Steve Whitmire, who voiced Kermit the Frog for 27 years, calls sacking a betrayal


Steve Whitmire, who voiced Kermit the Frog for almost three decades, was ousted by Disney unexpectedly and without a public explanation.
Steve Whitmire, who voiced Kermit the Frog for almost three decades, was ousted by Disney unexpectedly and without a public explanation. PHOTO: NYTIMES

LOS ANGELES (NYTimes) - Like Miss Piggy, the feisty on-off girlfriend of Kermit, the man voicing the frog puppet is up for a no-holds-barred fight.

On Monday, he squared off against executives at Disney over its decision to fire him after almost three decades of bringing that beloved Muppet to life.

Steve Whitmire, 58, said the dismissal was "a betrayal" after a career devoted to carrying on the legacy of Jim Henson, Muppets founder and original voice of Kermit.

But Disney, which acquired the Muppets in 2004 from Jim Henson Co., said Whitmire was hostile to co-workers and overly difficult in contract negotiations.

Members of the Henson family said they supported the dismissal as well.

Whitmire, who portrayed Kermit for 27 years, said he received a phone call from two Muppet Studio executives in October, telling him that he was being let go.

"They were uncomfortable with the way I had handled giving notes (regarding feedback) to one of the top creative executives on the series," Whitmire said.

 
 

"I don't feel that I was, in any way, disrespectful by doing that."

The second reason, he said, had to do with a small video shoot involving Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and an outside company that took place more than a year before the phone call. There was a contract dispute between the Screen Actors Guild, of which Whitmire is a member, and Disney over how much the performers behind the puppets should be paid.

Eventually, the union advised Whitmire not to do the project. He agreed.

After the phone call with the two executives, Whitmire's lawyer approached Disney to settle the issues but the company declined the offer.

Ms Debbie McClellan, head of the Muppets Studio, said: "We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback."

Henson's daughter Lisa said: "He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations." She added that Whitmire was opposed to having an understudy for his role.

Henson's son Brian said Whitmire sent e-mails and letters "attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director".