Jim and Kermit Visit Johnny Carson


Kermit and Jim visit Johnny.

On January 23, 1974, Jim Henson and Kermit made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, in order to plug The Muppets Valentine Show, the first Muppet Show pilot, which ABC aired as a special a week later on January 30th. More on that in another post, and how this pilot came to be, coming later today.


For now, however, just a quick recap of this visit to Johnny Carson. It starts off with Limbo: The Organized Mind, a recreation of the same sketch Jim brought to Carson in 1968. Here, however, rather than just the background projected footage, I was actually able to see the finished product, with Limbo’s floating face in front of it, which was fascinating but also quite creepy, as well, particularly the bit in which the eyes and mouth are dancing in front a pink, human-head-shaped backdrop. It’s one thing to see the entirely abstract facial features in front of various filmed footage but watching it moving around something that looks more like a human face should look is oddly unsettling.


I was actually less interested in the sketch itself, however, than immediately afterwards, when Jim and a very familiar (to Muppet obsessives) face took a bow. The other bearded man with Jim is, in fact, Dave Goelz, who would later go on to be the voice of the one of the most beloved Muppet weirdoes, Gonzo, as well as Boober Fraggle, among others. This point was actually shortly before he was hired full-time by Jim as a puppet builder. Frank Oz had actually met him two years earlier in 1972 at a puppetry festival, where, having been impressed with his work, he invited him to the Sesame Street set. Shortly afterwards, Dave showed Jim his portfolio, and Jim offered him a part-time job in 1973, his first assignment being to build puppets and effects for a Muppet Broadway show that never came to fruition.


The aforementioned Muppets Valentine Show happened instead, and so Jim had him work on that, for which Dave designed and built characters such as an old, bearded man named Brewster, who he also ended up performing for the pilot, despite the fact that he considered himself more of a puppet builder than performer. But the seeds were planted for him taking up the latter mantle, because Jim was very impressed with his performing capabilities, despite his own reticence. Just as with Frank Oz and Jim himself, it likely took him a while to be fully comfortable inhabiting a character without a buffer, and so this live Limbo appearance was probably good experience for him that allowed him to operate a puppet on a national stage without having to voice it himself.


Returning to this appearance itself, after a brief commercial break, we’re back with Jim and Kermit, being interviewed by Johnny, and as with most of his talk show appearances, Kermit takes on his more gregarious persona, taking pride in how long he’s been in show business. “I’ve been here since the beginning [of the Muppets],” he tells Johnny, who compliments him on being “as handsome as ever”. Kermit then makes a clever allusion to plastic surgery by indicatig that he gets “rejuvenated every couple of years”. Which is, of course, completely true (he’s only been a frog for a relatively short time at this point!).


Jim and Dave Goelz taking a bow with Limbo.

Jim and Dave Goelz taking a bow with Limbo.

Then, they talk a bit about the upcoming special and what it was like to work with Mia Farrow, who was the guest star, and therefore arguably the first human to appear on The Muppet Show–although it also arguably wasn’t really The Muppet Show yet. And impressively, there’s only the vaguest tinge of 1970s chauvinism underlying the conversation. It’s actually hardly there are all, besides arguably a bit of “the men are excited because they’re talking about a young, good-looking actress” to it, but Kermit keeps it completely in the innocent realm, calling her a “sweet lady”. He then brings up the fact that she was pregnant when they were filming, which might have seemed a bit out of the blue, but then he explains that he mentioned it “because it’s a show about love”.


He then segues to a rendition of “Bein’ Green,” and while by this point I’ve seen it quite a few times (and I’m sure there’ll be many more to come), it never fails to move me, and what’s particularly nifty to see how moved Johnny and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, are, as well, both afterwards trying but failing to laugh off the fact that they were so caught up in Kermit’s performance that they practically forgot Jim was there at all. “I’m sitting here, watching the dumb frog,” Johnny says, Ed responding that “the little louse is the hit of the show”. Hey, watch what you say about my frog! I’m actually a little surprised that Kermit didn’t get more offended, but I guess this is just the sort of discrimination a frog in Hollywood has to experience on a regular basis.


You can watch this appearance here, and come back in a few hours for a look at The Muppets Valentine Show!