The battle continues between longtime Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire and the Muppet franchise.
Family members of late Muppets creator Jim Henson are weighing in on the fallout stemming from Whitmire announcing last week that Disney replaced him with Matt Vogel after 27 years as the voice of the iconic anthropomorphic amphibian.
Brian Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Company and Jim’s son, told the New York Times that Whitmire was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good” as the beloved character. But he added that the problems came with the performer’s off-camera behavior.
“He’d send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director,” Brian said.
Lisa Henson, president of the company and Jim’s daughter, said that Whitmire refused to develop an understudy but also sometimes resisted doing “B-level performances, such as a ribbon-cutting.”
She claimed that the puppeteer “blackballed young performers” by not appearing on shows with them.
For his part, Whitmire told the Times that Muppets Studio executives called him in October 2016 to give him two reasons why they were letting him go. He said that one reason was they were “uncomfortable” with notes that Whitmire gave during production on ABC’s “The Muppets,” which was canceled in 2016 after one season.
“Nobody was yelling and screaming or using inappropriate language or typing in capitals,” Whitmire said. “It was strictly that I was sending detailed notes. I don’t feel that I was, in any way, disrespectful in doing that.”
He said that the second issue centered on a small video shoot with Kermit, Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy over a year ago that involved an outside company. The Screen Actors Guild got involved in a dispute over how much the puppeteers should be paid, ultimately advising Whitmire not to take part in the project, and so he didn’t.
Whitmire pointed out that “given the opportunity” to resume his role as Kermit, he would “step right back in.”
A spokesperson for Muppets Studio said in a statement Monday that Whitmire was let go due to his “repeated unacceptable business conduct.”
Last week, Whitmire wrote in a blog post that he is “devastated to have failed in my duty” to the late Jim Henson.