The controversy around Kermit The Frog actor Steve Whitmire’s firing continues to be brought to you by the letter “O” and the syllables “-h shit, it’s getting nasty,” with Jim Henson Company chairman Brian Henson getting even more specific today about accusations of unprofessional behavior against Whitmire during his tenure as the beloved amphibian. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Henson went so far as to say he wishes he’d fired Whitmire 13 years ago, before selling The Muppets to Disney, noting, “I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a real problem.”
Henson says problems with Whitmire—who he helped hire for the role after his father’s death in 1990—started as early as the mid-’90s. His biggest accusation against the puppeteer and voice actor was his tendency toward “brinkmanship.” “Steve would use ‘I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit,’” Henson said. ”And that is really not OK.” (Whitmire has issued his own statement, saying he was always courteous and respectful when communicating with colleagues about his disagreements over the character’s direction.)
But Henson also took aim at Whitmire’s interpretation of Kermit, calling it “flattened out,” and implying that the performer turned the frog into a shadow of his former self. “Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been,” Henson said. “Again, what my dad brought to it—without even thinking because he was accessing his own character that was coming out of his own personality—was a wry intelligence, a little bit of a naughtiness, but Kermit always loved everyone around and also loved a good prank.” Whitmire, Henson alleges, sanded off those rougher, more playful edges—hence, presumably, why the darker version of the character written for ABC’s The Muppets caused so much dissent between the actor and his bosses.
Henson ended the interview with praise for Kermit’s new puppeteer, Matt Vogel. “I believe that in protecting Kermit going forward, Matt will do a really wonderful job,” Henson added, before dipping back into the shade for a second: “I think the fans should not be so scared of change. Steve did Kermit for a very long time—I would say for far too long. And the character was no longer being serviced by Steve performing Kermit.”