Origin and Development of Cookie Monster

August 21, 2009

It was my great pleasure to visit the World of Jim Henson exhibit at the nearby Science Fiction Museum in Seattle Washington last Sunday.

I keep forgetting how much I love Jim’s work and what it means to me.  I associate it with hilarity and joy and freedom in this very real way, to the point that I was once advised to be a Muppet when I grew up.

But of course Mr. Henson didn’t just start doing Muppets right out of school or anything.  (No one was hiring for Muppets.)   He had been doing graphic design and putting on plays and performances since he was a youngster, and this work led to characters that came to be what we call Muppets.

Today I’l focus on the Cookie Monster (or “koo-koo-ma”, as I called him when a toddler), forever my favorite Muppet.  Much like Jim’s work in general, Cookie Monster is wholesome, passionate, fearless, mostly uncomplicated and has no sense of shame whatsoever. He is everything that we drift away from being ourselves as we age… unless we’re a little lucky and/or Super Self Aware.

Jim had been doing these funky “beat” puppet shows since college, and after he graduated in 1958 was living in Washington DC and trying to make a few bucks with them to support his young family.

He who became Cookie Monster was one of three monsters that Jim invented for some TV commercials for a trio of snack crackers called Wheels, Crowns and Flutes and made by the same company.  He who became Cookie Monster was the “Wheel Stealer,” a creature that would sneak into people’s houses and eat their Wheels.  Alas, those commercials were never broadcast so now they’re long gone.

But there Jim was, sitting there with this hilarious googly-eyed monster puppet that loved to eat everything.  Obviously in hindsight, something was going to happen.  He was re-cast for a skit that became known as “The IBM Monster.”

(Notice how different he looks with teeth.  I also want to point out how this skit was not conceived for children, but late night adult variety television, not unlike the Late Show with Johnny Carson or Jay Leno.  Also notice that holy crap this is funny):

[I believe that’s Jim Henson’s voice that we hear from both the monster and the computer, and that neither are The Great Frank Oz, who may not have yet met Jim and started working with him.  Some research can clear this up.]

Cookie-Monster-to-be found another snack food to fall rapturously in love with, this time publicly: Frito-Lay’s Munchos potato crisps, I suspect an early cousin to today’s Pringles.  Note the now-missing teeth.

Lordy I just can’t stop cracking up from these:

[There’s just something about this fluid and unpredictable transition from wild slapstick to careful precision that just cracks me up.  Man.]

(I mean sure, he was shilling potato chips.  So what.  But I love how he did it with such style and humor, and on such a low budget, that I love these works regardless.  They transcend the fact that they’re advertising, but also got to exploit that market for economic support.  Downright alchemy; Lead into gold, water into wine.)

Frito-Lay wanted to re-up the contract, but by that time (1968?  1969?) Jim had been tapped to help with a new inner-city educational show Sesame Street (bankrolled by the Nixon administration no less) and went to work foiling poor Kermit.

At the time of these skits, he didn’t even have the name Cookie Monster yet because he hadn’t yet performed “C is for Cookie”:

“The moon sometimes looks like a C, but you can’t eat that.” –Cookie Monster

And there you have it.  Cookie Monster.  Wherefor art thou Cookie Monster.

Hm.  I don’t know how to wrap this up.

You know what?  I just realized that I thought that I had come up with “AAAAMMN-NAM-NAM-NAM” when eating something delicious.  No!  That was Cookie Monster!

What else?

3 Responses to “Origin and Development of Cookie Monster”

  1. Momma Jane Says:

    I’m still grinning. This was absolutely delightful. Love the videos. Love your narrative. Thank you!

  2. robbbbbb Says:

    I swear that they re-did that first skit for the Muppet Show with a different monster.

  3. Mrs. Buller Says:

    Craig, I thought I was all caught up on your musings which happened when I was busy giving birth, but somehow I had missed this one.

    For the record, you are a Muppet. A higher form of flatter is beyond my aspirations.

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