Jim Henson’s children speak out about fired Kermit puppeteer Steve Whitmire

Two of Muppets creator Jim Henson's children are responding to claims made by former Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire.
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Two of Muppets creator Jim Henson's children are responding to claims made by former Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire.

Credit: Tonya Wise/Invision/AP, File

Credit: Tonya Wise/Invision/AP, File

Two of “The Muppets” creator Jim Henson's children are speaking out about fired Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire.

Whitmire was fired from his position as the performer of Kermit by Disney, which bought "The Muppets" from The Jim Henson Company in 2004.

In a blog post and an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Whitmire maintained that he was respectful when he expressed his concerns about "character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series." The series Whitmire referred to in the interview with THR is "The Muppets," the critically-panned ABC show that was canceled after one season.

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“I have been outspoken about what’s best for ‘The Muppets’ since the Muppets came to Disney (in 2004), but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions,” Whitmire told THR. “At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know ‘The Muppets.’”

Related: Voice behind Kermit the Frog is leaving after 27 years

Whitmire told THR that the second issue was tied to union issues he said "was framed as 'refusing to work on a particular project' some 15 months earlier."

The Muppets Studio responded by saying Whitmire displayed “repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback.”

Whitmire performed Kermit for 27 years and was chosen by Brian Henson, son of "The Muppets" creator Jim Henson, and Jane Henson, Brian's late mother, to fill in the role after Jim Henson died in 1990.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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History Of Jim Henson And The Muppets

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Brian Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Company, has responded to Whitmire's claims in a Tuesday interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

Related: Kermit puppeteer Steve Whitmire speaks out about why he was fired, Disney responds

“I have to say, in hindsight, I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point (in 2004), because I knew that it was going to be a real problem," Henson said. “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.”

Brian Henson told THR that Whitmire made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship,” which he had been warned about in the mid-1990s. According to Brian Henson, Whitmire’s portrayal of Kermit had also strayed from the character his father created.

“Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been," Henson said. “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.”

Lisa Henson, president of the Jim Henson Company, and Jim Henson's daughter, echoed similar comments, telling The New York Times Whitmire "played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations."

Brian Henson told NYT that although Whitmire’s portrayal of Kermit was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” he would “send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director.”

Lisa Henson added that Whitmire was against having an understudy so that someone was available to puppet Kermit at “B-level performances, such as a ribbon-cutting,” some of which she said Whitmire wasn’t willing to appear.

According to Lisa Henson, Whitmire “blackballed young performers” when he refused to appear on shows with them.

The New York Times reported that Whitmire did not respond to Lisa and Brian Henson’s criticisms, nor did he respond to the ones from Disney.

Matt Vogel has replaced Whitmire and will debut as Kermit in a "Muppet Thought of the Week" web video this week.

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