Wilkins and Wontkins (partially lost series of Jim Henson commercials; 1957-1969)
In 1957, puppeteer Jim Henson was asked by Wilkins Coffee to star his then-novel Muppets in commercials for their product. The company only had 10 seconds of screen time, so the ads had to be lightning-fast yet memorable - a problem Henson solved as only he and his creations could. From 1957 to 1969, Henson created 179 such ads for Wilkins Coffee plus many more for other brands, all of which revolve around the early Muppet duo of Wilkins & Wontkins. As of this writing, the online archive of these commercials is missing a significant number of the total produced.
Overview[edit | edit source]
The basic template for the ads features the relentlessly bright, cheerful Wilkins somehow bringing up his namesake coffee to the grumpy, gravel-voiced Wontkins, who refuses all offers - whereupon Wilkins promptly (and cheerfully) punishes him in various outlandishly sadistic ways.
The formula was like nothing that had ever been seen in advertising before, and it was a smash hit... quite literally. Over the course of their long partnership Wontkins stubbornly refused to appreciate the sponsor's product despite repeatedly being shot, stabbed, beaten, blown up, branded, crushed, set on fire, drowned, dropped from heights and - on at least one occasion - run head-first through a table saw (this one was thankfully kept off-screen). Even when Wilkins doesn't handle him personally, it's made clear their universe itself is displeased with Wontkins' stance.
Although Wilkins himself, contrary to Internet legend, is not an early prototype of Kermit the Frog (who had already been introduced by name a few years earlier) the popularity of these witty, highly distinctive ads resulted in he and Wontkins becoming iconic in their own right, to the extent that hand puppets of the duo were popular promotional giveaways. They would go on to bring their signature ultraviolence to a number of campaigns for other coffee and grocery brands, initially produced in black and white before shifting to colour in 1966. The last known Wilkins & Wontkins commercials made were for Community Coffee, around 1969.
Companies[edit | edit source]
Companies that Wilkins and Wontkins promoted.
|#||Company||Runtime||# of ads made||Status|
|1||Wilkins Coffee||1957-1961||179||Partially Lost|
|3||Nash's Coffee||1958-1961||20||Partially Found|
|4||La Touraine Coffee||1958-1962||15||Partially Found|
|5||Community Coffee||1959-1969||37||Partially Found|
|6||Martinson Coffee||1959||15||Partially Found|
|7||Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio)||1960||Unknown||Partially Found|
|8||Calso Water||1961||8||Partially Found|
|10||Donovan Coffee Company (Red Diamond brand)||1961-1966||13||Partially Lost|
|11||Kraml Dairy||1962||18||Partially Found|
|12||Merita Bread||1963||6||Partially Lost|
|16||National City Bank||1960s?||Unknown||Lost|
Availability[edit | edit source]
Out of the 179 Wilkins Coffee commercials, only 135 have been released on the internet; other campaigns are also missing ads. It is unknown how many the Jim Henson Company has stored in their archives. Selected Wilkins & Wontkins spots are currently playing in certain exhibitions, including The Center for Puppetry Arts and the Jim Henson exhibition, Imagination Unlimited.
On June 26th, 2020, YouTuber KermiClown uploaded a large collection of Wilkins commercials, including all the ads for Taystee Bread and Dugan's Bread.
Videos[edit | edit source]
Gallery[edit | edit source]
Wilkins and Wontkins commercials that can only be found in images.
Completely Lost Commericals[edit | edit source]
Commercials that are completely lost.
Nash's Coffee - Communist Store The Wilkins version can easily be found, but the Nash's one is lost.
See Also[edit | edit source]
- Sam and Friends (partially found Jim Henson puppet TV series; 1955-1961)
- The Muppets' early ads (partially lost series of commercials; 1962-1969)
- Sesame Street (partially lost children's educational TV series; 1969-present)
- The Dark Crystal (partially found high-quality version of workprint/director's cut of puppet fantasy film; early 1980s)
- The Power of The Dark Crystal (lost production materials from canceled sequel to "The Dark Crystal" fantasy film; 1982-2014)
- Fraggle Rock (partially found British co-production of puppet children's television series; 1984-1990)
- Muppets In Space (lost early drafts of "Muppets From Space" sci-fi family film; 1999)
External Links[edit | edit source]
- Compilation featuring a newly discovered Wilkins Coffee commercial.
- Defunctland's DefunctTV video covering the commercials along with Sam and Friends as part of a 6-part retrospective on Jim Henson. Retrieved 31 Dec '19
Sources[edit | edit source]