Muppet Monday: Rowlf, A Doggone Pioneer

Another Thanksgiving come and gone…

Hope you all enjoyed your family and friend time and all the pumpkin pie in the world! Maybe you watched the Lady Gaga and Muppet holiday special that was severely lacking in holiday and Muppets but had a ton of Lady Gaga. Eh. It wasn’t too bad, and the Muppet spots were great but I was just hoping for more collaboration, more Christmas carols, and maybe it should have just had a different title. Then my expectations would have been totally different.

Anyway! Despite that minor Muppet disappointment, we headed over to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens on Sunday to check out “A Dog’s Life: a Rowlf Retrospective”. It’s been 50 years since Rowlf made his first appearance on The Jimmy Dean Show (before the sausage commercials!) and the Museum celebrated with a 90-minute collection of several special Rowlf moments compiled by Jim Henson Legacy President, Craig Shemin.

A Dog's Life Rowlf Retrospective Museum of the Moving Image

After two years of Muppet Mondays, attending Muppet-related events, and watching and reading all the Muppet material I can find, Rowlf has become my favorite Muppet. I remember the first time I figured out that Rowlf was popular before Kermit was, and being totally shocked. His earlier work in dog food commercials and his camaraderie with Jimmy Dean proved so early why audiences (young and old) thought of him as more a real dog than a puppet.

As Rowlf said in a 1964 New York Times interview: “I was designed by Don Sahlin as a prop for a dog food commercial, but let’s forget about that. Everyone in show business has a past.”

And he’s right. Here’s a few vintage moments from his illustrious career:

When The Jimmy Dean Show ended, Rowlf did a few variety shows here and there but never failed to mention how he was kind of passed over when it came to showing up on Jim Henson’s new venture, Sesame Street. As he liked to remind people (television show hosts, too), fame was truly fleeting.

But on The Muppet Show, Rowlf made a comeback — taking a role as the joke-telling Dr. Bob and also the show’s main pianist. Here’s a clip that was included in the Retrospective collection:

These days Rowlf doesn’t get much screen time (or even speaking parts) when it comes to TV specials or movies so it was nice to see him get the attention he deserves. (I guess it’s kind of hard to get attention when we get a movie or TV show every few years, huh? Sigh.) Reading the Henson biography this year and attending more and more panels at the Museum of the Moving Image makes me appreciate those who are paying it forward with the rich history of this company and these Muppet personalities. For Muppet fans and lovers of pop culture, it creates a whole new level of enjoyment and curiosity.

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