CHARACTERS • MORE
|Premiere||September 19, 1963|
|Finale||April 1, 1966|
The Jimmy Dean Show was an hour-long variety show hosted by country singer Jimmy Dean which aired on ABC from September 19, 1963 until April 1, 1966. Rowlf the Dog was a regular on the show, billed as Jimmy's "ol' buddy." Between 7-10 minutes of every show were devoted to a spot with Rowlf and Dean. Many of the comedy sketches ended with Rowlf and Jimmy singing a duet together. Rowlf's tenure on The Jimmy Dean Show allowed Jim Henson, for the first time, to develop an original character over a period of time. In addition to providing national exposure for the Muppets, it also brought a steady source of income that allowed Henson to develop and finance other projects.
Henson also animated an opening sequence for the show which was never used. Footage was uncovered in the Henson Archives during a 2016 project in which a number of original materials had been transferred to high definition. The segment was screened as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2016.
Rowlf on The Jimmy Dean Show
According to Dean's autobiography, producer Bob Banner suggested that the show needed some sort of comedic character that Jimmy could interact with. Dean mentioned some coffee commercials that he enjoyed seeing while in Washington, D.C. The commercials turned out to be the work of Jim Henson, who was contacted and recruited for the program. Dean stated that the segments with Rowlf were one of the most popular parts of the show, and stated that Rowlf drew two thousand fan letters a week. Rowlf's first appearance (in the second episode) was meant to be a one-time guest appearance; a segment taped, but not in that episode, was called "Cool Jazz", featuring pairs of hands performed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Juhl.
Rowlf would become the first Muppet elevated to national stardom due to his role on The Jimmy Dean Show. The show was also Henson's first major gig having to perform and interact in character with a live partner, rather than using pre-recorded tracks or short and tightly storyboarded commercials. Henson was trained by some "expert teachers" and veteran writers on The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson recalled the experience stating:
“They would work with me in terms of performance and the delivery of punch lines. Buddy Arnold was an old-fashioned sock-'em joke person and you can learn a lot from those guys. You learn to put the funniest word at the end of the punch line, and you learn to deliver that line clean and sharp. If you stumble on your phrase, you've killed your laugh and the audience never knows it...So Jimmy Dean was great from a point of view of learning the craft, and Rowlf was the first solid, fully rounded personality we did.”
Aside from being exposed to a more disciplined comedy style, a deeper characterization, and live performing (all of which Henson would take into his later works), Henson also had the task of singing. Although Henson was musical, he did not think of himself as possessing silver vocal cords. The Jimmy Dean Show was the first showcase Henson had, singing in character, as almost all of the sketches with Rowlf and Jimmy ended in a song. Aside from using his voice to bring music to the show, on some occasions Rowlf would play the ukulele.
In typical Muppet fashion, Rowlf had a way of upstaging the star with ad-libbed quips and his exaggerated reactions and expressions to jokes and actions. Even early on, Henson would steal the scene and force Dean along for the ride. These kinds of moments would usually cause Dean to lose his composure, break character and laugh as Rowlf hammed it up. Jim Henson: The Works asserts that many of these moments were pre-planned and rehearsed by Jim Henson prior to the live performance; however, Dean was not always aware of them, or of how far Henson would go, prior to the act.
In his autobiography, Dean recalled in detail his feelings towards Rowlf and Henson:
“I treated Rowlf like he was real, but he was real to me, and I think that's one of the reasons he made such an impression on everyone. Jim Henson himself said it was the reason Rowlf was such a hit... Rehearsals with Rowlf and his handlers were done in my office, and we'd always have a lot of fun clowning around. My secretary Willie loved Rowlf and would come in regularly to watch us work with the writers. Sometimes Rowlf and I would act like we were fighting, and on one occasion when we were joking and having one of our scuffles, I smacked his head and one of his eyeballs flew off. Well, when I did that, Willie screamed and ran out of the office, and you'd have thought that I'd mortally wounded somebody.
Henson and I not only had a good stage rapport with Rowlf but we enjoyed each other as friends too. One of my most prized possessions is a miniature Rowlf that he and Frank Oz made and gave me for Christmas one year. The puppet stands about twenty inches high, and when you lift him off of the stand, there's Jim Henson standing there with his hand straight up in the air. It really is a well-made piece, and I wouldn't take anything in the world for it.”
Although not a full Muppet production, Jim Henson and his co-workers at Muppets, Inc. were very involved with bringing Rowlf to life each week on the The Jimmy Dean Show. The show required Rowlf to interact with a live star; special sets were built to conceal Henson and his assistant while allowing the performers to operate the puppet comfortably and competently. Don Sahlin built many of the sets and props for the sketches taking into account the puppetry needs and differences in Rowlf's and Dean's size. While Sahlin maintained the puppet and other physical needs of the sketches, Jerry Juhl assisted in writing the Rowlf sketches with the help of the show's staff writers, and on occasion Henson and Dean themselves.
Jim Henson puppeteered (and voiced) Rowlf with the assistance of Frank Oz (then Oznowicz) as the right hand. Jerry Nelson took the assisting role over in the later portion of the show's run. The scenes were rehearsed and polished throughout the week leading up to the show, usually with Dean and Henson running through the scripts several times to get the comedic delivery and timings down.
Craig Shemin explained at a 2003 Jim Henson Legacy event that all the segments were shot live, meaning the puppeteers had to perform non-stop with their arms in the air for well over seven minutes. Audience member Joey Mazzarino pointed out that seven minutes was an excruciatingly long time to perform a puppet.
Outside the Show
During the summer of 1964, after the first season of The Jimmy Dean Show, Rowlf appeared with Dean in his month-long Las Vegas night club act at The Flamingo Hotel. To promote the appearance, Dean and Rowlf also did a special bit in an earlier show in Texas.
In October 1964, towards the start of the second season, Rowlf appeared with Dean in a set of shows on the road - including an appearance at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana and at the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport, Louisiana.
After the final episode of The Jimmy Dean Show taped in March 1966, Dean took his show (and Rowlf) on the road for a series of live performances throughout the spring and summer of 1966. Jim Henson noted several of these trips in his journal including The Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, PA, Salt Lake City, UT, Anaheim, CA, Asbury Park, NJ, and Baltimore, MD.
Dean recalled his experiences with Henson on the road:
“For a while Jim Henson and his Muppet Rowlf were appearing nightly as part of our show, and it was on Lake Mead that I taught Jim how to water-ski. It's a picture I'll never forget: Jim back there skiing with his long hair and beard waving in the breeze. And with that skinny frame and spindly legs, I couldn't help but think how much he looked like Jesus on water skis.”
Jerry Nelson commented on the logistics of the live show in a 2000 interview, explaining that Jerry Juhl, Don Sahlin, and he had built the puppet sets used in the show. The Muppeteer team would carry the sets down the long aisles and get the stage and puppet set up in the dark, in order for Rowlf to be there when the lights came up. After Rowlf did his skit, the lights would go out and the team would pick up the set in the dark and find their way out.
Rowlf and Jimmy Dean appeared together for the last time on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 8, 1967.
Rowlf's stint on the series was referenced in the 1965 Wilson's Meats Meeting Film, as an example of the Muppets' TV exposure. Rowlf himself stated, "I'm the Muppets' big lovable shaggy dog Rowlf, from ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show!" However a decade later, in the 1975 pilot The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, Rowlf lamented to his dance partner that "I was with Jimmy Dean... Nobody remembers me anymore." He later expressed similar regrets to Ernie in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years. Years later, a photo of Rowlf and Dean was used on the set of Rowlf's Tavern in The Muppets. An ad for The Jimmy Dean Show, with a photo of Rowlf and Jimmy Dean, is pinned on the bulletin board in PizzeRizzo in Walt Disney World.
The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun in Maryland ran a full page ad for the show in its August 16, 1964 issue. Rowlf appeared in a photo shoot for a feature titled "The Pooch Who Came For a Short Visit".
Ownership and Availability
During the run of The Jimmy Dean Show, Dean was offered ownership of nearly forty percent of Muppets Inc., but turned it down, feeling he had no real right to what Henson was doing or had created. Dean stated in a 2004 interview that "I didn’t do anything to earn that. If I had done something to earn it I would have said, 'Alright, fine.' But I didn’t. A lot of people have said, 'Well, I bet you're sorry now.' No, I am not. Because I couldn’t have lived with me. I’ve got to do things that let me live with me and shave my face in the morning." Dean continued to assert right up to his death that "they were an asset to The Jimmy Dean Show and they did good things for us, but I wouldn't want to take them."
In a discussion on A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume, Craig Shemin related a story from the late 1980s, where the Henson Company was contacted by somebody possessing kinescopes of ten full episodes of Jimmy Dean. Jim Henson authorized the purchase of the shows and made an offer of $1,000 of his own, personal funds. The party informed the Henson Company that another entity had made a higher bid for the shows, but offered to splice out the Rowlf segments and sell them to the company, before re-inserting them into the shows and selling them to the other bidder. They later discovered that the other bidder was Jimmy Dean himself. Subsequent shows were discovered by a company, Research Video, and were bought out by Dean's wife. Research Video would then provide the Jim Henson Legacy with Rowlf footage as needed.
In April 2007, Time-Life released the first DVD of material from the series, entitled The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 1. The hour-long compilation includes two Rowlf sketches. The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 2 was released in August 2007, with two more Rowlf sketches.
Several Rowlf sketches, donated by the Jim Henson Legacy, are featured in the film collection at The Museum of Television and Radio.
- Season one aired from 1963-1964 on Thursdays at 9:00pm on ABC. Episodes were taped at ABC Studio One in New York, NY.
- Season two aired from 1964-1965 on Thursdays at 10:00pm on ABC. Episodes were taped at ABC Studio One in New York, NY (unless otherwise noted). Jim Henson began his work on the second season on August 28, 1964.
- Season three aired from 1965-1966 on Fridays at 9:00pm on ABC. Episodes were taped at ABC Studio One in New York, NY (unless otherwise noted). Jim Henson began his work on the third season on September 3, 1965.
- Executive producer: Bob Banner
- Producer: Julio Di Benedetto
- Director: Bill Foster
- Writers: Will Glickman and Buddy Arnold, Gary Belkin (early episodes), Pat McCormick (season 2), Ron Clark, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth (season 1), Buddy Atkinson (seasons 2-3)
- Music arranged and conducted by Peter Matz (season 1), Al Pellegrini (season 2, first half), Don Sebesky (rest of season 2 & season 3)
- Choreography by Mary Jane Doerr and Jim Hutchison
- Additional orchestration: Don Sebesky
- Assistant to the producer: Diana Birkenfield
- Music coordinator: Larry Grossman
- "Rowlf" is a creation of Jim Henson's "Muppets"
- Sound effects (uncredited): Pete Prescott (TV-1 Shows), Bob Ring (Colonial Theater/Carnegie Shows)
- The Adventures of Rowlf in Outer Space
- Rowlf Learns Karate Transcript
- Jimmy Dean Show Songs
- Jimmy Dean Show Characters
- Dean, Jimmy. Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham: Jimmy Dean's Own Story. Berkley Books. 2004.
- Jim Henson's Red Book entry - November 18, 1965
- Finch, Christopher. Jim Henson: The Works. Random House. 1993.
- Young, Andrew. "The Unseen Work of Jim Henson." Muppet Central. October 22, 2003. 
- Jim Henson's Red Book 10/14/1965 – Tape 2 Dean shows in Nashville.
- 7/10/1964 – ‘Flamingo Hotel – Las Vegas w/J.Dean’
- 10/10/1964 “Show with J.Dean – Purdue University”
- 10/23-24/1964 – ‘Show with J. Dean – Shreveport LA State Fair’
- 4/11-14/1966 – ‘Appear in Syria Mosque with Jimmy Dean.’
- 4/25-30/1966 – ‘In Salt Lake City with Jimmy Dean.’
- 5/3-8/1966 – ‘In Anaheim with Jimmy Dean’
- 8/26-28/1966 – ‘W/J.Dean – Asbury Park, NJ and Baltimore.’
- Jim Henson's Red Book entry - May 1-2, 1966
- Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Jerry Nelson". ING Film Force. February 10, 2000.
- McDonald, Craig. "Interview with Jimmy Dean." ModestyArbor.com. October 2, 2004. 
- A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume March 27, 2018 episode with Craig Shemin (00:45:16)
- 8/28/1964 – ‘Began second season of J. Dean.’
- 9/3/1965 – ‘Start new season – 3rd for Jimmy Dean.’