Jim Henson’s Son Says Steve Whitmire Made ‘Outrageous Demands’ and Flattened Kermit’s Character
The Muppets have been mired in a sort of scandal recently, started by the firing of Steve Whitmore, who had been the voice and hands of Kermit the Frog since the untimely death of Jim Henson in 1990. Now, Henson’s son Brian Henson has offered some more insight into the matter.
Henson spoke to The Hollywood Reporter, where he revealed that Whitmire was an extremely volatile personality, and his tenure on the show was full of “destructive energy.”
I have to say, in hindsight, I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a real problem. And I have always offered that if they wanted to recast Kermit, I was all for it, and I would absolutely help. I am very glad we have done this now. I think the character is better served to remove this destructive energy around it.
According to Henson, Whitmire made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship,” and would often pull rank. “Steve would use ‘I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit.’ And that is really not OK.”
Ultimately, Henson said, it was a combination of Whitmire’s troublesome behavior behind the scenes, coupled with what he’d done to the Kermit character that caused his firing.
Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been, Again, what my dad brought to it — without even thinking because he was accessing his own character that was coming out of his own personality — was a wry intelligence, a little bit of a naughtiness, but Kermit always loved everyone around and also loved a good prank.
My dad’s No. 1 thing was don’t repeat yourself. Innovate. Do something new. He is the guy who canceled The Muppets Show when it was the No. 1 show in the world after five seasons because he was worried he was going to start repeating himself. The last thing my dad would want is that Kermit just keeps doing the same thing over and over and over and is in the same circumstances and having the same attitude. The character needs to be stretched and maintain his heart.
Henson seems very confident that Whitmire’s replacement, Matt Vogel, will get the character back on the right track.