Wilkins and Wontkins were the Muppet stars of one of the earliest, and perhaps longest running, commercial series made by Jim Henson, appearing in 8 second spots for Wilkins Coffee. Wilkins was a smiling character named for the coffee, and Wontkins was his generally dour counterpart, a grumpy blob who couldn't stand the Wilkins brand. Wilkins would be a strong proponent of drinking Wilkins Coffee, and would attempt to convince Wontkins to drink it, too. Wontkins however, almost always refused, leading Wilkins to maim, destroy, assault, and sometimes kill Wontkins over his dislike of Wilkins Coffee. Wontkins, however, occasionally would admit that he liked Wilkins Coffee. Throughout the ads, Wontkins never smiled, unlike Wilkins.
Wontkins was named as Wilkins' opposite: they either "will" or "won't" drink the coffee. If you won't, bad things will happen to you.
A typical commercial would go like this:
(Wilkins and Wontkins appear under a sign reading "Wilkins Coffee". Wilkins speaks into a large, tabletop microphone)
Wilkins: Care for a cup of Wilkins Coffee?
Wontkins: No, I don't like coffee.
(As Wontkins says this, a hand from off screen places a gun next to Wontkins head. As he completes the line, the gun fires, dropping Wontkins out of frame in a puff of smoke)
Wilkins: This has been a public service.
The repeated abuse would sometimes lead Wontkins to try and outsmart Wilkins by proclaiming his love for Wilkins Coffee, but Wilkins would generally see through this and pummel Wontkins anyway. This no-win scenario sometimes made for commercials like this:
(Wontkins appears next to Wilkins, who is brandishing a large club. Wonkins begins to talk in a stilted, scripted manner)
Wontkins: Wilkins makes good coffee.
(Wilkins smacks Wontkins with the club)
Wontkins: Better Coffee?
(Wilkins hits Wontkins again with the club)
Wontkins: Wilkins makes the BEST coffee!!
Wilkins: (nodding in approval) Congratulations.
The characters proved so popular that in October 1958, the company offered vinyl puppets of Wilkins and Wontkins through the mail for $1.00 and a coffee can label. The offer on the can said, "Hey Kids! I'm Wilkins and he's Wontkins -- you see us on TV!" These puppets are difficult to find today. Years later, Community Coffee offered hand puppets of the characters.
The pair were also used in ads for other products, including Wilkins tea, and assorted other brands, and established a basic pattern which would be reflected in later commercial teams, such as Scoop and Skip, Tommy and Fred, and Mack and Suzy.
Rebuilt versions of the puppets were on display in the touring exhibit Jim Henson's Fantastic World.
- Wilkins Coffee (1957-1961)
- Faygo (1958-1959)
- La Touraine Coffee (1958-1962)
- Nash's Coffee (1958-1961)
- Community Coffee (1959-1969)
- Martinson Coffee (1959)
- Calso Water (1961) (as "Cal" and "So")
- Donovan Coffee Company (1961-1966)
- Frank's Beverages (1961-1963) (as "Frank" and "Fink")
- Kraml Dairy (1962)
- Merita Bread (1963)
- Wilson's Meats (1965-1967)
- Taystee Bread (1967)
- Muppets on Puppets (1968, Wontkins cameo)