The “Evil Kermit” meme shows two tea lizards: Good Kermit and Sith Lord Kermit (or, Constantine). Good Kermit says one thing; Sith Lord Kermit says another, usually something antithetical to what his other self believes. They’re at war with each other, which is basically what’s playing out in real life between Steve Whitmire and the Muppets. But which one is Good Kermit?
As previously reported, Whitemire, who’s been voicing Kermit since Jim Henson died in 1990, left the Muppet family under mysterious circumstances. “Steve Whitmire is no longer working with the Muppets,” Muppets Studio announced. “Matt Vogel will be the new performer for Kermit the Frog.”
That’s when the he said/frog said began.
It turns out Whitmire had been fired last October, but the news wasn’t made public until he revealed it to the Hollywood Reporter earlier this week. “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,” he said. “I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney, 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.” As for the second 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.” (Via)
Disney and Muppet Studios refuted his report, saying, “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.” An unnamed source also called Whitmire “overly hostile and unproductive,” and it wasn’t one incident that broke the (Sopwith the) camel’s back, but “issues that went on for many years.”
Jim Henson’s children, Brian and Lisa (who also serve as the current chairman and president of the Jim Henson Company, respectively), even got involved. Henson’s son praised Whitmire’s Kermit as “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” but said the puppeteer would “send emails and letters attacking everyone,” while his daughter added that he “blackballed young performers.” Brian Henson also took issue with the direction the character had taken under Whitmore, telling The Hollywood Reporter:
“Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been,” Henson explained. “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.”
The character, as Whitmire had interpreted it, was getting away from what the elder Henson imagined, his son said.
These comments didn’t sit well with Whitmore, who appeared on the Today show on Thursday to tell his side of the story. “I offered notes, I don’t think that makes someone difficult,” he said. “It was totally an idea of trying to do what was best for the Muppets.” He was given no warning of his firing.
So, to answer my earlier question: I have no clue which one is Good Kermit. All I know is that behind-the-scenes Muppet drama bums me out, and I’m going to listen to the Riverbottom Nightmare Band for the rest of the day.
(Via The Hollywood Reporter)