Brian Henson Says Kermit The Frog Actor Steve Whitmire Should Have Been Fired 13 Years Ago
Steve Whitmire has learned the hard way that it’s not easy being green. One week after it was revealed that the longtime Kermit the Frog puppeteer was let go after 27 years on the job, the son of late Muppets creator Jim Henson says the frog’s firing was a long time coming.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Brian Henson, who serves as the chairman of the Jim Henson Company, said the issues with Whitmire went on for decades and that he regrets not letting the actor go before selling his father’s company to Disney in 2004. Henson told THR Whitmire was “‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues,” and that he feels bad that he passed the problematic puppeteer on to Disney.
“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,” Henson admitted to THR.
“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.”
Last week it was announced that newcomer Matt Vogel would replace Steve Whitmire, who was quietly fired by the company last fall. Whitmire took to his blog to explain his side of the story, writing that he was blindsided when he received the October 2016 phone call from The Muppets Studio’s executives to say they were recasting Kermit. He also claimed that through a new business representative, he “offered multiple remedies to their two stated issues” which had never been mentioned to him prior to the call.
Whitmire later revealed he was fired over suggestions he gave during the short-lived ABC Muppets reboot as well as a union issue, saying he remained silent for the last nine months with the hopes that execs would change their mind and ask him back. But Disney and The Muppets Studio say the decision was based on a multitude of reasons, including the actor’s unacceptable conduct during his long reign a Kermit the Frog.
It was actually Brian Henson, along with his mother, Jane, who picked Whitmire to take over as Kermit following Jim Henson’ sudden death in 1990. The Henson patriarch had voiced the beloved character since creating Kermit back in 1955, so Brian says he worked hard to ensure that Kermit survived his father’s death.
But things didn’t go smoothly with Whitmire. Brian Henson alleges that as far back as the mid-1990s he was forced to have numerous talks with Whitmire about his unprofessional conduct, including his “appalling” communications with colleagues. While he credited Whitmire as an excellent technical puppeteer and impersonator, Henson said the actor made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship.”
“Steve would use ‘I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit,” Brian Henson revealed.
Henson also said that Whitmire’s interpretation of the famous frog started to drift from his father’s original concept for the character and that he has high hopes that Vogel will bring Kermit back to his intended form.
“There was a lot of complexities to Kermit that have been kind of falling away, and I do believe Matt Vogel can access that energy really well,” Brian Henson said.
“Steve did Kermit for a very long time — I would say for far too long. And the character was no longer being serviced by Steve performing Kermit.”
[Featured Image by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images]