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Disney and Steve Whitmire Express Differing Views over Kermit Termination

Six days ago it was revealed that long-time Muppeteer and voice of Kermit the Frog for the past 27 years, Steve Whitmire, had been let go by Disney. Now, four days after vague statements by Whitmire on social media, we have some clarification on both sides of the story.

Disney has stated that the reason for Whitmire’s termination was his “unacceptable business conduct”. A spokesperson for The Muppets Studio gave this statement regarding their interpretation of events:

“The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously. We raised concerns about Steve’s repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support.”

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that a source close to The Muppets Studio described to them Whitmire’s conduct issues:

“A source close to the studio told THR that Whitmire’s communication style was ‘overly hostile and unproductive’ and his way of negotiation delayed productions. His persistent unprofessional behavior over a number of years ultimately led to the decision, the source said.”

The Hollywood Reporter also interview Whitmire himself, who gave a significantly different explanation of the firing. He claims that he was given two reasons for being let go: unwanted notes on ABC’s Muppets reboot and a union disagreement.

As for Whitmire’s conduct during the ABC series, he takes the stance that he was respectfully standing up for keeping the characters true to their nature. Whitmire explained:

“The first issue was that they felt I had been ‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series. I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney, but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions. At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know the Muppets.”

The former Muppeteer did give an example of an instance where he and the studio disagreed over the characters’ interpretations during the making of the 2004 series. In one episode, Kermit lies to his nephew Robin regarding his breakup with Miss Piggy. Whitmire noted that he felt that was out of character for the iconic frog.

“I don’t think Kermit would lie to him,” he said, “I think that if Robin came to Kermit he would say ‘things happen, people go their separate ways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about you.’ Kermit is too compassionate to lie to him to spare his feelings.

Whitmire summed up his belief about his creative input and the show itself:

“We have been doing these characters for a long, long time and we know them better than anybody. I thought I was aiding to keep it on track and I think a big reason why the show was canceled (after one season last fall) was because that didn’t happen. I am not saying my notes would have saved it, but I think had they listened more to all of the performers, it would have made a really big difference.”

The second issue, the union dispute, is a bit more complicated. Whitemire explained to The Hollywood Reporter:

“The second issue was framed as ‘refusing to work on a particular project’ some 15 months earlier. I happened to get caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations which occurred while I was in-flight to work on the project and the associated commercial. I did in fact shoot the commercial, but was unable to shoot the material for the project in order to comply with my obligations to the guild. Ironically in that situation, my rep had negotiated a special deal with the guild so that we could do the work within the budget parameters for the project.”

Kermit’s former actor is still stunned that these issues could not be resolved, and that Disney made no effort to work with him. The decision seems to be set, however, as Whitmire’s replacement, Matt Vogel, will debut as Kermit later this week in a “Muppets Thought of the Week” video. Whitmire has no ill will towards Vogel, though. His thoughts on Matt are supportive and positive:

“I’m actually responsible for Matt having become a part of the Disney Muppets. The performers are my brothers, my family of choice. That includes Matt, and the hardest part of this is knowing we probably will never work together again. He’s very talented with the Muppets he is already performing and he was chosen by Jerry Nelson prior to his death to carry Jerry’s characters forward.”

His feelings toward the studio’s executives is that of being let down. “The hardest part is that I genuinely like both of the executives who chose this action and that makes this all the more disappointing,” Whitmire said.

He plans to move on to new projects, but his love for Jim Henson’s creation, and the man himself, are quite clear. When musing on the character he portrayed for 27 years, Steve Whitmire said, “The look he brings into the eyes of anyone of any age who meets him in person, I can’t take credit for that, but have been truly honored to keep Jim’s spirit intact.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Image:Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

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