Remembering Muppet Magazine

Neil McNally – Time. Newsweek. Life. Muppet Magazine? Yes, you read correctly. There really was a “Muppet Magazine.” In fact, from 1983-1989 this popular full-color publication graced greater newsstands and bookstores bringing Muppety goodness into the world on a quarterly basis.

img_1454However, when this retrospective article was initially pitched to “The Muppet Mindset” two responses from Jarrod occurred. One was a resounding “Yes” and the other was “I really don’t remember it.” This got me thinking that in the long 60+ history of the Muppets, “Muppet Magazine” is a bit of an anomaly. A six-year anomaly to be sure, but one that deserves some revisiting.

Fan Club Foundations…
The magazine’s history initially began with the publication of the original “Muppet Show Fan Club” during the second season of the “Muppet Show.” Eager subscribers really got their money’s worth with pictures, buttons, iron-on decals, a nifty mini-soundtrack album, a club certificate, and a newsletter. Ahhh, to be a Muppet fan in the late 70s to early 80s!

With Jim Henson choosing to end “The Muppet Show” in 1981, the club shifted its focus to other projects of the time such as “Fraggle Rock” and “The Dark Crystal.” The end for the club finally came in Autumn of 1982, and while most companies would have patted themselves on the back for a job well done this was Jim Henson were talking about. The Muppets were about to do what they do best…experiment with a whole new medium. “Muppet Magazine” anyone?

It’s time to…Pay a subscription?
The very first issue of “Muppet Magazine” was launched in January of 1983 with special guest star Robin Williams partying with Kermit, Fozzie, and Miss Piggy. The headline promised a “Gala Premiere Issue” along with Kermit’s exclusive interview with Williams. One interesting side note is that other than a few appearances on “Sesame Street,” this is the only other project that Williams did with the Muppets! So, it’s worth seeking out for that reason alone.

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When flipping through “Muppet Magazine” with modern eyes, what immediately leaps out (no pun intended) is how much quality, thought, and work went into what could have easily have been a throwaway children’s magazine. Taking a cue from the original “Muppet Show Fan Club,” the magazine itself was “written” and put together by the gang themselves.

Each issue would begin with an editorial from the Frog-in-Chief himself, Kermit, summarizing the issue with his usual glib and dry wit. From there readers would be greeted with such columns as “The Muppet Mailbag,”

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“Floyd’s Record Rap,”

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“Coming Attractions with Statler and Waldorf,”

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“Miss Piggy’s Advice”

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“Gonzo’s Weirder Than Me”

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And the always informative “Ask Dr. Honeydew.”

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Each of these columns would give readers the latest information on music, movies, and books along with the Muppets’ unique slants on the pop culture issues of the day and anything else they could think of. Though in the case of “Ask Dr. Honeydew,” Beaker and Bunsen never quite were able to pull off the straight and informative science column that they may have intended.

Guest Stars, Guest Stars, Guest Stars…
If you didn’t pick up on it before, “Muppet Magazine” like “The Muppet Show” before it was all about the guest stars. If Robin Williams wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, over the next six years stars like Steve Martin, Pee-Wee Herman, Brooke Shields, Jennifer Connolly, Weird Al Yankovic, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Reeve, and Danny Devito all appeared on cover after cover. Usually, these would be followed by an interview with the star conducted by one of the Muppets themselves. Hey, any magazine that teams up Dr. Julius Strangepork and revered science fiction author Isaac Asimov has to be doing something right.  

What’s interesting about these articles is that extensive photo shoots were generally held with the celebrities and the Muppets illustrating the interview as it was happening. From a production standpoint, this would involve the posable full figured Muppets that were and continue to be used to this day. These tended to generally be the most fun and creative part of the magazine. No better example is two-paged image of Steve Martin being baby sitting and alternately being terrorized by the Muppet Babies.  

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An 80s Extravaganza…
One of the more fun aspects of “Muppet Magazine” is how much of a snapshot of the 1980s it really is. Kirk Cameron, Henry Winkler, Brooke Shields, Olivia Newton-John, Jason Bateman, Rick Schroeder, Bronson Pinchot, Don Johnson, and, of course Mr. T, all spent their due time in its pages. However, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t spotlight the very “of its time” advertising. Sometimes in writing no words are necessary.  

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All Good Things…
Ultimately, it’s hard to say why the Spring, 1989 issue was the magazine’s last. In researching old issues, there is a decrease in page numbers as the years go on and the last issue itself is just a “Best of Muppet Parody Posters.” Perhaps it was the oncoming deal with Disney that Jim had planned. Perhaps not, as there is nothing online that really sheds much light on the subject. All I can say is that as a child I remember the disappointment I felt when “Mickey Mouse Magazine” was abruptly sent to me that summer to finish off my subscription. Needless to say it wasn’t quite the same.

As with all things Muppets, there are eras and projects you may remember more fondly than others. Some breeze by you and others stay with you long after the moment has passed. For me, “Muppet Magazine” was one of those moments. It was fun, it was different, it was creative, and it really encapsulated in print that peak of 1980s Muppet fandom where everything was limitless, the future was bright, and there was nowhere to go but up.

There’s another reason the magazine forever sticks with me. If you ever find yourself with the Fall 1988 issue flip to the back and you’ll see a monthly feature called “Rarely Sighted Muppets.” In it, readers would send in letters detailing their encounters with random and unruly Muppets out in the real world. After a burst of Saturday morning cartoons inspiration, my 10-year old self sent in a letter not really knowing whether anyone would read it or not.

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