Born one of several thousand siblings, Kermit the Frog’s life began swimmingly but uneventfully in a Southern swamp. Once his tail dropped off, Kermit, accompanied by only raw talent, a banjo and a song in his heart, took the giant leap to showbiz. His first starring role was in the Washington, D.C.-based TV show “Sam and Friends,” for which he earned his first Emmy.
After making his network TV debut on Steve Allen’s “Tonight” show in 1956, Kermit went on to make guest spots on various TV shows until 1969, when he and his Muppet colleagues joined the cast of the nascent TV show “Sesame Street.” Seven years later, the hit TV series “The Muppet Show” catapulted the mild-mannered frog to superstardom in more than 100 countries and thrust him into a full-blown film career in such features as “The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”
Kermit has been honored with his own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as his most recent tribute: becoming the first amphibian Grand Marshal of this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.
As he reflects on his career and looks to the future, Kermit doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. “Slow down?” he says. “I just got started!” Kermit recently began production on his fifth feature film, “Muppet Treasure Island,” a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic.
The following excerpts are from a recent interview with Chris Petrikin in the Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool:
VARIETY: In light of the fact that you have hosted the “Tonight Show” for Johnny Carson, that you and Miss Piggy appeared on “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and that you donned suspenders to guesthost “Larry King Live,” have you considered hosting your own talkshow in these talk-obsessed times?
KERMIT: I’ve always enjoyed guest-hosting talkshows – but I don’t think I’d like to do it every day. To me, hosting a talkshow is sort of like getting a visit from a relative: The first day is great, but after a week, you want it to be over.
VARIETY: As a veteran of the entertainment industry – as an actor, singer, author and spokesfrog – you’ve seen the industry change dramatically. What advice would you offer newcomers to showbiz?
KERMIT: I have seen a lot of changes in the industry. In television alone, the changes have been enormous – from black-and-white to color; from three channels to 300; from “Playhouse 90” to “Baywatch.” My advice to newcomers is simple: Speak clearly, work hard and try to be in the right place at the right time.
VARIETY: Who were some of your influences when you were a tadpole? What were some of your favorite films ?
KERMIT: Jimmy Stewart has always been one of my favorites. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorite films – I also love “The Wizard of Oz” and, of course, being an amphibian, I’m partial to “Singin’ in the Rain.”
VARIETY: During the “Sam and Friends” show, for which you earned your first Emmy, you often donned a wig if the show required a female character. Was this due to budgetary restrictions or did you take Uncle Miltie’s lead and see the comic possibility of drag?
KERMIT: It was purely a budgetary matter. But after seeing “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” I guess I was just ahead of my time.
VARIETY: Have you ever been offered a role in a non-Henson, non-Muppet-related film? An actor with your experience must have been highly sought after.
KERMIT: As a frog, I tend to be typecast. I’m offered a lot of those fairy-tale parts where I play an enchanted frog and as soon as I get kissed by the princess I turn into some 6-foot-tall, dark, handsome prince. Personally, I like the role where I get to stay the same species throughout the entire movie. What’s wrong with a short, green, handsome prince?
VARIETY: One summer movie, “Babe,” did very well at the box office and was well-received by the critics. Do you think these talking animals are poaching on your territory ?
KERMIT: Personally, I think more talking animals is just what the entertainment industry needs.
VARIETY: O.K., I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t ask this: What’s the deal with you and Miss Piggy ?
KERMIT: The deal between me and Miss Piggy? Well, I don’t like to talk about it, but her deal is a flat salary against 10% of the net and all the chocolate she can eat from the craft service table.
VARIETY: Does it ever irk you that humans are getting roles that, on paper, appear to be perfectly suited for you? To wit, Kevin Costner’s character in “Waterworld,” specifically the Mariner, had webbed feet and was amphibious.
KERMIT: It may surprise you to hear me say this, but I don’t regret not being cast in “Waterworld.” I don’t feel bad about those things. In “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and our upcoming movie “Muppet Treasure Island,” I play roles that have been played traditionally by humans – I don’t hear them complaining, why should I?
VARIETY: Finally, as one of the primary figures in the hyper-successful Henson enterprises and as one of the most respected and successful entertainers in Hollywood, now can you really say that it’s not easy being green?
KERMIT: It’s just a song. I love what I do and who I am, but I don’t really consider myself a big star like you said. I’m just your average, everyday talking frog in show business. I put on my pants one leg at a time, like everyone else. Actually, that’s not true – I usually don’t put on pants at all.