Her Name Was Skeeter: The Mystery of the Missing Muppet

Disney/Collage
Disney/Collage

Michael Frith doesn’t recall who first sketched out Skeeter, the myopic Muppet first introduced in the CBS animated series Muppet Babies (1984-1991). She could’ve been named, he says, by the Muppets's creator, the late Jim Henson. Along with Bob Richardson and Frith, all three producers on the show, Henson recognized a need for a strong female character to help balance the anarchy provided by an infantilized Miss Piggy. As the twin sister of established Muppet Scooter, Skeeter was athletic, smart, and capable—all qualities that the little girls watching the show would want to emulate.

“She was a great character,” Frith tells mental_floss. “She was more extroverted than Piggy and brought all kinds of positive energy to the show. I always loved Skeeter.”

So did viewers. But once Muppet Babies wrapped after seven seasons, she appeared to be one of the few Henson-inspired creations to wind up on the Muppet unemployment line. Over time, her fans began to question why Skeeter never appeared in subsequent movies or television series and specials, or earn even a passing mention by her former cribmates. Was Skeeter persona non grata in the Muppetverse? Was Muppet Babies canonical? Never reproduced in felt form, was she even technically a Muppet? Where had this model of female empowerment gone?

If Frank Oz had gotten his way, none of the Muppet Babies would have been birthed. In the early 1980s, Frith had been keen on the idea of regressing the adult Muppets—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, and Fozzie Bear among them—into children for animation. The idea, Frith says, was to use the characters to impart moral and educational messages in ways that would be difficult after they had reached Muppet adolescence.

“Piggy as an adult is not particularly sympathetic to a kid,” he says. “But as a child, she is. Jim loved the idea.”

Oz did not. A longtime puppeteer who performed as Miss Piggy before moving into film directing, Oz was adamant the Muppets not be simplified for a juvenile audience. “He felt it was inappropriate to take characters from one medium with adult characteristics and move them into another," Frith says. "The Muppet Show was intended for families, not just kids.” Sesame Street was Henson’s nod to children; the Muppets were supposed to be slightly edgier.

For a time, Oz got his wish. But during production on 1984’s feature, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Henson found a workaround. According to Frith, Henson casually floated the idea of supervising a segment of the movie. He told Oz, the director, of his plans.

“Sure, Jim,” Oz said. “What’s it going to be about?”

“Well,” Henson said, “I thought it would be nice to do a thing where the Muppets are babies.”

Frith and the rest of Henson’s team got to work on designing and assembling live-action Muppets that appeared as children in a dream sequence. The response to the scene was so strong that CBS began petitioning Henson to do an animated series with the same premise.

Muppet Babies premiered in 1984 to big ratings, becoming a staple of Saturday morning television. But during its development, Frith and the other writers and producers were confronted with a gender imbalance in the cast, something Frith says could be attributed to the heavily male-skewing puppeteers who had worked in the Henson studios since the 1960s.

“We had Piggy and Nanny, strong female characters, but we needed at least one more,” says Frith. “The Muppets evolved around the puppeteers. You can say dispraisingly it was a boys’ club, but no more so than The Beatles were.”

The result was Skeeter, who was bold, brash, and adventurous—the total opposite of her nerdy twin brother. In the show’s many fantasy sequences—which often used clips from film and television shows—she was a problem-solver. (Frith, incidentally, is amused that the clips were perceived as a stroke of genius: They were used because the show didn’t have the budget to be fully animated.)

During the cartoon's run, Skeeter made a little-known but very public appearance as part of a Muppet Babies live stage show. Instead of being designed to fit on a hand, she and the rest of the Babies were formulated into towering, seven-foot costumes worn by performers. It would turn out be the only time she appeared in “person.” Despite several movies and series produced following Babies, Frith says that no one considered using Skeeter as a utility player. During a “home movies” segment for a 1987 television special, the Babies are seen as live-action Muppets: Skeeter is conspicuously absent.

“We never said, ‘Oh, let’s take an old Scooter puppet and put on some long hair and a dress,’” explains Frith. “One of the problems one has with a vast repertory company is accounting for all of the characters and giving them the face time they need. It becomes a handful to try and corral.”

Skeeter did appear in various Muppet Babies-themed storybooks and toy lines throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but always as an illustrated cast member and never as an adult. By the time Disney purchased the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company in 2004, her chances of resurfacing were reduced even further. It would take a die-hard Skeeter fan to help answer the question of what happened when she finally grew up.

Amy Mebberson

Amy Mebberson was one of the legions of girls who sat in front of their televisions admiring Skeeter. A native of Australia, Mebberson moved to the States in 2006 to pursue a career in illustration. In 2009, she was recruited as a penciler for Boom! Studios, which was launching a Muppet Show comic book. It did not take long for Mebberson to make her pitch.

“I consider the Muppet Babies cartoon an integral part of Muppet history,” Mebberson tells mental_floss. “Although Skeeter was made for the cartoon, she left enough of an impact on fans that we were all left wondering whatever happened to her when they [all] grew up. The comics gave us an opportunity to explore that.”

In 2009, Mebberson pitched the comic’s writer, Roger Langridge, on a Skeeter appearance, sketching out how she thought the character might look as an adult. Langridge and Boom!, in turn, had to get Disney’s approval. The company's response helps explain—at least in part—why Skeeter has proven to be such an elusive presence in Muppet lore over the past 25 years.

According to Jesse Post, a former Disney employee who acted as a go-between for licensees like Boom! and the caretakers at The Muppets Studio, Disney shared Frank Oz’s preference to keep the characters aimed toward adulthood. It's an assertion supported by a 2008 piece in The New York Times, which indicated that some children could not readily identify Kermit or his colleagues.

Muppet Babies was verboten at the time,” Post tells mental_floss. Conferencing with Susan Butterworth, then-head of all things Muppet-related, in San Diego one year, Post says she loved the idea of including Skeeter in the comic series, but didn’t want to make any overt associations with the animated series. (Officially, a source inside Disney tells mental_floss that Skeeter hasn’t appeared in any projects because she was never technically a Muppet.)

“The thing with Muppet Babies was, during the time between the [2004] acquisition and the [2011] Jason Segel movie, Disney had targeted the property to adults almost exclusively,” he says, “with some secondary targets among the different children's age groups. The concern was that an [adult] movie might not work out if there's an onslaught of Muppets diapers and baby bottles out in the market, which makes perfect sense.”

The mandate, while not written in stone, was that the Muppets were preparing for a big-screen relaunch that needed adult ticket buyers and didn't need to be referencing a time when they crawled around on all fours, which made invoking Muppet Babies a problem. Initially, Mebberson and Langridge didn’t get a green light to refer to Skeeter by name—that came later. In the four issues in which she appeared, a framing device featuring balcony vultures Statler and Waldorf helped reinforce the idea that the story might be taking place out of continuity. Disney, it appears, is not committed to acknowledging Muppet Babies as canonical. Neither is anyone else.

“It had its own world the same way the Muppets did,” Frith says. “If you try to parse the movies, the shows, you’ll find all kinds of inconsistencies. I don’t know if they’re alternate worlds. Maybe parallel. It’s a bunch of quantum physics.”

Mebberson’s The Muppet Show arc wrapped up in 2010. She’s since snuck in a few fleeting Skeeter sightings when illustrating Muppet storybooks. In the speculative continuity of both Mebberson and Frith, Skeeter is a world traveler, prone to finding herself in far corners of the globe. “People like to depict fraternal twins as polar opposites,” Mebberson says, “so it kind of naturally lends that if Scooter is the homebody who loves his mother, Skeeter would be the wild child who rebelled and ran away to join the circus or something.”

For his part, Frith—who is retired from Muppet-related projects but recently collaborated on an app, Leonardo’s Cat—believes Skeeter is doing some philanthropic work similar to his own: He’s part of No Strings International, a program dedicated to using puppetry to bring some consolation to poverty-stricken children in third-world areas. “I imagine she’s in the Arctic,” he says. “Or in the Middle East.”

Fans who are truly curious may want to pose the question to the source. Promoting ABC’s The Muppets via Twitter in 2015, Skeeter’s brother, Scooter, was asked what became of his sister.

“Skeeter is currently studying overseas,” he said. “And if she ever reaches dry land, she’ll come visit.”

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

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15 Facts About Pee-wee's Big Adventure On Its 35th Anniversary

Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).
Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).
Warner Home Video

He may be a perpetual man-child, but Pee-wee Herman has been around for more than four decades (the character made his first appearance in 1977). His first feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, debuted in August of 1985. Since then, millions of people have no doubt pondered the question, "Does the Alamo have a basement?" The answer is, yes! Read on for more fascinating facts about Pee-wee and his big adventure.

1. Pee-wee's Big Adventure was originally supposed to be a remake of Pollyanna.

Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).Warner Home Video

Before the inspiration struck for the quest for Pee-wee’s missing bicycle, the writers planned on more or less remaking the Disney classic Pollyanna. Pee-wee would arrive in a new town in need of some fresh perspective, and by the end of the movie, he would have endeared himself to even the most curmudgeonly of the citizens.

2. The movie changed when Warner Bros. gave Paul Reubens a Schwinn.

Cast and crew members often take bicycles around studio lots to get from point A to point B. Reubens was given a 1940s Schwinn to ride while he was at Warner Bros. working on the movie script; he loved it so much he decided to retool the whole Pollyanna concept.

3. Pee-wee's Big Adventure is a retelling of Bicycle Thieves.

Paul Reubens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985).Warner Home Video

After the idea of Pee-wee as Pollyanna bit the dust, the script ended up turning into a “surrealistic reworking” of Bicycle Thieves, an essential example of Italian Neorealism that was given an Honorary Oscar and regularly shows up on every “must-see” film list. But Pee-wee’s Big Adventure has its own champions ...

4. Pee-wee's Big Adventure made Roger Ebert’s list of “Guilty Pleasures.”

Though he never officially rated the movie, in 1987 Ebert confessed that it made his list of Guilty Pleasure movies:

“The movie is not just a strange little man acting goofy. Pee-wee has created a whole fairytale universe as consistent and fascinating as Alice’s Wonderland or the world of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is one of those movies like The Wizard of Oz, I think, that kids can look at in one state of mind while the grown-ups enjoy it on a completely different level.”

5. Paul Reubens fought to get a 26-year-old Tim Burton to direct Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Although Paul Reubens had a long list of directors he wanted to work with, the studio chose one not on the list. Rather than go along for the sake of getting the movie made, Reubens put his foot down and refused to proceed. Shortly thereafter, one of Reubens’s friends mentioned a short film called Frankenweenie (the precursor to the feature-length movie that came out in 2012) by Tim Burton. Reubens was friends with Shelley Duvall, who was in the Burton film, so he gave her a call. She agreed that Reubens and Burton would make a perfect match, and the connection was made. “It was the biggest piece of luck early on in my career that I could have had,” Reubens later said.

6. Pee-wee's Big Adventure was Tim Burton and Danny Elfman's first collaboration.

Not only was Pee-wee's Big Adventure Tim Burton’s first big movie, it was also Danny Elfman’s. Elfman wasn’t actually scoring films at the time, at least not on the scale that he is now. But Burton knew him through his work with Oingo Boingo, and Paul Reubens knew him from music he had written for a film called Forbidden Zone. After meeting with Burton to chat about the project, Elfman went home with a tune in his head.

“I did a demo on a four track tape player, playing all the parts, and I made a cassette and sent it to him and never expected to hear from him again," Elfman told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. "But that piece of music became the main title of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and it got me the job. I was really shocked.” It was, of course, the beginning of a longtime collaboration and friendship.

7. Elizabeth Daily, a.k.a. Dottie, is the voice of Tommy Pickles.

In addition to acting in front of the camera, Elizabeth Daily is also a talented voice actress. If you don’t know her as Tommy Pickles in Rugrats or Buttercup in The Powerpuff Girls, you’ve probably heard her in a number of small roles in Wreck-It Ralph, Happy Feet, and many, many more. She was also on season 5 of The Voice.

8. Tim Burton has a cameo in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Tim Burton made a cameo in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which you can watch below:

9. Warner Bros. thought Pee-wee's Big Adventure was weird.

After seeing the finished product, the studio wasn’t so sure it wanted to put much more money behind Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Finding it all a bit bizarre, they decided to roll the film out slowly and on a regional basis. When it proved to be popular with even a limited audience, Warner cranked up the publicity machine. By the time all was said and done, Pee-wee had earned nearly $41 million at the box office.

10. Phil Hartman co-wrote the script for Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Reubens and SNL legend Phil Hartman originally developed the Pee-wee character when they were in the Groundlings together. HBO picked up Pee-wee for a comedy show in 1981, which is what eventually led to the movie in 1985. Hartman was Reubens’s writing partner throughout all of that, and also for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, where he made occasional appearances as Kap’n Karl.

11. Pee-wee’s bicycle from Pee-wee's Big Adventure was sold on eBay in 2014.

Though Pee-wee estimated his bike’s value at “a hundred million, trillion, billion dollars” in the movie, it didn’t quite fetch that much when it was sold on eBay in 2014. It did, however, sell for $36,600.

12. There were at least 10 bikes used in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

Warner Home Video

Missed out on the auction? Never fear—there could still be an authentic Pee-wee bike in your future, since at least 10 bikes were built for use in the film. The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh had one of them on display for a while.

13. Pee-wee's Big Adventure wasn’t the first time Paul Reubens did the “Pee-wee Dance.”

He performed it on The Gong Show in the late 1970s, but the choreography goes back even further than that. The dance, he has said, was actually inspired by a dirty joke his dad used to tell. “The joke was something [like] you put one thumb in your [Reubens points at his backside] and one in your mouth, and then you switch.”

14. The idea for Pee-wee's Playhouse came up at the Pee-wee's Big Adventure premiere.

Executives at CBS approached Reubens’s manager at the movie's premiere and wanted to know if “Pee-wee” was interested in doing a cartoon show. But Reubens had another format in mind, and asked how they would feel about something live-action.

“I was thinking about how important all those kids’ shows were to me when I was a kid, and how much I feel like they affected me, and that just seemed really exciting to me," he said. "I was really excited by the idea that doing a real kids’ show could potentially affect kids in an amazingly positive and great way.” Pee-wee’s Playhouse debuted a year later.

15. Large Marge almost got the axe from Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the entire movie, but it almost didn’t make it to the screen. “I almost cut the best thing before an audience saw it,” Burton said in Burton on Burton. “It was a special effect and those are the first things to go.” IFC lists the scene as #5 on their list of "25 Scariest Moments in Non-Horror Movies."