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Sam and Friends title card
Samfriends cast

Sam and Friends characters

Sam and Friends title animated in color

Animated title card as seen in Jim Henson: The Works

Sam and Friends was Jim Henson's first television series, a five-minute show that aired twice daily on WRC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. from May 9, 1955 to December 15, 1961.

The title character was a humanoid named Sam, but a more enduring star of the series was Kermit, who was not yet a frog. Other characters included the voracious Yorick, beatnik Harry the Hipster, excitable Professor Madcliffe, Chicken Liver and utility players Hank and Frank. Other characters possessed more ephemeral personalities, and in many cases, their existence is defined only by photographs and surviving puppets. This roster includes Mushmellon, Icky Gunk, Henrietta, Omar, Moldy Hay, Bernice and the earliest Muppet star, Pierre the French Rat, amongst others. Characters were performed by Henson and Jane Nebel, with Bob Payne (who joined in 1958 to substitute for a Europe-bound Henson) and Jerry Juhl filling in for Nebel in the final season.

The series was heavily reliant, particularly in its earliest installments, on puppet characters lip-syncing to records, usually novelty songs or comedy routines from the likes of Stan Freberg, Bob and Ray, Spike Jones, Ken Nordine, and Louis Prima and Keely Smith, amongst others. Henson experimented with character voices in such sketches as "Visual Thinking," and in commercials for the show's sponsor, Esskay Meats. Though the earliest skits were in black and white, later sketches such as "Poisen to Poisen" were transmitted in color.

Some of the show's original puppets have appeared on display in museum exhibits such as the Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson's Legacy exhibit at The Smithsonian Institution (which later became a part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection), and the Worlds of Puppetry exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts.

In 2022, the series became the subject of a 606-page book by Craig Shemin titled Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim Henson's First Television Show.

Episodes[]

Existing[]

According to the Jim Henson Company Archives, very few of the original shorts have survived over the years. In the days before videotape, shows would have to be deliberately recorded on kinescope by pointing a film camera at a video monitor. Jim Henson "rarely bothered to record his programs, unless he was trying out a new technique or wanted to review a particular aspect of his performance."[1] While video footage for the series is limited, the archives possess over 400 audio recordings of the show between 1958 and 1961.[2][3]

Some of the existing spots can be viewed at The Paley Center for Media; others are shown at special screening events at venues such as the Museum of the Moving Image.

Picture Episode Description
C'estSiBon1
C'est Si Bon
(January 19, 1959)
In a French village setting, Moldy Hay lipsynchs to Stan Freberg's rendition of "C'est Si Bon," with Hank and Frank repeating his dialogue too literally as backup choir.
BlackMagic2
That Old Black Magic
(January 26, 1959)
Kermit and Sam lipsynch to a recording of "That Old Black Magic" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
Underskin
I've Got You Under My Skin Icky Gunk, and Hank and Frank serve as chorus singers in a lipsynched rendition of Stan Freberg's "I've Got You Under My Skin" while Kermit, in spoken dialogue, messes up the lyrics.
Powderburn1
Powder-Burn
(August 20, 1959)
A pun-filled Gunsmoke parody with Marshall Dilly (Chicken Liver) preparing for a showdown with Black Bart (Yorick) which results in a game of chess.
Poisontopoison
Poison to Poison
(October 29, 1959)
Lipsynching to the Spike Jones track "Poisen to Poisen", Harry the Hipster (as "Ed Burrow") interviews Chicken Liver (as Alfred Hitchcock) in his rather horrifying home.
Singin
Singin' in the Rain
(November 19, 1959)
Bernice lipsynchs to a double-speed version of "Singin' in the Rain". The scene ends with her submerged in a bucket of water.
Yorickeats
Hunger is From
(February 12, 1960)
Lipsynching to "Hunger is From", Yorick details his midnight snacking while eating a plate full of food.
Horsenamedbill-sam
A Horse Named Bill
(March 15, 1960)
Kermit lipsynchs and plays the banjo to a recording of "A Horse Named Bill". This sketch is sometimes called "Loona" (referencing the singer's object of affection, Luna) when featured in exhibits.
Backwards
The Westerners
(estimated November 4, 1960)
Lipsynching to the Bob and Ray recording The Westerners, Kermit and Chicken Liver are two cowboys who are having a little trouble getting off their horses. This sketch is sometimes called "Riding Horses Backwards" in exhibitions.
Misscone
Miss Cone
(December 9, 1960)
A unique episode featuring an animated short set to the recording of the same name by Ken Nordine and The Fred Katz Group.[4][5]
Huntleybrinkley
Huntley and Brinkley
(January 6, 1961)
In a parody of The Huntley-Brinkley Report, Kermit hosts an interview with NBC News anchormen Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (as played by Hank and Frank).
Visualthinking(saf)
Visual Thinking
(April 1961)
In a mix of puppetry and animation, Harry demonstrates the art of Visual Thinking to Kermit -- and what it does to you once it gets out of control.
Sam and Friends Glow Worm
Glow Worm
(estimated April 18, 1961)
Humming along to "The Glow-Worm", Kermit is bugged by some inchworm-like fingers and is later met with a human hand, who tickles him off the wall.[6]
S&FWW
Weather Warehouse
(September 29, 1961)
Harry demonstrates to a skeptical Kermit his new business for selling weather, and gives him a tour of the warehouse.
Chefomar
Chef Omar
(November 13, 1961)
Omar prepares a chef salad, which blows up in his face when he serves it flaming.[6]
Sam-And-Friends-Esskay-Song

Lastsamshow
Final Episode
(December 15, 1961)
Harry acknowledges a countdown that has been seen on this week's opening titles. Kermit confirms this means the show is coming to an end. The two play and sing one final advertisement for Esskay Meats, before Kermit lip-syncs to a recording of "I Come For to Sing." He then discusses the end of the series with Harry -- who blows up all the scenery and equipment since they won't need it anymore.[7]
While the complete audio of this episode exists, video of just Kermit and Harry's Esskay song survives.

Documented[]

Sam and Friends in a car

Sam and friends returning to Washington after a summer hiatus

While video footage exists for some segments, others have been documented either by the Jim Henson Company Archives (through archival scripts and acetate recordings) or newspaper articles published while Sam and Friends was still on the air.

  • The Muppets made regular appearances on Today beginning in 1961. Some of these segments were performed from their Sam and Friends set, communicating with Today hosts via satellite; whether these segments were also done on Sam and Friends is unknown. One such performance was "Yes! We Have No Bananas," which was performed on two occasions on Sam and Friends in 1961.
  • On August 3, 1959, the show returned from its summer hiatus. Harry waits for the rest of the cast to arrive, when Hank, Sam, and Moldy Hay arrive by a car (with a roadside sign in the background). Sam responds to Professor Madcliffe's ire with a song, "How Do'ye Do and Shake Hands."[8] Video footage is not known to exist, but a photo appears in Jim Henson: The Works.
  • One sketch includes Kermit playing the piano lip-syncing to Stan Freberg's "The Great Pretender".[10] Kermit additionally lip-synced to another Freberg recording, "The Yellow Rose of Texas," in a number of episodes as early as 1955.[11]
  • Stan Freberg himself pops his head into frame and criticizes the Muppets for using his records without giving him credit. Kermit says "here's a little credit" and pounds him back out of frame with a mallet.[12]
  • One sketch spoofed NBC news program, Meet the Press.[16]
  • In The Muppet Show episode 218, Kermit introduces "Tweedle Dee" as "the very first piece of material the Muppets ever did ... about 23 years ago." This may have been on Sam and Friends.
  • On the September 8, 1959 episode, Professor Madclife and Harry interrupt Icky Gunk's opening remarks while looking for tools to construct a rocket ship for the following day's program. Icky then lip-syncs to Jerry Lewis' "I Keep Her Picture Hanging Upside Down."[18][19]
  • October 13, 1958 featured "The Big Introduction," in which Kermit presents an elaborate re-introduction to the show's cast for the benefit of Bernice, who is not familiar with anyone on the show (and vice versa).[20]
  • One segment, from approximately December 1959, has Professor Madcliffe disrupting a musical performance by Kermit due to a union rule. Kermit brings in Harry and Yorick to play a song instead.[20]
  • The October 7, 1960 edition of the show was based around the WRC-TV news department stealing the Sam and Friends equipment to prepare for the Presidential debate occurring between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy later that night.[21]
  • Occasionally, there would be week-long story arcs, including the characters driving from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., and Yorick's family coming to visit and devouring the studio.[22]

Gallery[]

See also[]

Sources[]

  1. Report by Andrew Young of a panel at The Paley Center for Media.
  2. Museum of the Moving Image "Jim Henson's World: Live Trivia with Craig Shemin" April 11, 2020
  3. ToughPigs.com "ToughPigs Presents CABIN FEVER with Craig Shemin" 1:03:19 and 1:06:12 April 15, 2020
  4. Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim's First Television Show, page 479
  5. footage screened at Celebrating Jim Henson’s Birthday with “Sam and Friends” at the Museum of the Moving Image, September 24, 2022
  6. 6.0 6.1 Shown as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2016
  7. Jim Henson's Red Book 12/15/1961 – ‘Sam and Friends Last Show’
  8. Shemin, Craig. Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim Henson's First Television Show. p. 378
  9. Documents found in visit to Henson Archives via User:Toughpigs, User:Pantalones, and User:Scarecroe
  10. The GrantCast EPISODE #001 – Stan Freberg Talks About Jim Henson!
  11. Archival record, dated October 19, 1955, displayed in The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image
  12. The GrantCast EPISODE #001 – Stan Freberg Talks About Jim Henson!
  13. Shemin, Craig. Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim Henson's First Television Show. p. 62
  14. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 63)
  15. J. Y. Smith, "Jim Henson, Creator of Muppets Dies at 53," Washington Post, May 17, 1990
  16. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 79)
  17. Jim Henson's Red Book 1/13/1966 - Tonight Show - "Money" and "Sclrap Flyapp"
  18. Shemin, Craig. Sam and Friends: The Story of Jim Henson's First Television Show. p. 393
  19. Christian Science Monitor "Muppets Win Way" by Ursula Keller, December 15, 1959, via Jim Henson's Red Book "2/-/1955 – ‘Began working together. [Jane]‘"
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Archival document displayed in The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image
  21. ToughPigs Presents CABIN FEVER with Craig Shemin, April 15, 2020.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Craig Shemin at “Inside the Jim Henson Archives” at FerryCon, April 21, 2021.

External links[]

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