It’s Not Easy Being Mean

As it turns out, Kermit the Frog wasn’t always so nice. In fact, an early version of the most-beloved Muppet was downright homicidal.

Hyattsville native Jim Henson was just starting his puppeteering career when he landed a gig producing commercials for D.C.’s own Wilkins Coffee. Rather than go for the traditional hard-sell, he decided to use humor.

The set-up for the ads was simple: A proto-Kermit named Wilkins asks a proto-Rowlf named Wontkins if he wants some Wilkins Coffee. Wontkins turns him down. Kermit then a) fires a cannon on him, b) punches him, c) drops him from a biplane, d) slams his head in a car hood, or, most astonishingly, e) puts him to death in an electric chair.

The seven-second ads were so successful that over 300 were made. Many were also remade for other regional coffee companies.

“In terms of popularity of commercials in the Washington area, we were the number one, most popular commercial,” Henson later recalled. “They got a lot of talk, and so then the advertising agency started syndicating them and they would sell them to a coffee company in Boston, another coffee company in New York.”

The ads are still funny, but it’s a bit jarring to see Kermit acting mean.

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6 Responses to It’s Not Easy Being Mean

  1. Jim Baxter says:

    Those of us who grew up watching Henson’s “Sam and Friends” on WRC-TV would never confuse Kermit with any other muppet. Although he wasn’t always a frog, he was always Kermit and Wilkins was always Wilkins.

  2. Yeah, but that voice! He’s not Kermit, but he’s at least a cousin…

  3. John Essex says:

    While I’m sure Hyattsville residents appreciated Jim Henson, he was a native of the Town of University Park – not Hyattsville. He first lived on Tennyson Street and then Beechwood Road. He did, however, attend Northwestern High School. Since UP gained it independence from Hyattsville in 1936, I don’t think you can claim him!

  4. Well this’ll be a good excuse for me to go look up the homes Jim Henson lived in. I was meaning to do that anyway. Stay tuned…

  5. John Essex says:

    Apparently the addresses were 4012 Tennyson Road, and 4002 Beechwood Road, both in University Park.

  6. Pingback: Where Was Jim Henson Really From? |

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