Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Wilkins & Wontkins

WMW Wilkins

Written by Ryan Dosier.

Wilkins and WontkinsWILKINS & WONTKINS

Performed by…
Jim Henson (voice, puppetry)
Jane Henson (puppetry only)

First appearance…
Wilkins Coffee commercials (1957)

Most recent appearance…
Taystee Bread commercials (1967)

Best known role…
Explosive commercial salesman for Wilkins Coffee and other brands

Aliases…
Cal and So; Frank and Fink

WHO ARE WILKINS & WONTKINS?
WilkinsBrandXWilkins and Wontkins are the original Muppet pitchmen. The duo appeared in commercials for a menagerie of products throughout the 1950s and 1960s, most notably Wilkins Coffee, where they made their debut. Wilkins is the smiling, big-eyed Muppet with arms (named after the coffee they sell) and Wontkins is the big-nosed, grumpy lump (named for his contrary nature).

COM_3235_communitycoffee_cannon_01-02The duo appeared as early as 1957 in their first Wilkins Coffee commercial. The set up of the commercials were all mostly the same, with Wilkins being a strong proponent of the product, and Wontkins being against whatever it was they were shilling for. The commercials ended with Wilkins blasting, mutilating, or otherwise harming Wontkins when he refuses to try the product. Typically, Wilkins would ask Wontkins what he thinks of a product and Wontkins would declare his dislike of said product. After that, Wilkins would blast him with a cannon or smack him with a giant hand or blow him up. Then, Wilkins would turn to the camera and say, for example, “Drink Wilkins Coffee… or else.”

76159043736879925Throughout their decade-long commercial career, Wilkins and Wontkins sold products for Faygo, La Touraine Coffee, Nash’s Coffee, Community Coffee, Martinson Coffee, Calso Water, Donavon Coffee, Frank’s Beverages, Kraml Dairy, Merita Bread, Taystee Bread, Sohio gas stations, and Dugan’s Bread. The duo was Jim Henson’s longest running commercial team, filling the time between Jim’s first two major series: Sam and Friends and Sesame Street.

wilkins3Wilkins and Wontkins were also the first Muppets merchandised, with plastic puppets of both characters being offered by Wilkins coffee in 1958 for $1.00. These puppets are not only extremely rare to find nowadays, but mark a major historical moment for Jim Henson and the Muppets, as the first officially licensed piece of Muppet merchandise. The characters also appeared as cloth hand puppets sold by Community Coffee when the characters appeared in commercials for them.

WHY DO THE MUPPETS NEED WILKINS & WONTKINS?
Wilkins and Wontkins are incredibly important to the history of Jim Henson and the Muppets. Wilkins and Wontkins appeared in commercials seen on a national scale, the first time Jim Henson achieved such a wide reach. The commercials also debuted many Muppet trademark traits, such as blowing up other characters and clever word play. It was also because of these commercials that Jim got noticed by Joan Ganz Cooney and Children’s Television Workshop, and then subsequently led to Jim being hired to design Muppets for Sesame Street. Wilkins and Wontkins mark a turning point for the Muppets and remain a cornerstone of Muppet comedy nearly 60 years later.

Jim_jane_wilkins_wontkins

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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