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The Jimmy Dean Show was an hour-long variety show hosted by country singer Jimmy Dean which aired on ABC from September 19, 1963 until April 1, 1966. Rowlf the Dog was a regular guest on the show, billed as Jimmy's "ol' buddy." Between 7-10 minutes of every show were devoted to a spot with Rowlf and Dean. Many of the comedy sketches ended with Rowlf and Jimmy singing a duet together. Rowlf's tenure on The Jimmy Dean Show allowed Jim Henson, for the first time, to develop an original character over a period of time. In addition to providing national exposure for the Muppets, it also brought a steady source of income that allowed Henson to develop and finance other projects.


Rowlf on The Jimmy Dean Show

Jimmy teaches Rowlf karate.

According to Dean's autobiography, producer Bob Banner suggested that the show needed some sort of comedic character that Jimmy could interact with. Dean mentioned some coffee commercials that he enjoyed seeing while in Washington, D.C. The commercials turned out to be the work of Jim Henson, who was contacted and recruited for the program. Dean stated that the segments with Rowlf were one of the most popular parts of the show, and stated that Rowlf drew two thousand fan letters a week. [1]

Rowlf would become the first Muppet elevated to national stardom due to his role on The Jimmy Dean Show. The show was also Henson's first major gig having to perform and interact in character with a live partner, rather than using pre-recorded tracks or short and tightly storyboarded commercials. Henson was trained by some "expert teachers" and veteran writers on The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson recalled the experience stating:

They would work with me in terms of performance and the delivery of punch lines. Buddy Arnold was an old-fashioned sock-'em joke person and you can learn a lot from those guys. You learn to put the funniest word at the end of the punch line, and you learn to deliver that line clean and sharp. If you stumble on your phrase, you've killed your laugh and the audience never knows it...So Jimmy Dean was great from a point of view of learning the craft, and Rowlf was the first solid, fully rounded personality we did. [2]

Aside from being exposed to a more disciplined comedy style, a deeper characterization, and live performing (all of which Henson would take into his later works), Henson also had the task of singing. Although Henson was musical, he did not think of himself as possessing silver vocal cords. The Jimmy Dean Show was the first showcase Henson had, singing in character, as almost all of the sketches with Rowlf and Jimmy ended in a song. Aside from using his voice to bring music to the show, on some occasions Rowlf would play the ukulele.

In typical Muppet fashion, Rowlf had a way of upstaging the star with ad-libbed quips and his exaggerated reactions and expressions to jokes and actions. Even early on, Henson would steal the scene and force Dean along for the ride. These kinds of moments would usually cause Dean to lose his composure, break character and laugh as Rowlf hammed it up. Jim Henson: The Works asserts that many of these moments were pre-planned and rehearsed by Jim Henson prior to the live performance; however, Dean was not always aware of them, or of how far Henson would go, prior to the act. [2]

In his autobiography, Dean recalled in detail his feelings towards Rowlf and Henson:

I treated Rowlf like he was real, but he was real to me, and I think that's one of the reasons he made such an impression on everyone. Jim Henson himself said it was the reason Rowlf was such a hit... Rehearsals with Rowlf and his handlers were done in my office, and we'd always have a lot of fun clowning around. My secretary Willie loved Rowlf and would come in regularly to watch us work with the writers. Sometimes Rowlf and I would act like we were fighting, and on one occasion when we were joking and having one of our scuffles, I smacked his head and one of his eyeballs flew off. Well, when I did that, Willie screamed and ran out of the office, and you'd have thought that I'd mortally wounded somebody.
Henson and I not only had a good stage rapport with Rowlf but we enjoyed each other as friends too. One of my most prized possessions is a miniature Rowlf that he and Frank Oz made and gave me for Christmas one year. The puppet stands about twenty inches high, and when you lift him off of the stand, there's Jim Henson standing there with his hand straight up in the air. It really is a well-made piece, and I wouldn't take anything in the world for it.[1]

Performing Rowlf

Rowlf and Jimmy dressed as Native Americans.

Although not a full Muppet production, Jim Henson and his co-workers at Muppets, Inc. were very involved with bringing Rowlf to life each week on the The Jimmy Dean Show. The show required Rowlf to interact with a live star; special sets were built to conceal Henson and his assistant while allowing the performers to operate the puppet comfortably and competently. Don Sahlin built many of the sets and props for the sketches taking into account the puppetry needs and differences in Rowlf's and Dean's size. While Sahlin maintained the puppet and other physical needs of the sketches, Jerry Juhl assisted in writing the Rowlf sketches with the help of the show's staff writers, and on occasion Henson and Dean themselves.

Jim Henson puppeteered (and voiced) Rowlf with the assistance of Frank Oz (then Oznowicz) as the right hand. Jerry Nelson took the assisting role over in the later portion of the show's run. The scenes were rehearsed and polished throughout the week leading up to the show, usually with Dean and Henson running through the scripts several times to get the comedic delivery and timings down.

Craig Shemin explained at a 2003 Jim Henson Legacy event that all the segments were shot live, meaning the puppeteers had to perform non-stop with their arms in the air for well over seven minutes. Audience member Joey Mazzarino pointed out that seven minutes was an excruciatingly long time to perform a puppet. [3]

After the Show

Rowlf and Jimmy Dean with Ed Sullivan.

After The Jimmy Dean Show went off the air, Henson and Jerry Nelson took Rowlf on the road with Dean during the summer of 1966 performing on stage with Dean in his live stage shows in Las Vegas [2]. Dean recalled his experiences with Henson on the road:

For a while Jim Henson and his Muppet Rowlf were appearing nightly as part of our show, and it was on Lake Mead that I taught Jim how to water-ski. It's a picture I'll never forget: Jim back there skiing with his long hair and beard waving in the breeze. And with that skinny frame and spindly legs, I couldn't help but think how much he looked like Jesus on water skis.[1]

Jerry Nelson commented on the logistics of the live show in a 2000 interview, explaining that Jerry Juhl, Don Sahlin, and he had built the puppet sets used in the show. The Muppeteer team would carry the sets down the long aisles and get the stage and puppet set up in the dark, in order for Rowlf to be there when the lights came up. After Rowlf did his skit, the lights would go out and the team would pick up the set in the dark and find their way out. [4]

Rowlf and Jimmy Dean appeared together for the last time on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 8, 1967.

Rowlf's stint on the series was referenced in the 1965 Wilson's Meats Meeting Film, as an example of the Muppets' TV exposure. Rowlf himself stated, "I'm the Muppets' big lovable shaggy dog Rowlf, from ABC's The Jimmy Dean Show!" However a decade later, in the 1975 pilot The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, Rowlf lamented to his dance partner that "I was with Jimmy Dean... Nobody remembers me anymore." He latter bemoaned similarly to Ernie in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years.

Ownership and Availability

Jimmy and Rowlf

During the run of The Jimmy Dean Show, Dean was offered ownership of nearly forty percent of Muppets Inc., but turned it down, feeling he had no real right to what Henson was doing or had created. Dean stated in a 2004 interview that "I didn’t do anything to earn that. If I had done something to earn it I would have said, 'Alright, fine.' But I didn’t. A lot of people have said, 'Well, I bet you're sorry now.' No, I am not. Because I couldn’t have lived with me. I’ve got to do things that let me live with me and shave my face in the morning." [5] Dean continues to assert that "they were an asset to The Jimmy Dean Show and they did good things for us, but I wouldn't want to take them." [1]

Craig Shemin stated at the "Muppet Rarities: The Unseen Work of Jim Henson" event that the Jim Henson Legacy had been in a heated bidding war with Jimmy Dean for ownership of the footage, although they didn't initially realize who they were bidding against. When Dean offered the owner of the footage substantially more money, the Legacy struck a deal with Dean to buy all of the Rowlf segments, while Dean retained ownership over the remaining footage from the show. [3]

In April 2007, Time-Life released the first DVD of material from the series, entitled The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 1. The hour-long compilation includes two Rowlf sketches. The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show: Volume 2 was released in August 2007, with two more Rowlf sketches.

Several Rowlf sketches, donated by the Jim Henson Legacy, are featured in the film collection at The Museum of Television and Radio.


Summary Date Description
Rowlf's Flu

1963 Rowlf has the flu,so Jimmy tries to remedy it with a medicinal throat spray. He pumps the spray so much that it inflates Rowlf until his belly button blows out!

A clip of this sketch was featured in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (specifically, when Rowlf's belly button blows out).

You're Just in Love 1963 Rowlf tells Jimmy he has a passionate crush on a kitty cat, with the overly cute name of Puff. Rowlf finally comes to terms with his most unorthodox romance and Rowlf and Jimmy sing "You’re Just In Love."
Swinging on a Star
November 21, 1963 Rowlf writes a passionate love letter to Lassie, and makes Jimmy promise to invite her on the show. Rowlf imagines the romantic scene they could have: "Just imagine -- me! A mutt from the Lower East Side, on the same stage with a glamorous Hollywood collie." Rowlf describes all of the animals who'll be tuning in to see them, leading into a duet of "Swinging on a Star".

Available on The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show DVD Vol 1.

Song and Dance Man

December 5, 1963 Rowlf sings a verse of "Mention My Name in Sheboygan", and explains to Jimmy that he learned the song at the Animal Actors' Academy. (Other graduates include Huckleberry Hound, Donald Duck and Trigger.) Rowlf demonstrates his acting skills by performing a line from Hamlet, and then ropes Jimmy into a romantic scene, which culminates in a quote from Winston Churchill. Rowlf wishes that he could do that scene with Lassie, and Jimmy assures him that he's invited Lassie to appear on the show. The pair finish the sketch with a duet of "Song and Dance Man".

Available on The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show DVD Vol 1.

Lassie's Visit

December 26, 1963 When canine television star Lassie appears as a guest on the show, Rowlf becomes lovestruck and nervous around her. He doesn't understand why she won't speak to him in English. Lassie shows off her jumping and acting skills. Jimmy leaves them alone to have some private time, Rowlf sings 'Lassie, I Love You' and givs her a hug. Dean described the event as "one of the sweetest things you ever saw." [1]
Lassie Returns

1964 Lassie returns as a guest on the show. Rowlf becomes lovestruck once again. He is instructed by Jimmy to act out a Lassie style scenario to save the Dog, he has to run to her, jump in the river and fight the current, run faster lickety split Rowlf: "Ah! I think I've just split my lickety!" Rowlf is dressed in a collar and tie for this occasion.
Rowlf's Vacation

1964 Rowlf sings a line of "Skip to My Lou" in the opening titles. He is trying to book a vacation to Miami under the name of Jimmy Dean. He wants a place that has cha-cha lessons down by the pool, and he shows Jimmy the moves that he learned from a chihuahua. Jimmy makes him feel guilty about leaving him behind and they decide that they'll go together.

They end with a duet of "By the Sea".

Rowlf Learns Karate

1964 "Bobbie," a big bull dog, is picking on Rowlf, so he decides to learn karate. However he's unable to break a piece of wood and perfect Jimmy's "karate grunt." Jimmy insists that Rowlf is "flabby and weak" and that violence is not the solution. Rowlf insists, challenging Jimmy to an arm wrestling match (which he loses) and showing off his judo techniques (which are as good as his karate). Finally he shows his true dog side when he gives Jimmy the bite. Jimmy says he's finally found a way to beat "Bobby"- "bite him." Rowlf then reveals that "Bobby" is not a "him"; the bully is Bobbie (short for Barbara), a girl dog. Jimmy says he can't beat up a girl but should romance her instead, and the skit closes with the two singing "She'll Never See Any Dog Like Me."
Sketch Transcript
Rowlf's Nephew January 8, 1964 Rowlf's Nephew comes for a visit. This is one of the rare times a second Muppet character appeared in a sketch.
January 16, 1964 Jimmy happens upon Rowlf all geared up as a beatnik, playing a swinging tune on the trumpet. He says he's been taking lessons from the greatest trombonist of them all, Rubberlips Levine. He flies in from Chicago twice a week without a plane to tutor Rowlf. He's become good enough that he plans to release his own album, but it won't have a hole in it: when folks buy it, they'll just have to take his word for it that it's good. Jimmy offers that he can play some jazz on the piano. His demonstration is met with a lackluster response from Rowlf, figuring on his performance as rather square (evidenced by his pantomime to the audience). Rowlf counters that one shouldn't be able to pick out the melody in jazz, so he provides his own interpretation, taking up the keys himself -- a schtick he would later become famous for on The Muppet Show. He figures on the two of them heading out to Birdland after the show and riffing with the greats. Jimmy concedes that it's not really his style and convinces Rowlf to stick around. The two end the sketch with a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" with Jimmy on piano and Rowlf on guitar.

Available on The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show DVD Vol 2.

March 19, 1964 Rowlf is writing a letter to Dear Abby as Jimmy comes by with a kitten he picked up in the alley. He plans on adopting it and naming it Fluffy. Rowlf thinks that he's giving him up for the cat, and immediately greets it with trepidation. Jimmy speaks in baby talk to the kitten, and tries to convince Rowlf that cats are nice to have around. After Jimmy threatens to release it outside into the fold, Rowlf finally holds Fluffy and begins speaking in baby talk. Jimmy assures Rowlf that he'd never let a cat get between them, and they end the segment with a duet of "Let's Be Buddies" from Cole Porter's Panama Hattie.

Available on The Best of the Jimmy Dean Show DVD Vol 2.

No Business Like Show Business

April 2, 1964 Rowlf is seen flipping pancakes in the opening titles. He is practicing his comedy act for his summer stint at the Royal Casino in Las Vegas. He says that he will open with a tap dance number, he then plays a card trick on Jimmy. The Casino sends a letter saying that there are "no dogs allowed", Jimmy offers him a part in his show at the Flamingo on July 9th. They end with a duet of 'There's No Business Like Show Business'.
Rowlf Takes Up Boxing

November 19, 1965 Rowlf decides to take up boxing when he hears about the upcoming Cassius Clay and Floyd Patterson fight. He plans to challenge the winner. Jimmy Dean visits Rowlf to see how his training is progressing and volunteers to be his sparring partner. He feigns being knocked out in order to dissuade Rowlf from fighting. Rowlf vows that from now on there will be no more boxing, just wrestling. They then join each other in a rendition of Jimmy’s hit "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning."


Trade ad.

Premiered on Thursday, September 19, 1963 on ABC

  • 1963-1964 season: Thursdays, 9:00-10:00pm
  • 1964-1965 season: Thursdays, 10:00-11:00pm
  • 1965-1966 season: Fridays, 9:00-10:00pm


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Dean, Jimmy. Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham: Jimmy Dean's Own Story. Berkley Books. 2004.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Finch, Christopher. Jim Henson: The Works. Random House. 1993.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Young, Andrew. "The Unseen Work of Jim Henson." Muppet Central. October 22, 2003. [1]
  4. Plume, Kenneth. "Interview with Jerry Nelson". ING Film Force. February 10, 2000.
  5. McDonald, Craig. "Interview with Jimmy Dean." October 2, 2004. [2]

External links

  • - Rowlf and Jimmy Video Clip

This article uses material from the "The Jimmy Dean Show" article on the Muppet wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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