The Jimmy Dean Show was an hour-long variety show hosted by country singer Jimmy Dean which aired on ABC from September 19, 1963 until April 1, 1966. Rowlf the Dog was a regular on the show, billed as Jimmy's "ol' buddy." Between 7-10 minutes of every show were devoted to a spot with Rowlf and Dean. Many of the comedy sketches ended with Rowlf and Jimmy singing a duet together. Rowlf's tenure on The Jimmy Dean Show allowed Jim Henson, for the first time, to develop an original character over a period of time. In addition to providing national exposure for the Muppets, it also brought a steady source of income that allowed Henson to develop and finance other projects.
Henson also animated an opening sequence for the show which was never used. Footage was uncovered in the Henson Archives during a 2016 project in which a number of original materials had been transferred to high definition. The segment was screened as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2016.
Rowlf on The Jimmy Dean Show
According to Dean's autobiography, producer Bob Banner suggested that the show needed some sort of comedic character that Jimmy could interact with. Dean mentioned some coffee commercials that he enjoyed seeing while in Washington, D.C. The commercials turned out to be the work of Jim Henson, who was contacted and recruited for the program. Dean stated that the segments with Rowlf were one of the most popular parts of the show, and stated that Rowlf drew two thousand fan letters a week. Rowlf's first appearance was meant to be a one-time guest appearance, which also featured a segment called "Cool Jazz", featuring two pairs of hands performed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
Rowlf would become the first Muppet elevated to national stardom due to his role on The Jimmy Dean Show. The show was also Henson's first major gig having to perform and interact in character with a live partner, rather than using pre-recorded tracks or short and tightly storyboarded commercials. Henson was trained by some "expert teachers" and veteran writers on The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson recalled the experience stating:
Aside from being exposed to a more disciplined comedy style, a deeper characterization, and live performing (all of which Henson would take into his later works), Henson also had the task of singing. Although Henson was musical, he did not think of himself as possessing silver vocal cords. The Jimmy Dean Show was the first showcase Henson had, singing in character, as almost all of the sketches with Rowlf and Jimmy ended in a song. Aside from using his voice to bring music to the show, on some occasions Rowlf would play the ukulele.
In typical Muppet fashion, Rowlf had a way of upstaging the star with ad-libbed quips and his exaggerated reactions and expressions to jokes and actions. Even early on, Henson would steal the scene and force Dean along for the ride. These kinds of moments would usually cause Dean to lose his composure, break character and laugh as Rowlf hammed it up. Jim Henson: The Works asserts that many of these moments were pre-planned and rehearsed by Jim Henson prior to the live performance; however, Dean was not always aware of them, or of how far Henson would go, prior to the act.
In his autobiography, Dean recalled in detail his feelings towards Rowlf and Henson:
Henson and I not only had a good stage rapport with Rowlf but we enjoyed each other as friends too. One of my most prized possessions is a miniature Rowlf that he and Frank Oz made and gave me for Christmas one year. The puppet stands about twenty inches high, and when you lift him off of the stand, there's Jim Henson standing there with his hand straight up in the air. It really is a well-made piece, and I wouldn't take anything in the world for it. ”
Although not a full Muppet production, Jim Henson and his co-workers at Muppets, Inc. were very involved with bringing Rowlf to life each week on the The Jimmy Dean Show. The show required Rowlf to interact with a live star; special sets were built to conceal Henson and his assistant while allowing the performers to operate the puppet comfortably and competently. Don Sahlin built many of the sets and props for the sketches taking into account the puppetry needs and differences in Rowlf's and Dean's size. While Sahlin maintained the puppet and other physical needs of the sketches, Jerry Juhl assisted in writing the Rowlf sketches with the help of the show's staff writers, and on occasion Henson and Dean themselves.
Jim Henson puppeteered (and voiced) Rowlf with the assistance of Frank Oz (then Oznowicz) as the right hand. Jerry Nelson took the assisting role over in the later portion of the show's run. The scenes were rehearsed and polished throughout the week leading up to the show, usually with Dean and Henson running through the scripts several times to get the comedic delivery and timings down.
Craig Shemin explained at a 2003 Jim Henson Legacy event that all the segments were shot live, meaning the puppeteers had to perform non-stop with their arms in the air for well over seven minutes. Audience member Joey Mazzarino pointed out that seven minutes was an excruciatingly long time to perform a puppet.
After the Show
After The Jimmy Dean Show went off the air, Henson and Jerry Nelson took Rowlf on the road with Dean during the summer of 1966 performing on stage with Dean in his live stage shows in Las Vegas. Dean recalled his experiences with Henson on the road:
Jerry Nelson commented on the logistics of the live show in a 2000 interview, explaining that Jerry Juhl, Don Sahlin, and he had built the puppet sets used in the show. The Muppeteer team would carry the sets down the long aisles and get the stage and puppet set up in the dark, in order for Rowlf to be there when the lights came up. After Rowlf did his skit, the lights would go out and the team would pick up the set in the dark and find their way out.
Rowlf and Jimmy Dean appeared together for the last time on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 8, 1967.
Rowlf's stint on the series was referenced in the 1965 Wilson's Meats Meeting Film, as an example of the Muppets' TV exposure. Rowlf himself stated, "I'm the Muppets' big lovable shaggy dog Rowlf, from ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show!" However a decade later, in the 1975 pilot The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, Rowlf lamented to his dance partner that "I was with Jimmy Dean... Nobody remembers me anymore." He later expressed similar regrets to Ernie in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years. Years later, a photo of Rowlf and Dean was used on the set of Rowlf's Tavern in The Muppets.
Ownership and Availability
During the run of The Jimmy Dean Show, Dean was offered ownership of nearly forty percent of Muppets Inc., but turned it down, feeling he had no real right to what Henson was doing or had created. Dean stated in a 2004 interview that "I didn’t do anything to earn that. If I had done something to earn it I would have said, 'Alright, fine.' But I didn’t. A lot of people have said, 'Well, I bet you're sorry now.' No, I am not. Because I couldn’t have lived with me. I’ve got to do things that let me live with me and shave my face in the morning." Dean continued to assert right up to his death that "they were an asset to The Jimmy Dean Show and they did good things for us, but I wouldn't want to take them."
Craig Shemin stated at the "Muppet Rarities: The Unseen Work of Jim Henson" event that the Jim Henson Legacy had been in a heated bidding war with Jimmy Dean for ownership of the footage, although they didn't initially realize who they were bidding against. When Dean offered the owner of the footage substantially more money, the Legacy struck a deal with Dean to buy all of the Rowlf segments, while Dean retained ownership over the remaining footage from the show.
In April 2007, Time-Life released the first DVD of material from the series, entitled The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 1. The hour-long compilation includes two Rowlf sketches. The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 2 was released in August 2007, with two more Rowlf sketches.
Several Rowlf sketches, donated by the Jim Henson Legacy, are featured in the film collection at The Museum of Television and Radio.
| Rowlf's Debut: September 26, 1963
In honor of National Dog Week (and in the second broadcast of the series), Jimmy introduces the audience to his ol' pal, Rowlf. He explains to Jimmy that dogs have a government just as humans do, with Lassie as their President. After trading several dog puns, the two introduce the Willis Sisters, who sing "Moon River" with Rowlf.
This appearance was taped on August 29.
| ||Halloween: Me and My Shadow: October 10, 1963
Rowlf tried to scare Jimmy with his Halloween mask of a gorilla. They sing "Me and My Shadow".
|You're Just in Love: October 17, 1963
Rowlf tells Jimmy he has a passionate crush on a kitty cat, with the overly cute name of Puff. Rowlf finally comes to terms with his most unorthodox romance and Rowlf and Jimmy sing "You're Just in Love."
| || Big Bad Dog: October 24, 1963.
Jimmy Dean sings "Home on the Range," but is interrupted shortly after the deer and the antelope playing by Rowlf, with a sign reading "Jimmy Dean Unfair to Dogs." Rowlf resents Jimmy singing about other animals and not dogs. Jimmy apologizes but points out that there aren't too many dog songs. He says that changing animals, with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Poodle" or "When the Dachshunds Return to Capistrano," wouldn't work. Rowlf can only think of "Get Along, Little Dogie" and is shocked to learn that "Dogie" refers to a calf (which means he should have been saying moo moo all this time).
To cheer Rowlf up, Jimmy sings a song he wrote which may sound familiar: Dean's hit "Big Bad John" rewritten as "Big Bad Dog" and a loving tribute to Rowlf.
| ||Then I'll Be Happy: November 7, 1963
Rowlf and Jimmy sing "Then I'll Be Happy".
| || Button Up Your Overcoat: November 14, 1963
During the opening number "Row, Row, Row," Rowlf plays a riverboat captain. He remains on deck while the dancers cavort. In the main sketch, Rowlf is cold, and disputes Jimmy's claim that animals can get by with furcoats (since they're naked, after all). Jimmy gives Rowlf clothes to warm him up: four cowboy boots, a scarf (and he has to avoid choking rowlf: "It's a present, not a hanging"), ear muffs, and an overcoat for the cold weather. They sing "Button Up Your Overcoat."
|Swinging on a Star: November 21, 1963
Rowlf writes a passionate love letter to Lassie, and makes Jimmy promise to invite her on the show. Rowlf imagines the romantic scene they could have: "Just imagine -- me! A mutt from the Lower East Side, on the same stage with a glamorous Hollywood collie." Rowlf describes all of the animals who'll be tuning in to see them, leading into a duet of "Swinging on a Star".
| ||Song and Dance Man: December 5, 1963
Rowlf sings a verse of "Mention My Name in Sheboygan", and explains to Jimmy that he learned the song at the Animal Actors' Academy. (Other graduates include Huckleberry Hound, Donald Duck and Trigger.) Rowlf demonstrates his acting skills by performing a line from Hamlet, and then ropes Jimmy into a romantic scene, which culminates in a quote from Winston Churchill. Rowlf wishes that he could do that scene with Lassie, and Jimmy assures him that he's invited Lassie to appear on the show. The pair finish the sketch with a duet of "Song and Dance Man".
| ||Rowlf's Vacation: December 12, 1963
Rowlf sings a line of "Skip to My Lou" in the opening. In his main spot, Rowlf (singing a snatch of "By the Beautiful Sea") tries to book a vacation to Miami, giving his last name as Dean (implying his full name is Rowlf Dean). He wants a place that has cha-cha lessons down by the pool, and he shows Jimmy the dance moves he learned from Xavier Cugat's chihuahua. Jimmy makes him feel guilty about leaving him behind, so Rowlf cancels. They talk about taking a vacation just the two of them later on and end with a full duet of "By the Beautiful Sea."
| ||Lassie's Visit: December 26, 1963
During the opening, Rowlf sings a brief part of "Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle" and then announces that canine star Lassie is on the show at last. When Jimmy Dean tries to introduce a beautiful dramatic actress with her own TV show, Rowlf keeps interrupting to assume it's Lassie. (It's actually Patty Duke in her singing debut).
In his 2004 biography, Dean describes this event as "one of the sweetest things you ever saw."
| ||Rowlf Learns Karate: 1964
"Bobbie," a big bull dog, is picking on Rowlf, so he decides to learn karate. However he's unable to break a piece of wood and perfect Jimmy's "karate grunt." Jimmy insists that Rowlf is "flabby and weak" and that violence is not the solution. Rowlf insists, challenging Jimmy to an arm wrestling match (which he loses) and showing off his judo techniques (which are as good as his karate). Finally he shows his true dog side when he gives Jimmy the bite. Jimmy says he's finally found a way to beat "Bobby"- "bite him." Rowlf then reveals that "Bobby" is not a "him"; the bully is Bobbie (short for Barbara), a girl dog. Jimmy says he can't beat up a girl but should romance her instead, and the skit closes with the two singing "She'll Never See Any Dog Like Me."
| Rowlf's Nephew: January 8, 1964
Rowlf's Nephew comes for a visit. This is one of the rare times a second Muppet character appeared in a sketch. They sing "Row, row, row your boat".
| Jazz: January 16, 1964
Jimmy happens upon Rowlf all geared up as a beatnik, playing a swinging tune on the trumpet. He says he's been taking lessons from the greatest trombonist of them all, Rubberlips Levine. He flies in from Chicago twice a week without a plane to tutor Rowlf. He's become good enough that he plans to release his own album, but it won't have a hole in it: when folks buy it, they'll just have to take his word for it that it's good. Jimmy offers that he can play some jazz on the piano. His demonstration is met with a lackluster response from Rowlf, figuring on his performance as rather square (evidenced by his pantomime to the audience).
Rowlf counters that one shouldn't be able to pick out the melody in jazz, so he provides his own interpretation, taking up the keys himself -- a schtick he would later become famous for on The Muppet Show. He figures on the two of them heading out to Birdland after the show and riffing with the greats. Jimmy concedes that it's not really his style and convinces Rowlf to stick around. The two end the sketch with a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" with Jimmy on piano and Rowlf on guitar.
|Lassie Returns: February 20, 1964
Lassie returns as a guest on the show, and Rowlf is still lovestruck. When Jimmy shows his set off to the audience, Rowlf pops up behind his usual bench and excitedly asks if Lassie has arrived yet. He resents Jimmy's quip that she took a Greyhound to get there.
Later in the show, anxious to impress "Miss Lassie," Rowlf pops up in a collar and tie (and heavily perfumed). He hopes to land an acting role on Lassie's TV show, to be around her more often. They practice a typical Lassie plot, first with Lassie herself (accompanied by trainer Rudd Weatherwax) jumping over fences and hedges to save Rowlf. Later, the tables are turned and Rowlf has to run to her, jump in the river and fight the current, and run faster lickety split. (Rowlf: "Ah! I think I've just split my lickety!") Lassie grapples with a villain for a stick of dynamite, which she tosses to Rowlf (who throws it behind the set, with explosive results).
When Jimmy finally decides to leave the couple alone for romantic purposes, Rowlf serenades Lassie with "Oh! You Beautiful Doll."
|The Rowlf Show: February 27, 1964
During the opening, with a rodeo set this week, Rowlf mimes riding a bucking steed and says "Howdy."
For his own spot, Rowlf tells Jimmy he's trying to rehearse for The Rowlf Show. Rowlf has been offered his own TV series, sponsored by Flanigan's Flea Soap. It will be a variety show, with song, dance, and jokes. Every week, he plans to do a spot talking to a "pet human." Guest stars will be included, but (don't tell the sponsor) Rowlf plans to impersonate them all: Maurice Chevalier (singing "Louise" and "Thank Heaven for Little Dogs"), Crazy Guggenheim, Doctor Zorba from Ben Casey, Jackie Gleason (in a top hat ala Reggie Van Gleason, and spouting catch phrases)... and Jimmy Dean ("Howdy, if I ain't Jimmy Dean and a hog's nose ain't pork"; he sings one line of "Big Bad John," Dean's 1961 hit song).
Jimmy offers to be a guest on Rowlf's show for free, but regrets that the dog is leaving his show. But when Jimmy's done with and seen in some dive, he hopes Rowlf will remember who got him his start, or at least give him an autograph. Emotionally touched, Rowlf tells Flanigan's Flea Soap to get another dog (he's not leaving Jimmy Dean just because he's old, feeble, and forgotten). In musical fashion, Rowlf and Jimmy cement their "Friendship."
| George Washington: March 05, 1964
Rowlf breaks Jimmy's guitar and lies about it. Jimmy tries to force the truth out of him with the story of noted truth-teller George Washington. Rowlf is not surprised that Washington's father forgave him: "OIf course he forgave him! The kid had an axe in his hand!" They end the bit singing "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie."
(Available for viewing at The Paley Center for Media)
| || Rowlf for President: March 12, 1964
In the opening, Rowlf sings one line of "Deep in the Heart of Texas." For his main spot, Jimmy finds him reading the newspaper, ignoring news of Barry Goldwater and other candidates to focus on the real news: Little Orphan Annie to marry Daddy Warbucks (with Sandy as best man; "Arf," says Rowlf.) Rowlf and Jimmy discuss politics and the presence of a woman candidate, before Rowlf starts spouting nonsense as a prelude to his own campaign. He quotes Muhammad Ali ("I am the greatest") and then he and Jimmy sing "Vote for Rowlf" (to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight"). His running mate will be Rin-Tin-Tin and his first lady will be Lassie.
| Kitten: March 19, 1964
In the opening, Rowlf is washing the window of a train station during the "Wabash Cannonball" opening number.
Rowlf is writing a letter to Dear Abby as Jimmy comes by with a kitten he picked up in the alley. He plans on adopting it and naming it Fluffy. Rowlf thinks that he's giving him up for the cat, and immediately greets it with trepidation. Jimmy speaks in baby talk to the kitten, and tries to convince Rowlf that cats are nice to have around. After Jimmy threatens to release it outside into the fold, Rowlf finally holds Fluffy and begins speaking in baby talk. Jimmy assures Rowlf that he'd never let a cat get between them, and they end the segment with a duet of "Let's Be Buddies" from Cole Porter's Panama Hattie.
| || Cake: March 26, 1964
Rowlf is preparing a birthday cake for the love of his life, Lassie. The recipe came from Betty Crocker's dog, the eggs from a chicken friend, and the milk from a cow Rowlf knows ("That takes a little pull.") Jimmy and Rowlf do the "bitter batter" tongue twister. After hand lettering a lengthy note on top in icing, Rowlf prepares to mail the cake... but knocks it to the ground. Rowlf begins to cry (at which point the audience applauds loudly), but Jimmy consoles his ol' buddy by singing "When You're Smiling."
| || There's No Business Like Show Business: April 2, 1964
Rowlf is seen flipping pancakes in the opening titles. He is practicing his comedy act for his summer stint at the Royal Casino in Las Vegas. He says that he will open with a tap dance number, he then plays a card trick on Jimmy. The Casino sends a letter saying that there are "no dogs allowed", Jimmy offers him a part in his show at the Flamingo on July 9th. They end with a duet of 'There's No Business Like Show Business'.
| || Income Tax: April 09, 1964
Rowlf is struggling with his income tax forms. Jimmy claims to look forward to paying his taxes, and he critiques Rowlf's mathematics. Rowlf also paid $1,000 dollars to have an appendix put in ("48 stitches"). His owed income tax is one dollar, which Rowlf refuses to pay. Jimmy suggests without it, they'd be unable to send a rocket to the Moon. Feeling patriotic at the idea of planting the American flag on the moon, Jimmy and Rowlf sing "You're a Grand Old Flag." Jimmy tells Rowlf to stick around, since he has a surprise for him at the end of the show (but asks Rowlf to take the bench he sits behind off with him).
At the end, Jimmy presents Rowlf with a letter from the United States Air Force Recruiting Office in Ridgeway, New Jersey. Rowlf has been made an official Air Force Recruiter to select dogs for the Air Force sentry program.
| || N. Y. World's Fair: April 23, 1964
After walking at the World’s Fair at Long Island, Rowlf’s feet are killing him (and causing more puns than usual). He brought back souvenirs: a genuine imported Swiss cheese from the Switzerland exhibit, a serape from the Mexican pavilion, an Alaskan polar bear tooth necklace, a conical straw hat from the Japanese exhibit (but it causes Rowlf to launch into a stock Chinese dialect, including a reference to Charlie Chan’s Number One Son), and a mask from the South American exhibit. Jimmy Dean recognizes the last as the mask of a Peruvian rain god. The name is inscribed on the back: “Mugga Wugg Chapultepec.” This translates to “Bow to me or I’ll flood your basement.”
Rowlf and Jimmy sing “Meet Me in St. Louis,” retitled “Meet Me in Long Island, Louie,” and Jimmy acts as barker in between stanzas. At the end of the routine, Jimmy Dean encourages the audience to stay tuned for the rest of the show, and Rowlf (as the rain god) says if they don’t, “I’ll ruin your next picnic.”
| || Take Me Out To the Ball Game: October 1, 1964
Rowlf is preparing for the Mets game, he sings "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with Jimmy.
| Rowlf the Fortune Teller: December 12, 1964
From the Baltimore Sun: "ROWLF, THE SEER: with the New Year upon us Rowlf dons a turban and checks out his crystal ball for Jimmy on ABC-TV's 'The Jimmy Dean Show'. With Kay Starr and Homer and Jethro."
| || Turkey: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: December 24, 1964
Jimmy and Rowlf hold a Christmas raffle and sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".
| Rowlf Takes Up Boxing: November 19, 1965
Rowlf decides to take up boxing when he hears about the upcoming Cassius Clay and Floyd Patterson fight. He plans to challenge the winner. Jimmy Dean visits Rowlf to see how his training is progressing and volunteers to be his sparring partner. He feigns being knocked out in order to dissuade Rowlf from fighting. Rowlf vows that from now on there will be no more boxing, just wrestling. They then join each other in a rendition of Jimmy’s hit "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning."
| || Carnegie Hall: December 3, 1965
Together, Jimmy and Rowlf played the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana State Fair and did a show in Miami. Playing Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra, however, was a big deal and required some sophistication. Wearing white tie, Rowlf joined Jimmy on stage, carrying his violin and offering up his rendition of Liszt’s "Hungarian Rhapsody" (actually played by the orchestra’s violin soloist). Rowlf’s enthusiastic fiddling to Jimmy’s frantic conducting reached a furious pace and ended in a dramatic upsweep, with Rowlf launching the bow into the air.
This sketch was taped on November 18, 1965.
| ||Rowlf's Flu
Rowlf has the flu, so Jimmy tries to remedy it with a medicinal throat spray. He pumps the spray so much that it inflates Rowlf until his belly button blows out!
A clip of this sketch was featured in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (specifically, when Rowlf's belly button blows out).
Premiered on Thursday, September 19, 1963 on ABC
- 1963-1964 season: Thursdays, 9:00-10:00pm
- 1964-1965 season: Thursdays, 10:00-11:00pm
- 1965-1966 season: Fridays, 9:00-10:00pm
- Executive producer: Bob Banner
- Producer: Julio Di Benedetto
- Director: Bill Foster
- Writers: Will Glickman and Buddy Arnold, Gary Belkin (early episodes), Pat McCormick (season 2), Ron Clark, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth (season 1), Buddy Atkinson (seasons 2-3)
- Music arranged and conducted by Peter Matz (season 1), Al Pellegrini (season 2, first half), Don Sebesky (rest of season 2 & season 3)
- Choreography by Mary Jane Doerr and Jim Hutchison
- Additional orchestration: Don Sebesky
- Assistant to the producer: Diana Birkenfield
- Music coordinator: Larry Grossman
- "Rowlf" is a creation of Jim Henson's "Muppets"
- Sound effects (uncredited): Pete Prescott (TV-1 Shows), Bob Ring (Colonial Theater/Carnegie Shows)
- The Adventures of Rowlf in Outer Space
- Rowlf Learns Karate Transcript
- Jimmy Dean Show Songs
- Jimmy Dean Show Characters
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Dean, Jimmy. Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham: Jimmy Dean's Own Story. Berkley Books. 2004.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Jim Henson's Red Book entry - November 18, 1965
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Finch, Christopher. Jim Henson: The Works. Random House. 1993.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Young, Andrew. "The Unseen Work of Jim Henson." Muppet Central. October 22, 2003. 
- ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book entry - May 1-2, 1966
- ↑ Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Jerry Nelson". ING Film Force. February 10, 2000.
- ↑ McDonald, Craig. "Interview with Jimmy Dean." ModestyArbor.com. October 2, 2004. 
- ↑ http://www.rfdtv.com/story/34148752/after-50-years-the-jimmy-dean-show-is-back-on-rfd-tv
- ↑ http://www.thejimmydeanshow.com/
- ↑ Shown as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2015
- YouTube.com - Rowlf and Jimmy Video Clip