BY ROB LESTER Picking Kermit the Frog as our Person of the Week was suggested by our intern, Miss Lilly Padd. September marks 40 years since he began hosting The Muppet Show on TV. It was America’s bicentennial, and other TV offerings that month included the debuts of Charlie’s Angels and Alice, the historic surprise live reunion of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin on the MDA telethon (engineered by guest Frank Sinatra), and the Presidential debate between sitting President Gerald Ford and the man who unseated him, Jimmy Carter. OK, so, our other intern, Tad Pole, reminds me that, technically, Kermit is not a person, but he was always quite attached to a person. And Kermit was already an experienced actor, singer, TV personality, and philosopher by the time that television variety program premiered, having already been locally established before taking a hop, skip, and a jump to move to Manhattan and getting a rent-stabilized apartment on Sesame Street.
So, let’s talk about the man Kermit owes his career to–the NiteLife PERSON of the week we are actually honoring. Jim Henson was that man and he would have been 80 years old this week. This creator of The Muppets and much more entertained and influenced generations of kids, allowing them to keep part of their childhoods alive as the characters still make us smile as adults. Sadly, he left us too young, but it gives us pause to think how present his creations and ideas are even though he died in 1990. It has been said that Kermit was the alter-ego of the gentle-spirited Mr. Henson and that is reinforced when we recall that he himself supplied the character’s voice for years. For him, it was easy being green. Whether teaching and movie/TV-producing in his professional life or dealing with the non-quite equally adoring feelings in his inter-species romantic coupling with the famed diva Miss Piggy, Kermit was a busy and productive guy. But he pales (to become to alight green) compared to Jim Henson, who created a lasting empire and a lot of love.
It’s a lovely coincidence that Jim Henson’s actual birthday of September 24th is shared by Steve Whitmire, 56, who is the current voice of Kermit.
To quote one of their iconic songs introduced in The Muppet Movie, “Rainbow Connection,” which has touched “the lovers, the dreamers, and me, here’s a double anniversary toast. We salute two events 40 years apart—the 80th anniversary of Jim Henson’s birth in the city named for the color of our favorite frog: Greenville, Mississippi …. and the 40th anniversary of the TV series that celebrated show biz and music and infected some with the desire to entertain in cabaret or in musical theatre. And, as we go to press with our weekly NiteLife Person of the Week feature which comes online every Monday, to put the sweet serendipity cherry on this sweet sundae, let’s note that Paul Williams, co-writer (with Kenny Ascher) of “Rainbow Connection” was born on this very day, September 19th.