Who is the best Muppet? There are some questions that are hard to answer, and for fans of the animated series, could be one of them. Jim Henson’s puppet series hosted a range of colourful, eccentric, loveable and memorable characters. Numerous ranking articles online show that people tend to have different favourites, as these polls diverge in who makes the top five.
If you ask most people who is the first character that comes to mind when you mention The Muppets, they are likely to say ‘Kermit The Frog’. He’s always been the flagship star. Nevertheless, there are other highly popular characters. Rowf is one of them, and in some lists he occupies the #1 spot.
So, why are Kermit and Rowlf often named as best muppets, whose origins go back way before the first The Muppets episode?
Kermit and Rowlf – Sesame Street
In 1968 two global future stars of television assembled for a screen test for Sesame Street – a dog and frog! This then un-named programme would go on to be a roaring success, and the love of many young children growing up during that era.
The clip shows Rowlf,as the enthusiastic one – keen to get the show running, while Kermit The Frog is somewhat reluctant. However it was this character (not Rowlf) who would go on to appear in the programme.
Rowlf’s origins and The Muppets
It wasn’t until 1976 that Rowlf – the piano-playing dog, got onto TV as part of the regular cast for Jim Henson’s The Muppets (alongside Kermit), but had actually started life in 1962 – on a Purina dog food commercial. You this below. Henson’s Muppet characteristics and voicings were evident even then
In The Muppets, Rowlf also played the part of Dr Bob – a wacky Veterinarian Dogtor, alongside nurses Miss Piggy and Janice. Although one of the show’s main characters, he was rarely part of the ‘backstage plots’ that would focus on one of them each week. See below; Rowlf as Dr Bob – from Season 2, Episode 37
Rowlf – Stardom
However, in 1979 Rowlf attained movie stardom through his spotlight in The Muppet Movie. The film tracks his backstory and origins – as a piano player, before being discovered by Kermit. The two then plan to take on Hollywood.
Kermit – origins
Kermit’s origins date back further – to 1955 for an WRC-Tv programme Sam and Friends. For this, Henson made him out of discarded turquoise material that his mother had lying around, and two eyes as ping pong balls.
His physical appearance was also different, and was more of a lizard than what he came to be known as, through a number of subsequent TV commercials. It wasn’t until 1969, that Kermit’s transformation into a frog was complete. Around the time of the Hey Cinderella TV programme, he first got his triangular collar.
Kermit as ‘Everyman’
There’s no doubt that Kermit became the main protagonist and most identifiable character of all the Muppets, even if he had started life as more of a lizard. By Sesame street he’d become very much an ‘Everyman character’. Henson described Kermit as “Kind of easy-going, very likeable”, as well as “…sometimes slightly a wiseguy”.
Rowlf – closest to Jim Henson
Like Kermit, Rowlf’s character is also easy going. He’s smart, musical, and laid-back. While many of Henson’s associates have remarked of similarities between his and Kermit’s character, there are those that believe it is Rowlf who is the closest expression of his creator’s personality.
Jim Henson’s last performance as Rowlf came in 1990 – just before his death, on the Arsenio Hall Show. It was for this reason that Rowlf didn’t have a speaking role in The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992.
Henson’s son Brian introduced episode 117 of The Muppet Show by saying, “Kermit was my father’s best known character, but a lot of people think he was more like Rowlf in real life except he couldn’t play the piano as well”.
Who is your pick for best Muppet? Let us know in the comments below.