10 Famous Puppets in the History of Television2
By Michael E. Fromm
10 Famous Puppets in the History of Television
There’s no doubt that puppets hold a special place in television history. Heaven knows that when one of those felt creatures pops their way onto the screen, something inside us triggers, causing a stir of childlike excitement and fascination. We can’t help but smile, recalling a simpler time in our lives. For the most part, puppets have symbolized a mixture of education and entertainment – giving our younger selves the opportunity to learn while still have some fun while doing so. All of us have that memory of sitting in front of the tube, watching in admiration, singing along to our favorite tunes and learning a little along the way. Puppets have also been known to take a turn for more adult humor, which only intensifies the level of hilarity.
Over the years, puppets have graced us with their floppy-armed, bulging-eyed presence in every medium – on film with The Muppet Movie, on stage with Avenue Q and on the web with Patrick Duffy and the Crab. Some of these have been immortalized across generations because of their imprint on our hearts and our funny bones.
Who is your favorite felt-covered friend?
Patrick Duffy and The Crab
Crow T. Robot (Mystery Science Theater 3000; 1988-1999)
Built by Joel Robinson to aide him in his torturous punishment of watching low-quality science-fiction films, Crow T. Robot is one of two wisecracking robots on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of the two, however, he was more cynical and juvenile than his counterpart, Tom Servo. Robot has an affinity with writing screenplays, mentioning several of his writings over the course of the series. He is also a noted member of the Kim Cattrall fan club and the writer of the musical Supercalifragilisticexpiali-wacky! The term ‘Crow-Syndrome’ was coined by the other characters of the show to refer to Robot’s off-topic and perverted comments, causing his friends to shout “Crow!” in an annoyed fashion.
Howdy Doody (Howdy Doody; 1947-1960)
Say kids, what time is it? It’s Howdy Doody time! The pioneer of children’s broadcasting, as well as puppet television, Howdy Doody was a marionette with 48 freckles (one for each of the states at the time) and 11 strings that led a cast of characters and “peanut galleries” for over a decade. The show was the first television show to run 5 days a week, the first to broadcast in color, and the first to air more than 1,000 continuous episodes. Today, the original Howdy can be found at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, while his stand-in, Double Doody, is showcased at the Smithsonian.
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Late Night with Conan O’Brien; 1997-2009)
This celebrity mocking, foul-mouthed, leg-humping, cigar-yielding, rubber canine debuted on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and has become a staple in the insult-comedy world. Over the course of Triumph’s decade-plus reign of crude humor, everyone from celebrities to politicians to fans lined up to see Attack of the Clones were not safe from an insult. How could anyone be offended by him (cough Eminem cough)? After all, he is just a hand puppet, as performed by SNL and Conan writer Robert Smigel. That is a memorable television puppet… for me to poop on!
A nonstop whirlwind of activity amongst her fellow Fraggles, Red is sometimes seen as a red blur, blasting past her friends for another athletic event. She is a champion in many Fraggle sporting events, such as tug-of-war, diving while singing backwards and the blindfolded, one-legged radish relay. The most outgoing and enthusiastic of the creatures of Fraggle Rock, her hastiness can sometimes get her into trouble – which is what we look forward to.
King Friday XIII (Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood; 1968-2001)
The ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, King Friday demands—and often gets—respect from everyone. Underneath his stern exterior, however, is a caring person who wants the best for his family and his neighbors. Voiced by the one and only Fred Rogers, King Friday is fond of over-the-top speeches. Despite these qualities, he is able to learn a lesson after something has gone wrong. King Friday also uses big words in songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” calling them his “Royal Versions.” He plays the bass violin occasionally. His favorite color is purple. And he was the second puppet to appear on Children’s Corner.
Lamb Chop (Lamb Chop’s Play-Along; 1992-1997)
The sweet and visceral lamb sock puppet graced PBS for five years (thanks to viewers like you), along with her friends Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse. All performed by Shari Lewis, Lamb Chop first appeared on The Captain Kangaroo Show in 1956. A year later, she was the star of her own show in Shariland, though only airing for two months. Her next outing was on The Shari Lewis Show, which aired on NBC from 1960-1963. After that, Lamb Chop went into hiding for nearly three decades and then reappeared in a show featuring her own name, Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. Lamb Chop was immortalized as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1994. Sadly, though, her show was cancelled in 1997, followed shortly thereafter by the tragic death of Shari Lewis in 1998. Though not achieving the same fame, Lamb Chop still travels the country with Shari’s daughter, Mallory.
Baby Sinclair (Dinosaurs; 1991-1994)
He’s the baby, gotta love him! The youngest of the Sinclair family, Baby was hatched in the very first episode of Dinosaurs. With a frying pan in hand and a not-so-loving, yet innocent catchphrase, “Not the mama,” Baby smacked and giggled his way into our hearts for three seasons on ABC’s TGIF lineup. At first named “Aaah Aagh I’m Dying You Idiot” as the result of an Elder kicking the bucket during his official christening, he was given the name Baby by the end of the episode. Baby appeared outside of his TV show, being the most heavily marketed of the Sinclair family – featured in action figures, dolls, lunch-boxes, Happy Meal prizes and even the music video “I’m the Baby (Gotta Love Me).”
ALF (ALF; 1986-1990)
Following an amateur radio signal to Earth, Gordon Shumway, aka ALF (Alien Life-Form) crash lands in the garage of the Tanner family in a suburb of Los Angeles. As ALF spends years rebuilding his spaceship, he lives in hiding with the Tanners, who protect him from their obnoxious neighbors and the Alien Task Force. Hailing from the recently destroyed planet Melmac, ALF is 230-years-old. He has a fondness of cats, especially as a delicacy, and can whistle without opening his mouth. Outside of his show, ALF was featured in the spin-off show, ALF: The Animated Series, from 1987-1988, depicting his life on Melmac. As well, ALF was also featured in Marvel Comics, and in a television movie, Project ALF, picking up six years after the original series finale, which found ALF captured by the Alien Task Force. Lately, ALF has been keeping himself busy. In 2004, he starred in ALF’s Hit Talk Show, which was a late night talk show (featuring Ed McMahon as his sidekick), lasting just seven episodes. In 2010, ALF resurfaced again, this time in controversy, appearing in offensive bloopers from his TV show.
Elmo (Sesame Street; 1969-present)
Everybody loves Elmo, the fire-engine red, third-person speaking, furry monster with a positive attitude and infectious giggle. This outgoing, every curious critter is always full of wonder as he learns more about the world. With a childlike innocence, Elmo turns everything into a fun game of imaginative fun. He didn’t officially appear on the show until 1979, referred to as ‘Little Monster.’ It wasn’t until 1985 that he was given the name Elmo and his, now iconic, high-pitched voice by Kevin Clash. The rest is muppet history. Currently, he hosts the last fifteen minutes of every episode of Sesame Street in a segment called Elmo’s World, debuting in 1998. There, he and his pet goldfish, Dorothy, explore a subject through games and imagination, usually geared toward toddlers.
Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show; 1976-1981)
Without a doubt, the greatest, most influential puppet (I’d go as far to say character) in television history, is Kermit the Frog, Jim Henson’s first, and most famous creation. He was first introduced in 1955 for Sam and Friends, a five-minute puppet show on WRC-TV. This early version was made out of a turquoise coat Henson’s mother had thrown away with ping pong balls for eyes. Kermit was redesigned into his more iconic look in 1969 as one of the first muppets to appear on the Henson-created Sesame Street. He made regular appearances over the following five years until Henson decided to make him the central character amongst all new muppets in The Muppet Show. Since then, Kermit has been a staple on television, appearing in out-of-context shows such as Johnny Carson, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and even hosting an episode of Larry King Live. Kermit and his fellow Muppets have also made the grand leap from television to the cinema, appearing in ten films (theatrically and televised) with an eleventh on the way. Kermit’s song, The Rainbow Connection, released in conjunction with The Muppet Movie, reached #25 on Billboards Hot 100 list. Kermit was also honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and became the first non-human to receive an honorary doctorate from Southampton College in New York. After 55 years of being in the public eye, it is safe to say that it is, in fact, easy to be green for Kermit the Frog.
Patrick Duffy and The Crab – Watch American Idol
Patrick Duffy and The Crab – Eat A Dime
Michael E. Fromm hails from central New Jersey. He graduated in the Spring of 2007 from Rowan University with degrees in Radio/TV/Film Production and Public Relations. After graduating, Michael has worked with Justice Productions, primarily as a screenwriter and producer, to create award winning short films and viral videos. As well, Michael is also the co-founder of Caddy Cads Public Relations, a firm dedicated to promoting artists and entertainers of all types. Recently, Michael put together the Manalapan Independent Film Festival, where independent film artists were able to showcase their work and network with peers. Along with being a passionate screenwriter and novelist, Michael does literary and web-series reviews at the pop-culture blog EnterBrainment.