Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Is for Arnold

Note: For this round of ABC Wednesday, I'm going to highlight a different Muppet for each letter, hopefully some of the lesser-known Muppets and milestones in Muppet history.

This is Arnold the Munchos Monster. And as you can see, he's the last step on the road to the Cookie Monster.

This little guy began life as most Muppets did: as a Jim Henson doodle.

Here, he's the Wheel-Stealer, a creature that first appeared in a commercial concept for General Mills Canada in 1966. Jim Henson was making a good amount of money then from commercials, but for whatever reason, General Mills Canada decided not to commission Jim. (I can't be sure, but my guess would be it had to do with ownership of characters; Jim steadfastly refused to give up ownership of the characters he created for commercial ad campaigns.)

Check out the unaired test commercial on YouTube. It has that zany Henson charm. I don't know who's performing any of the characters, except for Jim Henson performing the announcer. Sounds like it could be Frank Oz.

Jim wasn't one to simply give up on characters if they didn't work the first time, so the Wheel-Stealer (now without a name) next showed up in a classic piece of film: The Coffee Break Machine.

The Coffee Break Machine was a training film for IBM. You can watch this little gem on YouTube as well, with Jim performing the monster as well as acting as the voice of the machine. It's classic Henson: a near-obsession with gadgetry and technology, a love for overly complicated words, an appreciation of the inherent silliness of machinery (and the way it tries to compartmentalize the human experience, as well as how easily it can be destroyed), and it all ends with an explosion.

Though the film was made for IBM's private use, Jim liked the bit so much that he performed it in 1967 on one of the Muppets' many Ed Sullivan Show appearances. And guess what? That's also on YouTube! And the monster appeared there, too. (The bit was too good not to immortalize on The Muppet Show, so they did it again in 1977, although it starred the Luncheon Counter Monster--performed here by Richard Hunt--with a machine voiced by Jerry Nelson. And you can watch that, too. What did we ever do before YouTube?)

Well, finally, the monster--now named Arnold, with his teeth removed and recolored a nice shade of blue--made his commercial appearance in a short series of Munchos ads in 1969. According to Muppet Wiki, Frank Oz is performing Arnold here, although he's voiced by Jim Henson.

Here's a second commercial, now with Frank Oz doing the voice and performing him more or less the same way he would perform the character as Cookie Monster for decades.

Apparently there was a third ad, but if it's out there, I can't find it.

And that's really the short life of Arnold. Munchos wanted to commission Henson for more commercials, but by the middle of 1969 he was working on Sesame Street and had become much busier. Arnold moved to the new show, too, and was given a new name. But he was the same lovable, anarchic monster with a ravenous appetite.

The rest is hungry history.

Cookie Monster is, by far, my favorite of the Sesame Street Muppets. But once, he was a monster named Arnold, and he loved him some Munchos.

I hope you enjoy these posts about Muppets, because there's 25 more after this one!


Hildred said...

Marvelous - I will be looking forward to the other 25! I love the muppets, and especially Arnold!

Autumn said...

This is going to be something wonderful to look forward to each week, I can tell already!

Geoff Valentine said...

Awesome - definitely looking forward to each of the 25!

Roger Owen Green said...

Kudos, kudos. A Muppet theme for ABCW.

Guess I'll have to make room on my monthly Rambling post...


Reader Wil said...

Wow! I am looking forward to seeing the next 25 letters!
My husband was such a fan of the Muppits, that he never wanted to miss any opportunity to see them.
Thanks for this fun post!
Wil, ABCW Team.

Lmkazmierczak said...

I had no idea there was that much going on before the lovable muppets we now know and love....Thanks!

Leslie: said...

I did not know CM's historical change. He was always one of our favourite characters, inciting riot in the household if cookies were withheld. lol

abcw team

mrsnesbitt said...

Fozzy was always my favourite. ABC Wednesday - takes us to new places and experiences. Thanks so much for sharing and being part of this wonderful project. Denise ABC Team

Trubes said...

I remember him on Sesame St which e crazy I used to watch with my girls (honest)Delighted you're going to carry your meme through all the letters, I shall look forward to that. My friends used to call me Miss Piggy, as I used to impersonate her when I'd had a few glasses of wine!
I liked Animal the crazy drummer and |Mad Harry the explosives expert. Who can forget The Swiss Chef? I could go on for ever, see what you've started!
Best wishes and good luck with your Muppet meme,

Trubes said...

Oops! Typo ! Please delete from top line 'e crazy'....
Don't know where that came from, must have been a stray Muppet !