Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mikey's Muppet Moments: My visit to Sesame Street!

Back in 1995, when I was in my mid 20's, I visited the set of Sesame Street in Queens, New York which was a dream come true! While touring the set I briefly met Roscoe Orman who plays Gordon, so I thanked him for teaching me the alphabet. He sincerely replied "You're very welcome!" Then I watched as he recorded a scene with Zoe and Telly Monster. While in the studio I also met puppeteer Fran Brill who was performing Zoe Monster, and writer Annie Evans who had kindly invited me to visit the set after meeting me at a puppet conference. I also got to look inside Oscar's trash can to see where puppeteer Carol Spinney sits while performing his famous grouch. (Mr.Spinney wasn't there but I eventually met him later on in 2003.) Lifting the lid to look inside Oscar's can was something I had wanted to do since I was about three years old! I also sat on the steps at 123 Sesame Street and on a stool in Hopper's store. It was all quite surreal!!!

Another highlight of my visit was having my picture taken with my favourite Sesame Street character, The Count, seen above. One of the "extra" puppeteers helped the Count strike a pose for the photo. The puppet was on set because puppeteer Jerry Nelson, who created the character, had been there a day or two before to record some scenes with The Count and the puppet wrangler had yet to put The Count puppet away. As such it was just luck that this photo happened! The Count was in a red puppet cupboard, seen in the background, which is on wheels so that it can be moved around the studio. Elmo was also in the cupboard hanging out with the Count (in fact there were two Elmo's which was really weird to see!).

During the visit at one point I was waiting in a side room where the puppeteers rest between scenes. Several of the puppeteers who were there passed around my copy of the book "Jim Henson: The Works" and signed it for me, which was awesome!!! This included David Rudman (Baby Bear, Cookie Monster), Pam Arciero (Grundgetta Grouch), Martin Robinson (Telly, Snuffleupagus), Alice Dinnean (various supporting characters), and Bruce Connelly who drew a picture of Barkley the Dog next to his signature! Later the puppet wrangler took me to a rather tiny storage room where all the Sesame Street Muppets are kept when not needed on set. The wall on the left side of the room was covered with large wooden drawers, each with a Muppet in them! In this room I saw Harry Monster, Grundgetta Grouch (Oscar's girlfriend), several monkeys, a horse (probably Buster), and one of the  Yip Yip aliens. I wanted to live in that room forever, alas there were no drawer vacancies for humans. :)

On set, sitting on the steps at 123 Sesame Street next to Oscar's trash can.

This visit took place during the time when the "around the corner from Sesame Street" set was still being used, and had been mounted as an extension of the original Sesame Street set. The addition included a hotel, a subway entrance and a park, among other locations. The entire set has since been disassembled and the original street section of the set moved to a smaller studio, which I understand is still in the same building that I had visited. At one point during my visit I had lunch in the cafeteria with puppeteers Martin Robinson and Pam Arciero. The cafeteria has a wonderful mural painted on one wall featuring Big Bird. I was so excited to be there that I couldn't concentrate enough to eat, which we all thought was quite funny! I was beaming from ear to ear the whole time! Visiting the set of Sesame Street was a wonderful experience that I'll never forget!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mikey's Muppet Moments: A boy and his Muppets

To quote my favourite world explorer, "the other day" when I was cleaning up some of my puppet files I came across the above photo and had quite a blast from the past! This is me in 1985 or 1986, when I was about 11 or 12 years old, proudly displaying what was then my entire collection of Muppet stuffed toys and puppets. This is essentially the humble beginnings of my Muppet collection!!!

As you can see, every single one of these toys is in very rough, much loved condition, which is a testament to how much I adored the Muppets. In fact, despite how ragged some of these toys are I still have all of them with exception to the Fisher-Price Kermit hand puppet (seen above Baby Rowlf) as it simply wore out from being played with so much!

In addition to these toys, other Muppet items that I had at the time include the puzzle of Kermit playing his banjo in the Muppet Movie, a few Muppet Show and Sesame Street records, the Ernie, Bert and Oscar 3D stack-up puzzles by Child Guidance, many of the Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock comic books by Marvel comics, and various books including "Of Muppets and Men" which I considered to be the Muppet bible.  At this point I would have also had a Hasbro Gobo Fraggle plush toy but it's not in the picture, so I either forgot to include it in the photo or acquired the toy very shortly after the photo was taken.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The 1973 Count Puppet Box

This photo was found at this link:

Not long ago, back in late 2014, a photo of the original 1973 box for the plastic head Count puppet surfaced online for the first time (shown above). The origin of the plastic head Count puppet had long been a mystery for Muppet collectors, and fans had to accept the reality of living with a long list of unanswered questions. At first glance this single photo seems to have shredded that long list for good.

However, as I had always supported the theory that this puppet was made by Topper/Educational Toys, discovery of this photo was a mixed bag. Admittedly, my first reaction was to become a "doubting Thomas". It had seemed so illogical to me that Questor/Child Guidance had produced this puppet. For starters, the style is all wrong. The puppet is made with soft plastic just like the Topper puppets while Questor used hard plastic, it's larger than the Questor puppets and to scale with the Topper assortment, and Questor produced a fabric head Count puppet in 1974 so it seemed to me that it was unlikely they had also produced the plastic head version. Even as I write this I'm still feeling sceptical. The photo just seems too staged for my liking, and the box itself has many oddities about it.

Firstly, it's odd that Questor would reuse the same picture of the boy from their Oscar box. Every other box, including the 1974 fabric head Count box, shows a different child on the box. More importantly, the image on the Count box looks edited rather than natural as the puppet is much smaller than it should be compared with the boy. (The Oscar box shown above is from 1974 but the same image of the boy with Oscar was used for the 1973 box and again for the 1977 box.)
This image of the 1974 Count box with the fabric head Count puppet is from an e-bay auction that ended April 23, 2015, found at at this link: http://www.ebay.com/itm/371187571226

However, compared with the bizarre looking 1974 box for the fabric head Count puppet the newly discovered 1973 box seems to fit. The girl doesn't look like she's holding the puppet as the bottom of the puppet sleeve is to perfectly even, just like the plastic head count shown on the 1973 box image. In this case however the puppet at least looks to be in scale with the girl, and the photo of the girl is unique to this box.

Detail of the 1973 Count puppet box.
Then I noticed the title on the 1973 box. Under the Count's name it says "Hand Puppet/Marionette" which seems to have been an attempt at including French on the packaging. However "puppet" in French is spelled "marionnette", so the box is missing an "n". "Marionette" with one "n" is the English spelling which is used specifically for string puppets not hand puppets. In French however, "marionnette" with two "n"'s means any kind of puppet, not just string puppets which would specifically be called "marionnette a fils" while specifically referring to a hand puppet is "marionnette a gaine". In addition the top of the box only has the English text "Hand Puppet" without the French text, so if this is supposed to be a bilingual box what's up with that? I'd be very interested to see the sides of the box and the back to find out if any bilingual text was included.
Hmmm... okay, so there's a typo, I can accept that for now. The difference between "marionette" and "marionnette" is confusing. But why the sudden need for a bilingual title on the box? This seems to be catering to the belief that the plastic head Count was sold only in Canada, but none of the other boxes for Sesame puppets sold in Canada were bilingual. Also, on all the other boxes the text for "Hand Puppet" is curved around the Sesame logo, but here it's in a straight line. Perhaps this is because the bilingual text was too long to curve? Perhaps a bilingual title was used because Questor knew that the puppet was only going to be sold in Canada? Perhaps it was just being test marketed which is why this puppet is so rare?

That's a lot of assumptions! And the bilingual box isn't very bilingual...okay, I'll just go along with all that too, but hold on! I still have another criticism of the photo in question. It shows that the puppet was packaged with an insert, while most of the boxed Questor puppets in my collection don't have an insert. In fact out of the eight Questor boxed puppets that I own only one, a Cookie Monster from 1977, has an insert. Those that originally came with arm rods all still have their rod, so it seems odd that all of the inserts would go missing if all of the previous owners had chosen to keep the puppet in mint condition in the original box. To me, it doesn't seem likely that the Count would have been packaged with an insert.

Then I wondered, would the puppet even fit in the Questor box with an insert? So I decided to do an experiment!

First, I attempted to recreate the positioning of the original photo with little success. I used my Ernie box as it's from 1973, the same as the Count box in the photo. It's also the most beat up box I have in my collection so I didn't mind donating it to this little test. The box insert is from the 1977 Cookie Monster puppet, as it's the only insert that I have, and I used Ernie's arm control rod. I left the Count's cape collar on as I didn't want to disturb the way it is tied. His tongue had already fallen off some time ago (I have it safely tucked away) as the glue had dried out, so it makes sense to me that the puppet in the photo is missing the tongue. The photo of the Count puppet on the 1973 box doesn't have a monocle, so that apparently solves a long and great debate - the puppet did not originally come with a monocle! The Count's foam arms are quite thick and don't bend easily on their own, so this photo was the best I could do (shown above). Fair enough, looks like the puppet in the original photo is the same size as mine, so I gave this first test a pass.

Next I tried to fit the puppet in the box with the insert. I was highly sceptical this would work. My first attempt was to put the puppet in as it is seen in the photo, with the puppet sleeve through the hole in the centre of the insert. The result is shown above. Epic failure!

So I tried a new approach and inserted both of the Count's arms through the hole in the insert so that only the Count's head was on the top half. This was closer, but still no luck. The head was too big and the ear stuck out. This position even ripped the box a little at the corner, as you can see above.

All the plastic head puppets that I have in a box don't have the insert, so I tried that too. It seems the most logical solution to me and it did work. The Count's long arms fit inside the box without any trouble and the head fit in too. But the fact remains. I need to do this with the insert, so I tried again....

This time I put the puppet in head first, which is how I found the Grover puppet in his box when it arrived from e-bay. This allowed me to bend the Count's arms, and voila! It worked! It's a tight fit, but there was just enough room for the arm rod and if I had the loose vinyl cape to add it could have fit in as well. I could have also turned the box upside down before putting the puppet inside, as then the puppet would be packaged right-side up.
Okay, so my "doubting Thomas" test to prove this box could not have held the puppet has instead made me stop being such a sceptic. The box in the photo seems more like the real deal, which is quite remarkable! But there is still one critical and very logical question that the photo of this 1973 plastic head Count puppet doesn't answer:
If Questor went through the expense to produce a mold for a plastic head Count puppet, had designed a box for it and was manufacturing the toy, then why would they only produce it for less than one year? Why replace it with the fabric head version in 1974? For me, that question will need to be answered with some reasonable evidence before I accept that this box is legit. (Ernie and Bert were not switched to a fabric head version until the 1977 boxes, two years latter, so it seems unlikely that would have anything to do with the mystery surrounding the Count puppet.) To date the only scrap of information I have that might answer this question came from a High School friend who told me that he had one of the plastic head Count puppets when he was a kid. He recalled only having the head which had a hole at the end of the nose. When playing with the Count puppet in the bathtub, he remembers filling the head up and pouring the water out through the nose.
That there was a hole at the end of the puppet's nose might suggest that the mold was difficult to produce. There are several pointed areas on this puppet (tip if the nose, the teeth, the goatee, the ears) and when the head is turned upside down it would be difficult to get the liquid rubber to flow up into them, especially without bubbles forming. This is yet another assumption, but perhaps Questor had trouble manufacturing the plastic head Count mold in 1973 which is why they switched to a fabric head version in 1974?
I'm not done being sceptical yet though! Muppet fans David and Jeff have done an excellent job documenting their research about the plastic head Count puppet in their ongoing discussion from 2011 to 2015 on the Muppet Central forum, at this link:
During their discussion in 2014 they discover that the 1973 Count puppet box seen in the e-bay photo was the same one used in a second e-bay auction paired up with a fabric head Count. If the box is so rare please explain how it is possible to have sold the same one twice on e-bay? Thank you David and Jeff for your excellent research! Got-cha e-bay scumbag! Of course, as the box is being misrepresented by the owner on e-bay as having been paired up with two completely different puppets in two separate auctions, it goes without saying that the authenticity of the box is also questionable.
So it seems that my previous long list of questions about this puppet has simply been replaced with a new one about the 1973 box. And although I'd really like to accept this 1973 box as being genuine, I just have too many questions and concerns about too many pieces of the puzzle that don't fit together. I do find it exceptionally strange that if the owner of the 1973 box was trying to sell it on e-bay, knowing that it was so rare and wanting a good price for it, why wouldn't they have included more than one picture? Why not show the box from different angles so that sceptics like myself would be able to have a better look? Perhaps the owner of that box doesn't want sceptics to have a better look? If I could examine the 1973 box for myself it would certainly go a long way to help resolve my concerns. 
So for now I'll hold on to my "doubting Thomas" scepticism and conclude that if in fact this is the real box for the plastic head Count puppet.....
That's one! One extremely rare Count puppet box! Ha Ha Ha! ...Ka-Boom!

Text and original photos © Mike Artelle

Friday, March 4, 2016

Collectors! Join me at the Nostalgia Show!

Ottawa Nostalgia & Collectables
Show & Sale
Nepean Sportsplex, 1701 Woodroffe Ave.
Ottawa, ON Canada
Sunday, March 20th, 2016
9:00AM to 3:00PM
Admission: $6.00, children under 12 are free
Free Parking!
To park near the closest entrance to the show, go around to the back of the building.
Free admission for everyone after 2:00PM
This year I will have two tables packed with a wide variety of collectables. That's 12 feet of really cool, awesome, amazing stuff!!!
Muppet fans take note! I'm paring down my Muppet memorabilia collection which I've gathered for the last 35 years!!! Some of the items that will be available have been featured on my blog, Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum, and some I never got around to posting!

There will be items based on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, Bear in the Big Blue House, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and the Dinosaurs TV series!  Also up for grabs will be the Fisher-Price Animal, Scooter and Fozzie Bear plush toys, and some of the Knickerbocker Sesame Street plush toys! More than ten boxes of Muppet collectables will be available!!! (About half of my Muppet collection!)
Plus I'm also parting with most of my collection of various marionettes, hand puppets and rod puppets. There will also be collectables based on puppet characters such as Alf, Gremlins, E.T., Jurassic Park, Nightmare Before Christmas, Pillsbury Dough Boy, California Raisins and others.
All of this is in addition to several boxes of action figure toys based on superheroes, Sci-fi movies, and medieval fantasy. These include Batman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Tarzan, and others, plus many items based on animated characters from Disney, Warner Bros., and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention a bunch of nifty odds and ends such as PVC figures, dolls, teddy bears, toy cars, and buttons!
None of these items will be available online or put on reserve. No exceptions! I'm only selling them at this Nostalgia Show, first come, first served. This is your chance to swoop in and snag some cool goodies!!!!

I am just one of the 60 plus dealers, so there will be tons of collectables for you to find at this event. Hope to see you there on March 20th!!!
- Mike

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Merry Christmas from Mikey's Muppet Memorabilia Museum

Ernie and Bert Christmas decorations by Kurt S. Adler Inc. These were sold in clear plastic bags with a cardboard section at the top (seen above). Big Bird, Grover and Cookie Monster were also available in this series. There is no date on the packaging, but they were made in the 1990s. I bought these two at a craft store.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Get Your Honkers In A Row

Here they all are together at long last! At the risk of sounding like a complete nut case, I've been trying for YEARS to accomplish this photo. That is, to get all of my plush Honker toys in one place. With all the boxes of Muppet stuff that I have, these little guys ended up being packed away in different places. If I would find one or two, the others would inevitably be buried away in storage and inaccessible. So finally it has happened that I've found them all. Here's the happy new family! The taller 9 inch Honkers (orange, pink, and purple) were made by Hasbro/Playskool in 1983. The smaller 8 inch fuzzy Honkers were made by Applause in 1992-93. Applause also made larger sized plush Honkers that look identical to these 8 inch toys, as well as at least one hand puppet. Does the fact that I know all of this make me a Honker Historian? Hmmm?