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Happy 50th Birthday, Kermit!

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hard to believe that he still looks so good, but Kermit the Frog turns 50 today, 50 years of being green. We have a birthday tribute from MORNING EDITION senior producer Barry Gordemer who is also a puppeteer.

BARRY GORDEMER reporting:

Kermit was born in 1955 in Washington, DC. He was created by a University of Maryland student named Jim Henson. Henson was launching a new television show on the local NBC station.

(Soundbite from "Sam & Friends")

Unidentified Character: "Sam & Friends" brought to you by Esskay.

GORDEMER: "Sam & Friends" featured a cast of strange-looking puppets. One of them was a lizardlike creature named Kermit.

(Soundbite from "Sam & Friends")

Mr. JIM HENSON: (As Kermit) Good afternoon but let's not be quite so formal. Why don't you just call me Kermit and I'll call you--well, what would you like me to call you?

Mr. CHET HUNTLEY (NBC News): John Huntley, NBC News, New York.

Mr. HENSON: (As Kermit) Oh, OK, Chet Huntley. Tell me as a newsman...

GORDEMER: "Sam & Friends" was only five minutes long and aired just before "The Tonight Show," but it gained a cult following with adults. The original Kermit was made from an old coat that belonged to Jim Henson's mother. Eventually, Kermit was made out foam rubber and fleece and transformed into a frog, and, well, you know what happened next.

(Soundbite from "The Muppet Show")

Mr. HENSON: (As Kermit) Ladies and gentlemen, it's "The Muppet Show"!

GORDEMER: Kermit, Miss Piggy and their muppet co-stars were so captivating it was easy to forget they were puppets. At the peak of "The Muppet"'s fame, Kermit hosted "The Tonight Show" and handed out Oscars at the Academy Awards, much like a distant relative had done just a few years ago.

(Soundbite from program)

Mr. EDGAR BERGEN: (As Charlie McCarthy) For five bucks, our spaceship will fly you to Mars.

Mr. BERGEN: Is that so?

Mr. BERGEN: (As Charlie) Yeah, $5. It's an unscheduled flight.

Mr. BERGEN: Oh, I see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGEN: You mean it has to be loaded before it'll take off.

Mr. BERGEN: (As Charlie) Yeah. And so do the passengers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDEMER: In the '40s and '50s, the biggest star in Hollywood was a wooden puppet. Charlie McCarthy and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen had the number-one show on radio for 20 years. Americans accepted Charlie as a real boy. Kermit gave us something real as well.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDEMER: "The Muppet" menagerie of bears, pigs and monsters found evermore ridiculous ways to get on each other's nerves. Yet there was always an undercurrent of affection led by Kermit, the frog who showed us the best of human nature.

Happy birthday, Kermit.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HENSON: (As Kermit) Why aren't there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?

INSKEEP: Barry Gordemer is a senior producer for MORNING EDITION and a puppeteer, though not necessarily in that order. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.
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