Betty Henson gave up an old coat that she wasn’t using anymore so that Jim could make a puppet. And that puppet went on to do amazing things (after a few rebuilds with better materials, because they were running out of coats). It’s still pretty nice to know that an old family coat was made into Jim’s most iconic character. And now, it’s in the Smithsonian with other famous outerwear such as Fonzie’s leather jacket and Mister Rogers’ sweater. Betty got to see her son become a incredible success thanks to that old blue-green coat and the frog it inspired.

Can you imagine the world without Kermit? No one would know how beautiful it is to be yourself, even when it’s not that easy. No one would be looking to find the Rainbow Connection. And no one would know that frogs, bears, pigs, blue hook-nosed whatevers, chickens, go-fers, rock musicians, dogs, boomerang fish-throwers, Scandinavian gourmets, king prawns, and yellow creatures that are really good at whistling can come together and make something wonderful.

Sixty years ago, the world lost a coat. And we’re all the richer for it.


Click here to repurpose your mother’s wardrobe on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matthew Soberman

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