Kieran Moore – When I told my eight-year-old nephew that Kermit turned 60 this week, he took a moment and then declared “Kermit must be so magical that he stays young forever!” Quite frankly, that’s perfection and better than anything I could write, but, it set me thinking; is 1955 the most magical year ever? Let’s examine the evidence. Disneyland in Anaheim first opened its doors on July 17th 1955 – that’s pretty magical! A quick Google also tells me that in 1955 Elvis Presley made his TV debut, Scrabble was launched and Coca-Cola was first put into cans. There can therefore be only one conclusion: 1955 is officially “The Most Magical Year…Ever!”™
So it stands to reason that, along with Kermit, anyone born in 1955 would have certain magical qualities, and I thought it might be fun, as a way of celebrating his birthday, to list the 10 most magical people here. A crack team of researchers (me) worked tirelessly into the night making a list of all the people they could find that were born in 1955 and had Muppety connections (as Muppety connections are a sure sign of magical-ness) and then devised a points system to rank them according to those connections.
So I now present to you the 100% no money-back guaranteed list of the Top 10 Magical People as Old as Kermit.
Crashing in at 10th place on the chart we have “Muppets Tonight” guest star Penn Jillette. Penn & Teller appeared on season two’s “The Gary Cahuenga Episode” which featured several stars in cameo roles, but gave star billing to them. Their act as seen in the video above is a lot of fun. Who knew they could bust a move like that? Penn & Teller have always embraced the concept of deception being a major part of magic and even though they show us how they performed this trick, I’m still not convinced that we aren’t being deceived still even in the explanation. It seems a little odd that a magician would only appear at number 10 on this list of “Magical People”, but magic moves in mysterious ways (as do Penn & Teller in this clip) so it all works out in the end!
9 – Bill Nye
Bill Nye (The Science Guy) appeared on “Sesame Street” during season 29 in a live action insert about see saws. He was also spoofed in a Cookie Monster Sketch where he helps with an experiment looking at whether cookies taste good or not (I think we know the answer to that one!) As well as hosting several TV science shows, he has also appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” (which will feature again). Coming from the UK, I know Bill most from his work on the Disney attractions “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” and “Cyber-Space Mountain” and I really like the way he mixes entertainment and education both at the parks and elsewhere. I think he’d make an interesting resident on “Sesame Street” if he ever wanted to move in permanently.
8 – Kelsey Grammer
Kelsey Grammer (whose name my spell-check hates) appeared in a “My Favorite Sesame Street Moment” clip to celebrate the show’s 35th anniversary, where he talks about his love for Elmo’s World. The short reminiscences were presented before each episode that year and featured stars such as Venus Williams, Larry King, Seth Green and Donnie Osmond. He appeared in the “Earth Day Special” in 1990 as part of the cast of “Cheers” which also included a special Muppet segment directed by Jim Henson. I remember how cool it was watching that special as an 11 year old, seeing all my favorite stars onscreen together. Kelsey also gets bonus points for appearing in the Creature Shop production of “Animal Farm”, a TV movie that boasts a stellar cast including other Muppet connected stars such as Peter Ustinov and someone called Louise Gold, who you might just have heard of…
7 – Sandra Bernhard
I’ve said it several times before but it bears repeating, I love “Follow That Bird” and outside of the musical moments Sandra Bernhard stars in what is probably my favorite scene. It’s certainly the one I remember most from my childhood. As the waitress in the “Don’t Drop Inn”, a grouch diner, she is suitably grumpy and offers just the sort of service you’d expect at such an establishment. Whilst I’d be interested to try meatloaf with marshmallow sauce, I don’t think I’d eat anything from that kitchen for fear of my health! Sandra really throws herself (and about half a ton of lettuce) into her performance and if based on personal preference alone she would have featured higher than seventh on this list.
6 – Bruno Tonioli
Bruno Tonioli has several Muppety moments on his resume. The Muppets appeared on his show “Dancing with the Stars” and he’s also interviewed by Kermit (in the video above) at the premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”. Finally, he has what I guess must be the ultimate Muppet honor in the form of an (albeit un-named) Muppet caricature of himself as featured in the “Sesame Street” skit “Dancing with Triangles”. Bruno is over the top and a lot of fun and although his onscreen appearances with them are fleeting some people just seem to click with The Muppets and he seems to be one of them. I’d love to see him do more with the gang. Perhaps if the new show is going backstage a bit more he could be their guest choreographer one week…
5 – Arsenio Hall
Most of Arsenio’s points come from The Muppets’ appearances on his talk show although he was also intended to be the guest star on “The Cameo Show” episode of “Muppets Tonight” until Bobo killed him off before the opening titles! Jim Henson appeared twice on “The Arsenio Hall Show”, once in1989 where he also took along Kermit and Rowlf, and then again in May 1990 with Kevin Clash and Clifford. Finally, Animal and Fozzie guested on the show in 2014 to promote “Muppets Most Wanted”. Although the 1990 interview is perhaps the most culturally significant moment as it was Jim’s last ever public performance, my pick has to be the earlier appearance with Kermit and Rowlf. It’s simply hilarious as Arsenio asks Kermit the kind of probing questions we’d all like to know the answers to, and in this day and age will probably never hear asked again!
Gilbert Gottfried is our third “Muppets Tonight” alumni on this list (I guess they must all have been about the right age back in the 90s). In a side plot to the action in the studio, Kermit goes on a date with the winner of a “Spend an Evening with Kermit” contest and Gilbert is that winner. His performance here as an overbearing, obtuse, loud-mouthed Kermit fan is hilarious and well worth a watch. He also featured in the video for Kermit and Piggy’s version of “She Drives Me Crazy” and appeared on “Sesame Street” as Denny the Distractor in season 39. As if all of that wasn’t enough, he actually voiced a character in an episode of “Bear in The Big Blue House”, which is pretty darn awesome. I love Gilbert on the “Comedy Central Roasts” and it makes me think that a slightly more family-friendly version could work for Kermit in his 60th year, with a mix of Muppets, celebrities and comedians all taking turns to tease the world’s most famous frog.
3 – Howie Mandel
Last week in my Frank Oz chart I spoke about how much I loved “Muppet Babies” as a child and this week I get to go even further and list one of the original voice artists from the show! Howie provided the voices of Skeeter, Bunsen and Animal in the first two seasons of the show and as such originated Animal’s famous “Go Bye-Bye!” closing, which was always a personal highlight. On top of this huge contribution to the world of Muppetdom, Howie has also introduced “The Word of The Day” on “Sesame Street” and has his own Muppet caricature in the form of “Howie Eatswell”. He presented “Deal or No Deal” which has featured both Big Bird and Kermit over the years and he helped Fozzie with a joke when the Muppets appeared as guests on “America’s Got Talent”. All that and yet he’s still only number three in the chart!
2 – Tom Bergeron (apologies for the sound)
I guess out of all of the people on this list Tom Bergeron is the person to have worked with The Muppets most recently, appearing as he does in on-set photos of an unknown (most likely YouTube-based) project. However, that really is just the tip of the iceberg! As MC of “Dancing with the Stars” he’s played host to everyone from Kermit to Count von Count during their appearances on the show. Also, as a presenter on a wide range of shows he has shared screen time with them on “America’s Funniest Videos”, “Hollywood Squares”, “A Capitol Fourth” and “The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon”. He also appeared on “Sesame Street” during season 44, but over all of the above he hosted the “Disney Legends” ceremony in which Jim Henson was given that distinction. In terms of significance that might be the most important Muppet event on this list. But, in the immortal words of Highlander “There can be only one”…
1 – Whoopi Goldberg
As soon as I added Whoopi Goldberg to my list of people born in 1955 I knew that she would take the number one spot! In fact, once the points were tallied she scored more than four times as much as Tom in second-place! I won’t attempt to list all of Whoopi’s Muppet credits, but highlights include: eight appearances on “Sesame Street”, voicing a character on “Bear in The Big Blue House”, a cameo in “The Muppets”, appearing in “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie” as “The Boss”, voicing part of the “It’s Not Easy Being Green” audio book, playing a cab driver in “A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa”, being guest star on “Muppets Tonight”, interviewing Miss Piggy at The Academy Awards and an appearance on “Muppet Babies”. And that’s not even everything! I could probably name actual Muppeteers with less Muppet appearances! Whoopi has stated in the past, “I knew that I had made it in my career when… I got to play with the Muppets…Yes, it’s brilliant to have an Oscar, but if you get to play with the Muppets as much as I have, that’s an amazing thing”. I’d love to see Whoopi get a larger role in a future Muppet movie; it feels like it would be a reward for time served elsewhere.
I would usually end my articles with a thank you, and while I really do want to say a heartfelt “Thanks” to all of the people listed here (and those who just missed out), it would be wrong of me not to take this opportunity to say a special “Thank You and Happy Birthday” to Kermit. You are magical; and that gives you the power to make people believe, just as my nephew does. Because of you, I truly believe in “Rainbow Connections” and that they are the bonds that we make with each other, with our friends and families, with Muppet fans across the globe and with the Muppets themselves. They take no heed of the things that separate us, but instead look to the similarities we have, and allow our hearts and minds to come together as one. From your humble beginnings as a coat and a ping pong ball, you made us all believe in that magic. Congratulations and Happy Birthday Kermit. Here’s to another 60 years!