Jim Henson's Wildly-Violent Pre-Muppets Coffee Commercials Go Viral
Before Jim Henson became the beloved creator of The Muppets, he was a young artist working in advertising, using puppets to help sell products. One of Kermit's early cousins? A murderous puppet with a penchant for a good cup of coffee,and violently torturing his friend who dares to disagree with his strongly-held opinions on which cup of joe reigns supreme. In the late 1950s and early '60s, Henson created 179 short commercials for Wilkins Coffee, a bygone company once based in Washington, featuring two puppets, Wilkins and Wontkins. The former adores a fresh brew from his namesake company whereas grumpy old Wontkins refuses, a crime seemingly worthy of death, or well, several punishments including being shot out of a cannon, pushed from a high branch of a tree, or run over by a train.
"In Wilkins and Wontkins, Jim had created the kind of silly and endearing characters that were already becoming his trademark -- the kind of characters that could even let him get away with being a little dangerous." biographer Brian Jay Jones wrote of the puppeteer's early endeavor in his 2013 book Jim Henson: The Biography.
Even more than half a century later, it seems these characters literally dangerous nature resonated with audiences everywhere, going viral on Twitter over the weekend. "can't stop laughing at these early jim henson commercials where one guy just kills another for not liking wilkins coffee," user @twothickscoops wrote on Twitter Saturday, alongside a supercut of several commercials that make The Simpson's The Itchy and Scratchy Show look like Spongebob Squarepants.
"How about a delicious cup of Wilkins coffee?" Wilkins asks his cross counterpart in one sketch. "No!" Wontkins cries as the Washington Monument falls atop his head, presumably crushing him to death. "Strange things happen to people who don't drink Wilkins," the living muppet remarks, staring down the camera, standing next to his friend's corpse and the singular rubble from a toppled national memorial.
Another scene shows the deathly dynamic duo partaking in a game of cards. "I've got five aces, can you beat that?" Wontkins inquires to his murderous opponent. "I've got a can of Wilkins coffee!" the other puppet says, before whipping out a pistol and shooting his friend in the face. "Nothing beats Wilkins!"
After the compilation garnered more than 2.2 million views and approximately 108,000 likes shortly after hitting the net, several fans flocked to share their favorite clips, including one where Wontkins is repeatedly beaten over the head with a club for not praising the coffee brand highly enough ...
... a short in which Mr. Wilkins appears from above to curb stomp poor Wontkins ...
... and a spot where Wilkins executes his friend via electric chair, all for not enjoying a nice name-brand brew. Brutal.
However, this virality is far from the first time Henson's Wilkins and Wontkins enjoyed their day in the sun. Introduced at the dawn of broadcast advertising, the violent puppet duo were a breath of fresh air compared to the long-winded, and sometimes graphic advertisements of their day. "The TV public, weary of looking at such things as gurgling stomach acids at work, took the Wilkins Muppets to heart," wrote one newspaper critic, according to the Washington Post. "No TV commercial ever has known such popularity." As such, 25,000 vynl sets of the famous puppets were sold in 1958 alone, with the IP later becoming an important element of Henson's estate. In 1992, the artist's widow allegedly punched one of marketing exec John T. Brady's employees while attending a trademark convention after she learned he was attempting to pitch them as characters in subsequent ads. "One of my employees was physically attacked by Mrs. Henson," Brady recalled to the New York Times of the incident. "With her fist, she knocked her across the booth."
After seeing the offending booth, which was "was plastered with photos of Jim Henson and the Muppets, and promotional material describing Wilkins and Wontkins as the 'Original Muppets Created by Jim Henson," the publication reported, a long legal battle ensued before the court eventually sided with the creator's ex-wife.
So folks, remember, if someone dislikes your coffee of choice, take a page from Wilkin's book and shoot them out of your nearest cannon -- It's the Jim Henson way.