A Muppet Fan’s Dilemma: Defending My Hero

Last week, in my open letter to the fandom I made a declaration of fealty to the Muppets, stated my intention to continue my support of Steve Whitmire and established my new stance within the Muppet fandom. None of this has changed within the past few days, but there is one specific topic I feel I should tack on as an afterthought.

First of all, when I presented my letter to a good friend, he pointed out and congratulated me on speaking my own truth. This is an idea I hadn’t even thought of while writing that piece, I really just wanted to collect and gather my thoughts in my strongest medium. I created the Halibut in the first place as a means of expression, how much traffic the blog gained did not matter to me. Now I am grateful that I have gathered a regular audience, as small as it may be, as it provides me with a chance to share these truths my dear friend was so quick to point out.

Even if I didn’t realise I was doing it at the time, speaking so openly about my membership within the Muppet Fandom, something that is so dear to me in my life, was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things I have ever written. I know there are a lot of people who won’t agree with me, who see Steve Whitmire in a grave, darkened light after being shoved off such a high pedestal. In the minds of those fans who have turned their backs on Steve, the man has already said everything he needs to say and is now beating at dead rats and frogs.

Jumping from forum, to Facebook post, to Twitter feed, I’ve read criticism both positive and negative in regards to this ongoing situation. Many casual fans are simply sad to see Steve go, others are indifferent, and then some are completely done with him altogether. I’ve read horrible remarks along the lines of, “Good riddance, Whitmire was nothing but a spoiled Hollywood brat!” and, “The guy should have just shut-up and played with the dolls, forget about him!” There’s no doubt in my mind that if they had simply researched a little more into Steve and the situation, their conclusions may not have been so open-and shut.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we have many die-hard fans who wish nothing more than for Steve to cease speaking out, perhaps to the point where he’ll fade out of sight and out of mind. They seem to have a problem with Steve speaking his own truth, especially after his High Noon post, noting his disappointment in these very fans who just want to move on and enjoy whatever Muppet content is brought to us by The Muppets Studio.

Whether Steve was placed in this precarious situation by his own doing or not, he has every right to have his say about a career he had built and maintained over the course of 38 years. I hate to think such things of my fellow fans, but it is rather hypocritical to deny someone a platform on which to speak when you yourself are trying to shut them down from your own. Everyone is welcome to write and speak their minds, as long as they don’t deliberately obstruct the voices of the people around them.

In my open letter, I established my continuous loyalty to Steve, but didn’t actually give a definite reason for doing so. My reasoning is based on hours upon hours of contemplating, researching, evaluating and talking to as many people as I can to gain multiple perspectives. It hasn’t been easy, but it needed to be done for the sake of moving on with my life. Doing all this helped me to shape my conclusions, however, there are only so many news articles to read, interviews to watch and people from the outside you can talk to before going straight to the source of the conflict.

Muppet Pundit has been both a blessing and a curse. For me, it’s been a blessing because for the first time, I can connect to Steve on my own level-the written word.  Steve claims to read every single comment made on his blog (his interactive way of posting proves that), so perhaps the comments I have left there have caused him to stop and think for a moment. Or perhaps not. Unless he replies to my comments or mentions them in a post, I’ll never know.

From the very first post, the articulate, direct and clear manner in which Steve wrote appealed to me as an aspiring writer who often struggles to achieve such clarity in her own writing. His writing is so concise, in fact, that I am able to read between the lines, detecting what emotion drove which statement and finding the subtle contentions hidden beneath the pronounced ones. The most definite thing I can say about several of Steve’s posts is that, while they may seem bitter on the surface (which is perfectly understandable), there are genuine undertones of concern.

Muppet Pundit is also a curse because there are people out there who will take any opportunity to twist Steve’s words around and use them against him. Let’s take a look at one of the more heated posts, Early Influences on my “Business Conduct”, where Steve recounts a story that seems to foreshadow Disney’s attitude towards the Jim Henson method of running The Muppets during the filming of  Muppet Vision 3-D. After Steve and another performer fail to sign their contracts, three “suits” come barging onto the sound stage and then…

Well, I’ll let Steve take it from here….

‘Imagine standing in a line, three “suits”, Jim Henson, and behind him me and the other performer who didn’t sign. What do you think Jim did next?

Did he:

A) Tell me that my “business conduct was unacceptable”?
B) Accuse me of “brinkmanship”?
C) Fire me without an ultimatum for holding up his production?

The answer is none of the above. With two of us standing in his shadow, gentle, soft spoken Jim Henson looked the attorneys square in the eyes and slowly, quietly told them to get off his set and never come back.

As we watched them go I said to him, “Jim, I’m so sorry to have caused a problem, especially on your first day shooting with Disney…”. Jim put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I would NEVER want you to sign a deal you’re not comfortable with”.’

Now, this story has been received with mixed responses. To keep with the theme of the post, I’ll pitch my own multiple choice question by asking, “What is your take on it?”

Do you:

A) Accept it as Steve’s anecdotal example of how differently Jim handled “business conduct” with his performers in comparison to Disney and why Steve tried to handle things the same way?

B) Fail to see the point of the story and view it as a weak attempt by Steve back up his stance?

C) Scoff at the story and firmly believe that it’s only helping to dig Steve deeper into an inescapable hole as it just demonstrates what Disney and the Henson’s have accused him of?


D) Kind of see what Steve was trying to say, but believe that another example would have done a better job?

Those choices are the four most common responses I’ve come across. For me, it’s a mix of answers A and D. I can see perfectly well what Steve was trying to say and can accept it as such, but unfortunately telling a story where he was mistakenly ‘difficult’ in Disney’s eyes was a little ill-timed.

Putting that aside, can you see what I mean about Steve nailing the delivery of his writing on the head? He’s descriptive only where he needs to be, he’s blunt where it matters most and he calculates the perfect note to conclude on, impacting the ideal reader in the exact way needed to drive his point home. There aren’t a lot of people who can pull that off. When it is accomplished, there is generally a great deal of intelligence behind it, or at least an extensive amount of knowledge, the two not being one and the same.

You may be thinking that I’ve gone entirely off track from my original intention of explaining why I still have a great deal of trust in Steve’s word, but I can assure you this is exactly my point. Ever since 2012, I have done an extensive amount of research on Steve, the majority of it for a now-impossible documentary in which I was hoping to follow him around for a year as he performed Kermit from project to project. After all the articles I’ve read, the interviews I have watched and listened to and the Muppet insiders I have talked to, my faith in Steve can be summed up as such:

While the positives of Steve’s nature have been proven time and time again, those who claim Steve has a dark side he’s kept in the shadows have consistently failed to properly address and provide evidence for such a claim.

And as a result:

I openly and forwardly challenge those people to come out in the open and prove me wrong with solid evidence. I don’t just mean an anecdote or two. I mean proof of these alleged attacks through emails, phone calls or whatever else Steve has been accused of.

I don’t pretend to have insider knowledge of show business and how it is conducted on a day-to-day basis. If that evidence is blocked for legal reasons, than that’s your problem. As far as Steve or I am concerned, the burden of proof is on the people who wish to tarnish his reputation, not the other way around.

Until and if that ever occurs, I see no reason to cease listening to what Steve has to say with my own objective viewpoint. I suppose the next question is, what exactly am I supposed to do with the knowledge he promises to provide? I may be an outspoken fan who people seem to like listening to, but I’m a tiny, insignificant speck in the broader scheme of things.

In my open letter, I promised to be outspoken about the integrity of the Muppets while continuing to support them in their future endeavours. This is where I can be of service, as can all Muppet fans who give a damn. Believe it or not, The Muppets Studio has listened to us in the past, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. It’s a case of being louder and providing more clarity in regards to what we believe in then we ever have before. It’s about reaching out to the performers, writers and yes, even producers and executives and closing that ever-widening gap. It’s about working in tandem to maintain Jim Henson’s vision while still evolving the characters in a true integral process.

I believe that not only can this be achieved, but it can occur through the mutual support, love, friendship and tolerance the Muppets are treasured for. There’s no need to obnoxiously shout, simply projecting our hopes and dreams for our beloved characters should do the trick in the long run. This is what Steve has been trying to say in his own way: don’t just sit there and take the Muppets as they come. Be supportive, be active in ensuring they have the best future they possibly could, no matter who or what it takes for that to happen.

I’m currently standing on the edge of the diving board, ready to jump back into Muppet Mayhem. Who’s going to join me?



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Marni Hill View All →

Muppet Enthusiast, Film Lover, Book Adorer. No one original, but (hopefully) providing brand new perspectives for the world to process. Currently a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate at Deakin University.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Marni

    I choose A for your multiple choice question. I have to say, though, this whole debacle is making me crazy. Last month has been so stressful over this whole situation, it’s making me feel ready to lose it any minute (this whole thing with Steve Whitmire was just the beginning of the bad month, but I digress). I agree with you about your comment on proof. I’m a member on Muppet Central, and when I commented that what the Hensons had said might not be 100% true, as well as speculating that Disney had paid them off to say what they were saying (which I don’t really think is true, I’m just trying to search every possible angle), I was met with what I felt was akin to saying, “are you kidding me?” and accused of coming up with a conspiracy theory. But how do we know what that the things the Hensons are saying was really true? My father told me everyone has their own perspective. Maybe the part about Steve allegedly saying “you better make me happy because I’m Kermit and without Kermit there is no Muppets” (or something like that), was meant to be a joke, and someone just took it the wrong way (again, I have no proof of this, it’s all just my own speculation). Sometimes, my dad has what we all call “The Tone,” and he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. Perhaps his emails were not attacks, but those receiving them thought they were. You can say something in an email that comes off as hurtful without truly meaning it. Again, I don’t know. I’m just a fan, and I’d like all the drama surrounding this whole thing to stop, so I can get my emotions back into some kind of order (though the whole situation is, as someone said, like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from).

    Sorry for talking your ear off (or typing your eyes off).
    Live long and paws-purr

    Liked by 1 person

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