Published on July 17, 2016
are an ensemble cast of puppet characters known for an absurdist, burlesque and self-referential style of variety-sketch comedy. Created by Jim Henson in 1955, they are the namesake for the Disney media franchise that encompasses films, television series, music recordings, theme park attractions, print publications, merchandising, and other media works associated with the characters.
The Muppets debuted on the television program Sam and Friends, which aired from 1955 to 1961. After appearing on skits in several late night talk shows and advertising commercials during the 1960s, the Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street in 1969. The Muppets attained celebrity status and international recognition through their breakout roles in The Muppet Show (1976–1981), a primetime television series that garnered four Primetime Emmy Award wins and twenty-one nominations during its five-year run. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the Muppets diversified into theatrical feature films, such as The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). The Walt Disney Company began involvement with the Muppets in the late 1980s, seeking to acquire the characters from the Jim Henson Company. The Muppets continued their presence in television and film in the 1990s with The Jim Henson Hour (1989), Muppets Tonight (1996–98)—a series continuation of The Muppet Show—and three films, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999). Disney acquired the rights to the Muppets in 2004, allowing the characters to gain broader public exposure than in previous years. Under Disney’s control, the Muppets enjoyed revitalized success, starring in two films—The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014)—as well as a short-lived primetime television series on ABC.
Throughout their six decades of existence, the Muppets have been regarded as a staple of the entertainment industry and popular culture in the United States, receiving recognition from various cultural institutions and organizations, such as the American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Library of Congress, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
James Maury “Jim” Henson
(September 24, 1936 – May 16, 1990) was an American puppeteer, artist, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter, songwriter, musician, actor, film director, and producer who achieved international fame as the creator of the Muppets. Born in Greenville, Mississippi, and raised in Leland, Mississippi, and Hyattsville, Maryland, Henson began developing puppets while attending high school. While he was a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, he created Sam and Friends, a five-minute sketch-comedy puppet show that appeared on television. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in home economics, he produced coffee advertisements and developed some experimental films. Feeling the need for more creative output, Henson founded Muppets Inc. in 1958 (which would later become the Jim Henson Company).
Henson became famous in the 1960s when he joined the children’s educational television program Sesame Street, and there helped develop characters for the series. He also appeared in the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. In 1976, after scrapping plans for a Broadway show, he produced The Muppet Show. He won fame for his creations, particularly Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and Ernie, and he was involved with Sesame Street for over 20 years. He also had frequent roles in Muppets films such as The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, and created advanced puppets for projects like Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. During the later years of his life, he also founded the Jim Henson Foundation, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. His involvement in two television programs—The Storyteller and The Jim Henson Hour—led to Emmy Awards wins.
Henson died suddenly in May 1990, aged 53, from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome – an unexpected event that was widely lamented in the film and television industries. In the weeks after his death, he was celebrated in a wave of tributes. He was posthumously inducted into Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and as a Disney Legend in 2011.