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Thursday, July 20, 2017

One Frog, One Voice by Nicholas Napoli



A Tribute To Steve Whitmire
It’s Time To Light The Lights !!!



The job of performing Kermit the Frog might be open to everyone but only one person in history will ever be able to say they were recommended by Jim Henson himself to take on the role and that person is Steve Whitmire. It was only when he stood up for Kermit the Frog that I realized why I appreciate The Muppets so much.

Back in 1990 Jim Henson was preparing a deal to sign over his beloved Muppet brand into the hands of The Walt Disney Company. For one reason or another this deal never came into fruition, the deal was not made, the papers were not signed, The Muppets continued to belong to The Jim Henson Company. Unfortunately and unexpectedly Jim passed before The Muppets were able to find their home and Kermit the Frog was left without a voice.

Steve Whitmire took on the responsibility of keeping Kermit alive, he performed the world wide icon Jim Henson left behind to inspire future generations with his words when he was not physically around to speak them any longer. 


Twenty-Seven years later Kermit continues to influence and inspire an army of fans around the world and the person responsible for keeping Jim’s voice alive all these years through Kermit has been Steve Whitmire. 

Steve I have always considered Jim Henson an inspiration and you

a gift to continue his legacy but you have since become my second inspiration in life and not because of your association to The Muppets but because you are you. You have officially confirmed why Jim Henson chose you for Kermit, it’s not all about the performance and you have just proven that.

Long Live The Muppet Pundit !



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A few years ago I was lucky to finally say I had achieved my childhood dream of meeting Kermit the Frog once at a book signing in London. Meeting Kermit meant I had the honor of meeting Steve Whitmire along the way and he was such a gentle soul, he reminded me of everything I had ever learnt about Jim Henson, he reminded me of Kermit. A few days after this happy occasion I was saddened to learn that Jane Henson had passed away, I sensed she understood The Muppets and without Jim and Jane around I began to fear The Muppets might not survive as the characters try to continue putting on a show. This is where my passion comes from, as much as I admire Steve my full devotion lies to Kermit the Frog and at this moment anyone who stands up for Kermit I will support.

I would like to share a video highlighting Steve’s performance of The Rainbow Connection, one he sang as beautifully as Jim Henson once did in the original The Muppet Movie. Both version are different, what I enjoy most about the second time around is that this time Kermit isn’t in the swamp singing by himself, he’s onstage, surrounded by his friends, singing to an audience.


 

Last year after fighting for years Steve Whitmire lost his battle to continue providing his voice through Kermit the Frog. Hopeful The Walt Disney Company and The Muppet Studios would reconsider their decision Steve remained silent hoping not to anger anyone else in his path. Recently Steve’s departure was made public and it was soon announced that Matt Vogel was appointed to take on the role of Kermit the Frog. As a fan this is where it gets tricky for me, I admire both Steve and Matt very much and all those who have helped keep Jim Henson’s vision alive since his passing therefor how do I stand up for Steve without offending Matt? The Walt Disney Company you sure have put us fans in a difficult position to complain and voice our opinions over this situation. Before I continue I want to point out that Matt Vogel is an amazing performer, an amazing person, in my book even a saint for keeping the memory and legacy of Jerry Nelson alive through his characters. After so many years hiding beneath The Muppet Show theater Uncle Deadly returned back to the Muppets in all his terrifying glory and he actually helped the franchise, and fast became one of the most popular Muppets at the moment, he appears every week on our computer screens sharing his Muppet thought of the week. One cannot perform Kermit and Floyd at the same time, otherwise the soul of the characters through Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson is lost, one cannot speak on Jim and Jerry’s behalf at the same time.

To Matt Vogel I would just like to say thank you for keeping Kermit alive for us, I’m truly devastated about Steve but when something is beyond our control all we can do is find the positive. In this case the fact that Kermit’s face will continue to be recognized world round, most importantly intrusted to another main Muppeteer from the inner circle is the positive that comes from the negative. I wish you well, it’s clear how talented you are, all the characters you’ve revived have always sounded spot on from the first second on screen. Apart from a small number of fans I highly doubt many would have noticed if Uncle Deadly returned years later with a slightly different voice yet yours is the right voice.



After almost a year of lying in bed awake at night, unable to sleep, watching It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie looking for inspiration whilst feeling disappointed in believing he had failed his hero, Steve Whitmire began to believe in himself again. Although he no longer had a green frog to share his voice through, he does have a little green blog which I urge every Muppet Fan to read and comment. Muppet Fans come in small numbers, there are not many of us that is why brands such as Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel get more attention over The Muppets and even Mickey Mouse and Friends. The Muppets have a small fan base because in today’s world very few people appreciate and understand them, but although we might be small, if we unite together our voices will be heard and hopefully we can right this wrong. Although we are not many I am disappointed to realize there are more fans across the web complaining amongst themselves and accepting what has happened rather than supporting Steve and his blog. Leave the gossip for the Penguins, stop clucking like Chickens, don’t be a mouse, be a Rat. I know it is scary to show your support for Steve but a simple “Kermit is the best” or a kind “thank you” or especially an inspirational, Muppetational YouTube video would be very welcomed at this point, wake up and do something positive rather than add to the negativity already all around us. In 2011 we were introduced to Walter, the Muppets biggest fan, who saved them all from Tex Richman the evil oil baron and this time around it’s up to all us fans to do the same for The Real Muppet Show. The world might not notice if Kermit has been replaced but we the fans, we will notice, we are all Walters, we will be the first to realize but what is important is what we do next, do we act on stage or complain amongst ourselves and simply remain around all the chaos created backstage.


 

Let’s try to put the story together before we continue any further, Steve has apparently been let go from The Muppet Studios and no longer has a home at The Jim Henson Company. After twenty seven years Kermit falls and is replaced, Steve Whitmire speaks out for Kermit, for The Muppets, for Jim Henson, for integrity, for creativity, for fans worldwide and we in return rally behind his bravery. This is no longer a fight between Robbie Sinclair against The We Say So Company, this is a fight for integrity, for good, for Kermit, for Jim, for art, for justice. Steve Whitmire was the first person to protect Kermit’s voice and not just the performance after Jim Henson passed away and now it is finally time for us to help him in whatever crazy Muppet manner we can think up and signing petitions is not the answer. Who in the history of Hollywood has ever been brave enough to stand up to The Walt Disney Company so publically the way he is going about it this time around, nobody, only Kermit the Frog and that is why Steve Whitmire is the performer of Jim’s Kermit. As a tribute to this man please watch his first song after taking over Kermit following Jim Henson’s passing.


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The Walt Disney Company immediately released a statement pointing out that this had been a long time coming, Steve had been asked to comply many times and towards the end he became difficult to work with and at times aggressive, this simply means he never complied with their requests. Various members of The Jim Henson Company then surprise and confuse fans by standing behind The Walt Disney Company’s decision to recast Kermit the Frog. I am very disappointed by all this as I believed The Jim Henson Company shared the same values as Jim Henson’s Muppets. Apparently throughout the years Kermit has been portrayed as sad and depressed, I can’t blame Kermit for that nor Steve, it’s all about the writing. When The Muppets lost Jerry Juhl few remained behind that understood the importance of the Muppets, a small group of Performers, Producers, Writers, Builders and a hard to work with Director were left behind to continue sharing that message Jim hoped to spread across the world. Thanks to The Walt Disney Company Steve’s Whitmire and Kermit’s reputation have been ruined, a legacy tarnished over greed, one I’m sure would disappoint Jim Henson very much. The Jim Henson Company has been caught in a difficult situation, one I’m sure they feel very passionate about and with passion comes outrage, outbursts, everything comes out and with social media taking a step back, breathing and counting to ten before expressing yourself to the world is always the smart thing to do. The Jim Henson Company need a time out and should take the time to remember that Kermit will always be part of The Jim Henson Foundation, a foundation made up of many properties, some of which you still possess, which proves my claim, Kermit the Frog can be found anywhere even in Fraggle Rock joined alongside his whole crew for A Muppet Family Christmas, The Muppets A Celebration of 30 Years and The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson.



According to Steve there were two issues which ultimately led to him being replaced, something which apparently was a long time coming. "The first issue was that they felt I had been 'disrespectful' in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series," said Whitmire, who had been working with the Muppets since 1978. "I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney [2004], but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions. At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know the Muppets."

In the most recent Muppet series Kermit dumped Miss Piggy and immediately started dating a young piglet whilst observing Miss Piggy whoring herself out through Hollywood to ease her suffering and not doing a thing about it. Kermit is then dumped himself by his own younger piglet fling and decides that now he is ready to start porking Miss Piggy again. Yes it is clear that removing Steve Whitmire instead of listening to him was not the right decision because it was not until last year that I lost my admiration for Kermit the Frog, never the performers but sadly yes with the character. Without the right Kermit being performed one at a time there is no real Muppets only puppet imitations left on our screens.



“Disney and The Muppets Studio have a differing interpretation of the terms of Whitmire's departure, stating that the voice actor exhibited "unacceptable business conduct." A source close to the studio told THR that Whitmire's communication style was "overly hostile and unproductive" and his way of negotiation delayed productions. His persistent unprofessional behavior over a number of years ultimately led to the decision, the source said. The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously," a spokesperson for The Muppets Studio told THR in a statement. "We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support. 


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After Fans worldwide learned that The Henson Family supported this decision we slowly began to accept the fact that this was happening. Steve is hurting, Kermit was being recast and because The Walt Disney Company is able to say The Henson Family supports this we remain quiet and feel scared, embarrassed, confused, yet determined to speak up. After Steve Whitmire was painted as the worst employee in Hollywood fans began to doubt him, fans stopped fighting alongside him and many decided this was not news worthy but rather forum gossip. Steve is said to have been unproductive when it came to The Muppets, that is exactly what he hoped to accomplish when not working with the right material. The following was posted on Steve Whitmire’s blog by John Mines.

“From today’s Gizmodo article:

‘But Whitmire apparently also had a capacity for cruelty, displayed when Disney attempted to cast alternate performers for some of the Muppet roles. “[Steve] told Disney that the people who were in the audition room are never allowed to work with the Muppets again,” a source told Gizmodo. “It’s not really fair to someone who just went in for a call or they’re looking for a bit more notoriety as a puppeteer which, as you can imagine, there’s not a lot of puppetry jobs out there.” ‘

Why would you do that, Steve? You seem to think you have a pretty strong connection to what Jim Henson would have wanted. Would Jim have blacklisted young and aspiring puppeteers just for auditioning for roles? I thought the Muppets were supposed to be inclusive and kind. Would Jim have excluded and banned these people?

You don’t think others deserve similar opportunities to the ones you were given?

I can assure you, many in the puppeteer community knew of your behavior in this respect- and we thought you were a total jerk for it. That sentiment also extends to each of the other Muppeteers who supported this “blackballing”. It’s not all Muppeteers by a long shot, but there are a few- and we know who you are.

Hopefully with you and your selfish attitude off this ship, the Muppets will be able to become closer to what they once were.”



Steve is very passionate about Kermit, if he was aggressive to work with I imagine it was out of frustration for fighting for the character he performed for 27 years and not feeling any progression for it, the idol I admire, the character I am fighting for is Kermit the Frog. I hope to offend nobody with this article but rather inspire for the better. Perhaps the reason for blackballing young performers could be referred to as Steve not wanting The Walt Disney Company to have anyone being Kermit 2, Kermit 3 or Kermit 4, there is only one Kermit at a time and this time his voice was coming through Steve Whitmire. Steve “blackballed” or rather stood up for the idea of just one Kermit rather than multiple ones for the sake of the almighty dollar. This truth is presented to us in a way that actually turns young performers, most of his followers against him. Had Steve not wanted anyone taking over Kermit after his passing then he would be the biggest asshole in the world but as of right now I hope the lovers and dreamers sense this is not the full story.


If all this is true and Steve is in fact the bad one then why it took those in power to change this 27 years to “fix” Kermit baffles me. Let’s also say Steve is a nightmare to work with, that nightmare kept Kermit alive for 27 years! As much as everybody might hate him he should be treated with respect publically as not to demoralize the character of Kermit in any way. Does anyone remember that Steve performed Kermit in both The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, he had good scripts to work with and it showed through his performance.



“The second issue Whitmire says he was given concerning his termination was a union issue.

"The second issue was framed as 'refusing to work on a particular project’ some 15 months earlier," Whitmire explained. "I happened to get caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations which occurred while I was in-flight to work on the project and the associated commercial. I did in fact shoot the commercial, but was unable to shoot the material for the project in order to comply with my obligations to the guild. Ironically in that situation, my rep had negotiated a special deal with the guild so that we could do the work within the budget parameters for the project."

Whitmire says he is still baffled by the entire situation.

"I am still trying to make sense of how those two issues were egregious enough to justify ending a 39-year career without at least giving me an ultimatum at the time the issue occurred when I would have had a chance to correct my course," he said.




Seven years ago I was working for the Gibraltar Development Corporation and for those seven years I was bullied constantly, these bullies they weren’t bigger than me or physically stronger they were just in a position of power which they could abuse for their own benefit. My employers for years wished to get rid of me but were unable, then one day back in 2012 I developed epilepsy and because of this I was eventually replaced, then finally terminated from my position. I approached Unite the Union for help, they told me they would help and to simply wait, I waited one whole year and was eventually given an appointment with their lawyer. I was informed I had missed my legal deadline to take my employers to court, I didn’t understand why Unite the Union failed me which in return helped my bullies, my government. I had lost hope, every door I tried to open would quickly close again, I had no legal options but I did have loopholes.




However how is a civil servant supposed to take their employers, their Government, both in the same, to a court of law for a judge to determine our verdict for something they’ve had Unite the Union try to stop me from doing since as long as I had been trying. My employers had wanted to get rid of me for years but legally I was in the right and they were in the wrong so they could not but once they found a loophole to get rid of me Unite the Union assisted them into stopping me from getting my case heard in court, I was led to believe I had no voice, I was silenced, nobody would listen to me.


   


Having grown up inspired by the works of Jim Henson but most notably Robbie Sinclair I was able to continue my journey as a Muppet Fan to fight this injustice I was facing against my employers. I decided I would find my own loophole in life, I was going to write my own ending and I did, it was not an easy journey but in the end with persistence and perseverance I got there, the red curtains closed on that chapter in my life. I won my government, I proved Unite the Union wrong, I proved all I was to them was no more than a Puppet. Steve Whitmire I can totally relate, I’ve been in this situation before, it is very hard to handle let alone prove but keep on writing, you have a beautiful voice and I hope to hear it again someday. I faced myself in a similar situation as Kermit, we are all treated like Kermit the Frog, we are all puppets to injustice. All our strings are being moved around for us and we have no voice, we speak with the voice that is forced out of our mouths. Don’t Be A Puppet, Be A Muppet!




Steve Whitmire was officially no longer Kermit and was quickly losing the support of his few followers, the following interview broke my heart and helped me realize something had to be done sooner than later.


 

When Steve says he believes Kermit is him and he is Kermit I was a little taken aback, Kermit is Jim, Kermit is not you, well that’s the way I interpret it at least. I wonder what the question was which we do not get to hear perhaps Steve was asked if he believes he is Kermit, if so, his answer was taken out of context and does sound respectful of Jim. And during a video where Steve Whitmire is expressing himself and voicing his concerns over Kermit there is no need for an announcer to speak over him, leave the announcing to Jerry Nelson on The Muppet Show.



So now we’ve heard both sides, we’ve got all the information out there for those who wish to listen and now it is up to the Fans to decide what they think they should do next. The first thing I advise we all do is take a break, breath, relax and watch all six Muppet movies as I’ve recently done, I’m currently about to watch It’s A Very Merry Christmas Muppet Movie and later I’ll watch the two new ones. What a great message The Muppets bring to the world with all this happening at least watching The Muppets makes me relax, I suggest you do the same, this must all be very stressful for all us fans worldwide and that is not good for our health, trust me.



As a life-long Jim Henson Fan and a regular contributor for MuppetsHenson I for one support Steve Whitmire and am disgraced at how The Walt Disney Company, The Muppet Studios and even The Jim Henson Company have puppeteered this whole situation. When I was three years old I went on a trip and stumbled upon Jim Henson’s Travelling Museum Muppets, Monsters and Magic and ever since have always wished I could go back there someday, I wanted to work alongside The Muppet Performers at The Jim Henson Workshop. As much as I enjoyed The Muppets it was Fraggle Rock that led me to discover the genius that is Jim Henson, he taught me “you can never leave the magic”. Fraggle Rock is the only property left within The Jim Henson Company and they should use it to continue spreading it’s message and values, this time around for a more mature audience. The Jim Henson Company & The Walt Disney Company were able to unite after both Jim Henson and Walt Disney’s passing to create something very special. In my opinion Dinosaurs is the adult version of Fraggle Rock where we will have fun watching but sometimes never actually realize what it is we’re learning. On a side note I have no idea why Dinosaurs isn’t streaming online, the way it’s been created will forever make it everlasting, it will never seem outdated. Ironically most of the topics found in Dinosaurs were very relevant back then and even more so today, everyone can relate to the wonderful performance and storytelling which makes Dinosaurs my favourite Post Jim Henson Era Show Ever. My Favourite episode has to be “Green Card” from Season 3, Episode 14. In this episode the Two Leggers decide to build a giant wall along the swamp hoping to keep the Four Leggers from crossing over and “stealing” their jobs. Since they were prehistoric Dinosaurs they did not realize building a wall on a swamp was a stupid idea and so it collapsed but Humpty Dumpty didn’t fall down, it was the same hard working Two Leggers building the wall that almost drowned to death. Luckily the Four Leggers trampled to the other side and saved those Two Leggers drowning in their own mistake.

Unfortunately everything I have ever learn from The Muppets as a child has now been tarnished in my eyes by The Walt Disney Company & The Jim Henson Company and as long as Steve Whitmire does not perform Kermit the Frog I could care less about either of them. I have nothing else to write, I am no longer a Muppet Fan, I give up on The Muppets. Unless Steve Whitmire begins performing Kermit again then I’m not interested and have nothing else to contribute for MuppetsHenson. As the saying goes if you have nothing good to write then don’t write anything at all.

Before I leave my fandom at the door I will say this…

For those only interested in money, The Muppet can make that for you without having to lose their integrity and values along the way, all they need is good scripts to work with not different performers, all you have to do is listen and you will learn how.

The Jim Henson Company I have admired you ever since I was three years old and laid eyes on my very first real life Gorg. I will always respect your company but I no longer want to be part of your workshop anymore. I am one of your most devoted fans and if I feel this disappointed I’m sure it’s safe to say others feel the same way too. Win the young lovers and dreamers back, publically acknowledge Steve Whitmire’s Talent and if you do not care to fight alongside him at least don’t make his battle even harder. I will now stop watching all your programs which is sad as I was very much looking forward to The Dark Crystal: The Age Of Resistance.

The Walt Disney Company I only became interested in you because you had the money to buy The Muppets, you might have the money to buy them but never the power to ruin them, the power comes from the lovers and dreamers not those involved with politics and bullying tactics. When it comes to animation you can change the sound, the voice and that might go unnoticed but when you play around with the animators (performers) and the writers (voice) then you lose something great you once had… maybe you should wish upon a star.

The Muppet Studio sit back and relax, you have all done a wonderful job, each in your own unique way and us Fans will forever thank you for that, it’s time to play the music without limits. We all know how hard it is to keep Kermit alive for future generations to enjoy, it sometimes take three to simply help perform Kermit as he holds up a telephone to pass on a message, even though most Snowths won’t understand a word he’s saying, it is still universally understandable.




Steve you are an inspiration, you opened my eyes to a whole new world of Muppets which sadly has recently been lost. Stay calm, relax, watch The Muppet Movies, Follow That Bird and find your way back to Fraggle Rock. Steve please believe there is a Wembley in every Fraggle Rock inspired by you. I hope you are able to return to help promote The Muppet Christmas Carol’s 25th Anniversary if not we can always turn to Hallmark this summer in preparation for Christmas. Be happy and remember this is what Jim Henson enjoyed most…



Muppet Fans the only ones left to fix this is us, we should not be spreading around the bad publicity The Muppets are receiving at the moment, we should be spreading hope, we should be spreading joy, we should be spreading Muppet songs across the world wide web and hope we gather more fans to stand up for Steve Whitmire and Jim Henson’s Legacy. Kermit will rise again, stronger than ever but the only way to do this is if he is performed by his true Muppeteer and that responsibility belong to Steve Whitmire. Muppet Fans it is not time to compete, it is time to unite, it’s going to be a crazy Muppet Race to the finish line but remember they don’t say so… We Say So! Kermit will rise again, stronger than ever but the only way to do this is if he is performed by his true Muppeteer and that responsibility belong to Steve Whitmire. Without the proper Kermit the Frog there is no Muppets only Puppets.

I have nothing else left to write about The Muppets, perhaps Jim Henson can inspire some of you into doing the right thing, when I was young he managed to inspire me, I listened to all his songs even if it was simply Gonzo blowing on his trumpet preparing to announce The Muppet Show.

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