The executives gave two reasons for the decision, Mr. Whitmire recalled.
“They were uncomfortable with the way I had handled giving notes to one of the top creative executives on the series,” Mr. Whitmire said, referring to “The Muppets,” the most recent television revival of the franchise, which aired on ABC for one season, ending in March 2016.
“Nobody was yelling and screaming or using inappropriate language or typing in capitals,” he said. “It was strictly that I was sending detailed notes. 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, which Mr. Whitmire declined to name, that took place more than a year before the phone call. There was a contract dispute between the Screen Actors Guild, of which Mr. Whitmire is a member, and Disney over how much the performers behind the puppets should be paid. Eventually, the union advised Mr. Whitmire not to do the project. Mr. Whitmire agreed.
After the phone call with the Muppets Studio executives, Mr. Whitmire said he had a lawyer approach Disney executives afterward to propose adding a provision to future contracts saying he would never give creative feedback again or talk to the union again while a deal was being negotiated. Disney declined the offer, Mr. Whitmire said, and he soon found himself separated from his life’s work.
Henson’s family, which still runs the Jim Henson Company, chose Mr. Whitmire to replace Henson as Kermit in 1990 after Henson unexpectedlydied of pneumonia at the age of 53. Some of those same family members say they supported the decision to replace Mr. Whitmire, though they are no longer involved with the Muppets.
“He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations,” Lisa Henson, president of the Jim Henson Company, and Jim Henson’s daughter, said in a telephone interview.
Ms. Henson said Mr. Whitmire was adamantly opposed to having an understudy for his role, which presented problems when it came to what she called “B-level performances, such as a ribbon-cutting.” She said he was unwilling to appear on some of these occasions but also refused to develop an understudy and that he “blackballed young performers” by refusing to appear on the show with them.
Brian Henson, the company’s chairman and Jim Henson’s son, said that while Mr. Whitmire’s Kermit was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” things changed when he was off set.
“He’d send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director,” he said.You can read the full article here.