1 The Muppet Mindset: Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Sam

Jul 17, 2013

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Sam

Written by Ryan DosierSpecial thanks to Chris Stulz for his always-stellar Photoshop work!

SAM

Performed by...
Jim Henson

First appearance...
Sam and Friends (May 9, 1955)

Most recent appearance...
The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (1984)
Also seen at The Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C. (2006 and 2010)

Best known role...
Silent, lip-syncing main character on Sam and Friends

Fun fact...
Built in October 1954

WHO IS SAM?
Sam is one of the very first Muppets created by Jim Henson. He is the titular star of the first television show starring the Muppets, Sam and Friends. Sam is one of the few Muppet characters whose head is made out of rigid material. Most of the other Muppets of the time (and still today) are much more flexible. Though he was the star of the show, Sam was a completely silent character. Most of the sketches that involved Sam had him lip-syncing to popular songs or comedy albums of the period.

Though he was the star of the show, Sam appears in only one of the surviving episodes of Sam and Friends. After almost 60 years, the episodes of the show have worn away, leaving Sam to star in only one sketch. Thankfully, the sketch is fantastic and a true Muppet classic. In it, Sam lip-syncs to Louis Prima's "That Old Black Magic" with Kermit in a wig lip-syncing to Keely Smith's vocals. Sam appeared in many more episodes in the show's six year run, but no more have survived.

Sam and Friends paired Sam with many other characters, including Harry the Hipster, Yorick, Professor Madcliffe, Chicken Liver, Hank and Frank, and many other supporting characters. The biggest star to come from the show was not Sam, it was Kermit, who would later become a frog. Though Sam did not become a star after Sam and Friends, he did make appearances with Jim Henson, Jane Nebel, and the Muppets on three other shows, Today, On Our Town, and Footlight Theater.

Sam's final onscreen appearance came in honor of the third decade of the Muppets entertaining the world. In 1986's The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, Sam appeared alongside Harry the Hipster and Yorick in a silent but meaningful return appearance. Sam got to briefly reconnect with his old friend Kermit and let Harry handle the snide remarks while Yorick handled the food (aka Kermit). This was the last time Sam would be seen performed on television.

In 2006, Sam and the rest of the cast of Sam and Friends were on display at The Smithsonian Institution as part of the "Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson's Legacy" exhibit. Four years later, in 2010, Jane Henson donated Sam and the rest of the original puppets from Sam and Friends to the Smithsonian and they are now part of their permanent collection. Though they are currently not on display, it is still an honor that Sam and the original Muppets will be part of the Smithsonian forever.

WHY DO THE MUPPETS NEED SAM?
Although Sam hasn't appeared onscreen in nearly 30 years, he is still one of the most important Muppet characters in history. He is one of the very first Muppets and he was the star of their first show. Without Sam, there arguably would be no future for the Muppets. Sam started the Muppet legacy and allowed for the great career of Jim Henson and his characters to happen.






The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

3 comments:

  1. Ever notice, based on various different photos, that sometimes Sam has eyebrows, and other times he doesn't? I've often wondered, if Sam DID ever speak, what kind of voice do you think Jim would have given him?

    Meanwhile, not to seem like "one of those guys", but I believe we have a typo in this article: it says Sam was built in October 1964, yet SAM AND FRIENDS first premiered in 1955, so wouldn't that be 54 instead of 64?

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  2. And another thing, "The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years" is from 1986, not 1984, judging by the appearances of the characters from "Follow That Bird" and "Little Muppet Monsters" in that special.

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  3. Many years ago I discovered the 'Sam and Friends' series while visiting the Museum of The Moving Image in NY. I was fascinated that there was a period of Muppets history I knew nothing about.

    My grandfather, a movie theatre manager in the days before the big corporations and movie studios owned the theatre industry, was also an avid fan of radio, television and vaudeville history.

    With his help, I was able to eventually see most of the episodes of Sam and Friends, as well as the Muchos and Wilkins coffee commercials.

    I would love to see a return for Sam, Yorick, Mushmelon and the entire gang.

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