Muppet Wiki

Steve Whitmire

Talk24
26,847pages on
this wiki
Stevewhitmirephoto
SteveKermit@Suffolk
Steve Whitmire and Kermit at an appearance at Suffolk University.

Steve Whitmire (b. September 24, 1959) is a puppeteer who started working for the Jim Henson Company on March 24, 1978 (his 18½ birthday).[1] His career with the Muppets began on The Muppet Show, where he developed his first major character, Rizzo the Rat. Other main characters included Bean Bunny and, on Fraggle Rock, Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket. When Jim Henson passed away in 1990, Whitmire was selected to take over the roles of Kermit the Frog and Ernie. Following Richard Hunt's death and Jerry Nelson's retirement, he took over the roles of Beaker and Statler, respectively. His wife, Melissa Whitmire, has also puppeteered on occasion.

Early Years

Stevelips
Whitmire, Lips, and Hal Linden on The Muppet Show
Bts tms2
Swrizzo

Born near Atlanta, Georgia, Steve Whitmire became interested in puppetry in his childhood, around the time that Sesame Street began airing in 1969. Whitmire recalled, "I wrote a letter to Jim Henson at the time, and he wrote back. It's an amazing thing for a ten-year-old to get a letter back from a TV star."[2] Building on that early enthusiasm, Whitmire created his own puppets and performed throughout high school, even winning the school talent show on one occasion. After graduating high school, he briefly puppeteered at local theme park The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, performing his own character Otis the Beach Bum, and later cohosted The Kid's Show with his best friend Gary Koepke for WATL in Atlanta, which was nominated for a state Emmy Award. [3][4]

Whitmire first made contact with the Muppets through Caroll Spinney, whom he met at the Southeastern Regional Puppetry Festival in 1977. That fall, Spinney informed Whitmire that auditions were being held for puppeteers for Sesame Street; upon calling the Henson offices, Whitmire learned that Jane Henson was coming to Atlanta the following week to inspect the Kermit balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and that she could meet with him while there. After seeing Whitmire perform, she recommended him to Jim Henson, who eventually formally auditioned him and asked him to join the performers on The Muppet Show. His first day of performing was March 24, 1978.[3]

From Right-Handing to Regular

Whitmire slowly became a major performer. On The Muppet Show, he often performed one-shot characters, right hands, and filled in when two of another performer's characters were in the same scene (for example, if Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy were in a scene together, Whitmire would generally perform Fozzie). He was given his own recurring characters, such as Foo-Foo, Rizzo the Rat, and Lips, all of whom were minor characters on The Muppet Show, with very little dialogue.

Whitmire became one of the core Muppet performers since performing on The Muppet Show, and received his own major characters on Fraggle Rock, where he performed Sprocket and Wembley Fraggle, and the semi-recurring role of Marlon Fraggle. He would also add more characters to his repertoire over the years, performing many roles on The Jim Henson Hour, and Rizzo the Rat would gradually become a core member of the main cast.

The 1980s

Steveskeksis
Whitmire performing on The Dark Crystal

Following the end of The Muppet Show, Whitmire continued to work within the Henson fold. He performed the Skeksis Scientist in The Dark Crystal, and was one of only 2 puppeteers who both operated and voiced his characters, the other being Brian Muehl. (Jerry Nelson also did vocal work on the movie, but did not puppeteer.) Whitmire commented on this:

Jim Henson and Frank Oz had people submit tapes of what they thought a Skeksis would sound like, and it just so happened that the voice I did was exactly what they had in mind. So I just happened to get lucky and get a voice that worked with no particular effort... It just happened to be the one that was the right one.[3]

Whitmire also puppeteered for the 1986 Henson film Labyrinth, and starred as Mew in the television special The Christmas Toy.

In The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, he performed the special's protagonist, Bean Bunny. Bean Bunny would soon go on to become a main character, starting with The Jim Henson Hour, for which Whitmire also performed a variety of other characters, including Flash and Waldo C. Graphic. He also appeared on-screen as himself in The Secrets of the Muppets.

Television Work in the 1990s

Whitmire performed many characters on Dinosaurs, most notably B.P. Richfield and the face of Robbie Sinclair (with voices later looped) and was also heard as various one-shot hand puppet characters, such as Mr. Mason Dixon. Following the end of the series in 1994, he was paired with Dave Goelz as the title duo on Jim Henson's Animal Show with Stinky and Jake, playing Jake and various other characters.

In addition to reprising Kermit, Rizzo, and Beaker on Muppets Tonight, Whitmire also performed the regular roles of Andy Pig and Mr. Poodlepants.

Continuing Kermit and Others

Stevekermit
News kermit
Whitmire performs Kermit on Sesame Street
SteveKermit.BN
At a Barnes & Noble appearance in NYC.
Stevewhitmireandernie
Whitmire and Ernie on the set of Count on Sports

Steve Whitmire took on the role of Kermit the Frog after the death of Jim Henson, starting in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. Although The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson was his first on-screen performance as Kermit, he considers The Muppet Christmas Carol to be his first real production as Kermit.[3]

Later, Whitmire learned that there was consideration of him performing Kermit even before Henson's death:

I have been told that Jim had said something about it to Frank. Not that I would perform Kermit when he died, but that he would need somebody else to do Kermit some of the time because he was so busy. He never said that to me, but I heard that through somebody that it had been talked about. Just that the two of them were so busy, that they may need to have to find stand-ins for their characters, so I guess it had been mentioned, but the actual time I was asked was by Brian. We were in Disney World for something. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I think it was the big tribute they did for Jim, and we went down for that. While we were there, one night I went over and met with Jane Henson, Brian, and Frank, and Brian mentioned me doing it. I was just overwhelmed by the request. It was a huge honor, and it also just scared the daylights out of me, the thought of trying it.[3]

When it was decided that Steve Whitmire would take over as the frog, Heather Henson arranged for a Kermit puppet to be sent to Atlanta for Whitmire to practice performing. Whitmire thought that the puppet smelled like Jim Henson, and although he put the puppet on once, he couldn't get himself to go near it and try out a voice for months. Eventually, Brian Henson called and asked him to do something with Kermit, record it on tape, and send it to him, so Whitmire performed Kermit singing "Bein' Green."[3]

Regarding his first performance as Kermit, Whitmire has said:

When we did the special, I always had this fantasy that the first time I performed Kermit it would be a nice, dark little moment in the studio and it would be 5 or 6 of the main guys... It would be real gentle and easy to do. What it turned out to be was that the closing scene of that special had about 50 puppets in it. So it was basically every puppeteer I've ever worked with in New York City, which was probably 25-30 people.[3]

One of the hardest things that Steve Whitmire had to do in The Muppet Christmas Carol was pre-record Kermit's voice for all of the songs first, as he recalled in an interview with Muppet Central:

I went to London for the start of Christmas Carol, and they already started working on the music a couple days before I got there. We pre-recorded all of the songs before we did the movie, so the first thing I was going to have to do was go in to record Kermit's voice, which I was super-nervous about, because I didn't have the puppet to rely on. There was something about seeing the puppet as one was hearing my voice, at that stage, that made it more believable, and it got people into it. If I just walked in and did Kermit's voice, they didn't buy it necessarily. They were still hearing Jim. If I had the puppet on, it was more believable.

After Richard Hunt's death, he took over as Beaker:

I think it was Dave's [Goelz's] idea that I do Beaker. They asked Dave, "Who do you think should do Beaker?" and he suggested me because we like to work together, and we work well together. Beaker was difficult because I had no clue where it came from in Richard. I didn't know at all how Richard did this. It was really just a matter of being silly with Dave. The truth is, I still don't know where it came from. I just don't know what part of Richard it came from... What facet of his personality. I don't relate to the character the way that Richard did, so really, with Beaker, I'm doing an awful lot of just copying Richard. I wouldn't say that I've got a good handle on that character, but it's fun. It's a fun character.[3]

Whitmire joined Sesame Street in 1993, when it was decided to permanently recast Ernie, although Jim Henson had originally auditioned him for the series years earlier. His first performance as Ernie was a fishing sketch with Bert, and he transitioned into the role on a more regular basis. Although John Tartaglia substituted during the second season of Play With Me Sesame, Whitmire continues to perform Ernie to this day. According to Whitmire,

[Performing Ernie] came about because they were looking for someone to do the voice for toys. I asked if I could audition for it. I did vocal recordings for Ernie toys for 2-3 years... A lot of them. When it came time to recast the character, I ended up doing it.[3]

In contrast to his regular Sesame Street work as Ernie, Whitmire has rarely performed new material with Kermit the Frog on that series. Among the notable exceptions are sketch where Kermit teaches Grover the difference between light and dark, Kermit reporting on Slimey landing on the moon (Episode 3740), Kermit reporting on Slimey returning home (Episode 3785), in the song Everybody Be Yo'Self and reporting on the hurricane that hit Sesame Street (Episode 3976). Whitmire has, however, performed Kermit in the Sesame Street specials Elmopalooza, Elmo Saves Christmas, CinderElmo, and the direct-to-video The Best of Kermit on Sesame Street.

In the early 2000s, he started performing Statler, beginning with the Weezer music video "Keep Fishin'." Whitmire puppeteered him in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie while Jerry Nelson looped the voice later; one of Whitmire's lines, "Historical landmark," remained un-looped. Following Nelson's retirement from the role, Steve Whitmire took over as Statler (with the notable exception of Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony, where Drew Massey assumed the role from the eight episode onward). In an interiew, Whitmire talked about playing Statler:

For Statler, I was trying to decide if I should make it more like Jerry's original, or do I make it like Richard’s, which everyone knows from The Muppet Show, or do I make it like Jerry's since Richard's [death]. He’s just been passed around a lot. It's always been a problem for me that the characters got passed around. I get very conservative about this idea of one person doing the characters, and we shouldn't recast them so the character can grow and not be different every time we see them. So, I've tried to aim for more like what Richard did on The Muppet Show. And I know I don't really sound like Richard, and I have so much fun doing the character. And they only do like three lines at a time, but when we ad lib with them between scenes, it's so much fun. We have so much fun.[5]

In 2008, new Muppet video content was added to Disney Extreme Digital, where in addition to continuing to perform Kermit and Rizzo, Steve Whitmire also took over as the Newsman.

In September 2009, Whitmire took an unexpected leave from performing Kermit, for appearances on America's Got Talent and the MTV Video Music Awards. Kermit was briefly performed by Artie Esposito in these instances. Whitmire returned to the role at a press conference for Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.

Since 2006, Whitmire's availability for Sesame Street has somewhat lessened due to his commitment to projects with The Muppets Studio. However, he has performed Ernie on several Ready to Learn PSA's, Elmo's Christmas Countdown, Abby in Wonderland, Count on Sports, the TomTom behind-the-scenes video, and on Sesame Street at least once a year starting in 2010. He also performed Kermit for his cameo in Elmo's World: Frogs.

Whitmire has stated that he doesn't think he could have taken over Jim Henson's characters if he had not worked with Henson for so many years.[6]

Steve Whitmire and Dave Goelz

Mtigoelzwhitmire
Goelz and Whitmire being interviewed for "The Tale of the Story Beyond the Tale"
DSC00091
Goelz and Whitmire puppeteering Statler and Waldorf The Today Show

As acknowledged by Whitmire in interviews, he and Dave Goelz work very well together. The aforementioned Bunsen and Beaker pairing was not the only time the two would work together as a team. On Fraggle Rock, Whitmire's Wembley often found himself paired off with Goelz as Boober, and they played Mew and Rugby respectively in The Christmas Toy.

Gonzo and Rizzo have become an almost inseparable team over the years, beginning with The Muppet Christmas Carol. In the same film, Goelz and Whitmire were paired as Betina and Belinda Cratchit, doing variations of Frank Oz's Miss Piggy.

On Muppets Tonight, the two remained paired as Piggy's nephews, Andy and Randy Pig. Whitmire took over the role of Beaker, playing off Goelz's Bunsen. Whitmire also recently took over the role of Statler, playing off Waldorf, whom Dave Goelz has performed since 1992, and during the 1990s, the two performed the duo Jake and Stinky on The Animal Show.

Puppeteer Credits

Behindthescenes.muppetmovie01
On the set of The Muppet Movie: Steve Whitmire with Kermit, Kathryn Mullen with Camilla the Chicken and Dave Goelz with Gonzo.
Steve and Kermit, Dave and Gonzo
Whitmire and Goelz, with Kermit and Gonzo
Whitmire swamp years
Whitmire with Jack Rabbit on the set of Kermit's Swamp Years
Steve Whitmire and Wembley
Whitmire with his Fraggle Rock character, Wembley Fraggle.
Steve and Rizzo
Whitmire performing Rizzo the Rat.

Trivia

  • Was nicknamed Kermit in his youth because he aspired to become a puppeteer and even performed with a Kermit which he made. His high school yearbook even has the name "Kermit" on the front cover. [7]
  • Shares the same birthday (September 24) as Jim Henson.
  • At one of his last meetings with Jim Henson, Henson commented to Whitmire that although he was a main Muppet performer, he didn't really have any main Muppet characters besides Rizzo and Bean Bunny, and told him that he was going to try to create a new main character for Whitmire to perform. [3]
  • In The Muppet Movie, he used a remote control device to operate Kermit's hand while playing the banjo during The Rainbow Connection.[9]
  • A quote from the Muppet Central interview with Steve Whitmire: "I designed the little mechanism inside of [Rizzo] that makes his mouth move."
  • Supporter/chairperson and volunteer at actress Tippi Hedren's wildlife preserve SHAMBALA, located in Acton, CA. Whitmire and his wife, Melissa have volunteered countless hours helping bring wild cats for veterinarian care, etc.

See also

Sources

  1. ToughPigs forum - At the UK premiere of Muppets Most Wanted on March 24, 2014, Whitmire told the audience that it had been exactly 36 years since he joined the Muppets.
  2. Interview with Berkmar High School Newspaper
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Plume, Kenneth Muppet Central interview
  4. Official website of Gary Koepke
  5. Whitmire, Steve Tough Pigs interview: My Week with Steve : Day 3
  6. Louise Gitkow, Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street, page 135
  7. A&E Biography: Sesame Street
  8. 2momluvme interview
  9. The Importance of Jim Henson pg 76-77

External links

Around Wikia's network

Random Wiki