Tag Archives: Steve Whitmire

Losing Steve Whitmire

I’m not going to sugar coat this post. I can’t. If your opinion is different from mine, I respect that and your thoughts, but I’m going to say what I feel on this abrupt and painful event that has occurred this week.

In 1990, we lost Jim Henson. That was enormous. I was depressed and in denial for ages. I was in denial until Steve Whitmire and the Muppet/Henson team brought back the beloved Frog. Then, I began to feel better and heal. Steve Whitmire brought back hope and love and laughter when I thought it was gone.

He has done so for 27 years. He has done so while he was hurting. Far more than I could ever imagine. I lost a hero. He had to try to REPLACE his hero. I’m my eyes, he succeeded. I’ve been lucky enough to see him perform live. He’s tremendous. I’ve heard stories of what he is like to work with and to meet. He’s delightful.

No one can deny his skill, talent or dedication. No one.

And yet, Disney has seen fit to summarily dismiss him from his roles with The Muppets. His job since he was 19. His only dream as a youth. Over 40 years. People is that excellence and expertise are generally given lavish celebrations and opportunities to have retirements when they choose. They are also, frequently, given extra benefits to their contracts and perks that younger, newer folks generally would need to “pay their dues” to receive.

Steve didn’t receive these. Steve was quietly and abruptly dismissed. People noticed. People talked. People missed him. And then, a quiet little announcement came out with very few details that he was gone.

Think about this for a moment… when there’s a new Bond or Doctor Who, the outgoing actor, writer, director for the show is given a fanfare, a special episode, and loads of attention and appreciation.

WHY would Steve not merit, at the very least, something like that? Disney is hoping this change will be quiet. They are hoping we will all move on, and that most won’t even notice. After 40 years of dedicated and excellent service, this is an appalling way to say farewell to any performer, regardless of what the reasons for the departure may be. This is APPALLING AND SHAMEFUL.

Dear Steve, (in case you see this), THANK YOU. Thank you for restoring my faith, for healing my loss and for making millions of people happy for over 40 years. You have been brilliant. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult this role (and this period of time) has been for you, but you are a star. And regardless of anything hanging onto this controversy, I feel that you deserve the appreciation of our planet. At the very least, know you have mine.

Thank you, Steve.

The positive effects of sharing things you love.

So last week, I gave my students a new, quick, research assignment to find out about voice actors. It was simple and I hoped, fun. It turned out really great – and the best part was, we all enjoyed it and everyone learned something new, including me.

They were to work in pairs to find some basic information about performers who are famous for their voices. The list of names included, (but was not limited to) Nancy Cartwright (The Simpsons), Billy West (Futurama), Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes), John DiMaggio (Futurama), Dan Castellena (The Simpsons) and of course several Muppeteers, such as Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Kevin Clash, Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson.

Their presentations were simple and to the point and consisted of Name, Birth/Death (if applicable), where they live, career highlights, and major characters. Then they were asked to find two contrasting YouTube clips to share with the class. In some cases, I helped. In others, they had a myriad of examples. In all cases, the students were impressed with the variety and skill of these performers and their vocal abilities. It was a great week.

This week, we moved on to creating simple props. The Grade 9s were to create something with a basic shape – rectangle, square, round, cylinder – but to represent something realistic. Essentially a brick, stone or stepping stone. They went to town. I’ve now got on display some headstones, a paving stone, several versions of bricks, an oversized hunk of chocolate with a bite removed and a swiss roll. All made from cardboard, florist foam or styrofoam. Incredible.

Simple Bricks and other Props on display.

The Grade 10s get their pick of props to make. It just has to be something that a character could use on stage in some manner. I’ve now got several weapons, including a couple of animation inspired swords, an overly large hammer – it’s hard to describe, it’s SO huge, Thor’s hammer, (complete with leather wrapped handle), Pooh’s Hunny Jar – complete with BumbleBees on it, a diary, a Marauder’s Map, a sorcerer’s collection of goodies, pumpkins made from dryer tubing and an amazing Mad Hatter’s Hat – so incredible and large that it won’t fit in the display case. Most of these creations were made with less than $5 and some with $0! That’s what I call creative prop making! These kids had a blast and were coming to class early to get to work on their creations. It was amazing to watch them work and collaborate and encourage one another. So thrilling.

Assorted Props on Display!

 

Muppet Central Radio Game

Here’s a little game I play, with myself… (don’t be dirty)

I like to put on the Muppet Central Radio channel when I’m working on some chores. You know, the dishes, laundry, whatever. Something that would be great fun on Sesame Street, but at home, by yourself, it’s mundane and depressing. Then I play a little game.

First, I have to be a distance from the computer or my phone – which is easy, cause I’m busy doing some chore. But as each song comes on, without looking, I run through as many details of the tune as I can possibly think of whilst listening. Now sometimes this is easy. For example when the Oscar winning Man or Muppet is played, I can remember who wrote it, for what purpose, who sang it (character and performer), and of course the scene plays in my mind. And I sing along at the top of my lungs.

Sometimes it’s not so easy. For example, I may hear what is unmistakably Jim Henson’s voice, but at first listen it may be difficult to tell if the character is Kermit or Ernie – he’s not given away a tell tale character giggle yet or said “Hi Ho!” So, without looking, I try to decipher the setting, the character and everything I can from simply listening. It’s also fun when a “What-not” song comes along, to determine which character is Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt or Louise Gold, etc. Or, when it is clearly an Ernie and Bert segment – is it Jim & Frank or Steve & Eric, etc. Again, often easy, but still enjoyable.

This evening a segment from an early Veterinarian’s Hospital came on, and without Piggy actually before my eyes to distract me with her beauty, it was so easy to tell that the voice was Richard Hunt. This is, of course, how I knew it was an early episode.

I do frequently check to see how close I am in my guesses and what info might be there on the station, but if I’m stumped, then there’s always the good ol’ reliable Muppet Wiki to help me along. If you’ve never explored the Muppet Wiki – you are in for a treat!

It’s a simple and fun trivia-esque game that would be hard to play with another person – unless they were in the room with you, as their load rates could be different and they might be one song ahead or behind you – should you ever try to play this with someone while chatting or skypeing. Just a thought.

But of course, no one out there is quite as nerdy as I. Are they?

Let me know if you are.