Yeah, sure I knew Jim Henson's Muppets predated Sesame Street and that most were created for commercials. In the abstract. There were even a few Muppet ads screening last summer at the Smithsonian's otherwise forgettable Jim Henson Legacy exhibition.
But for some reason, I don't think they showed these Wilkins Coffee commercials from the late 50's. I think I would have remembered seeing this ur-Kermit repeatedly shoot, blowup, and decapitate his coffee-hating friend.
And I think I would have taken note of a 1966 commercial for new plush toy Muppets from Ideal, because it demonstrated a level of Muppet popularity that Sesame Street was clearly seeking to leverage, and not just because the ad featured twin Kermits reciting adorably extortionate threats:
"O buy us, O buy us,
O buy us, we beg.
For if you don't buy us,
We'll bite you in the leg."
"So buy us at once,
a bundle of charm.
And if you don't buy us,
We'll break both your arms."
By 1969 when this La Choy presentation film was made, Henson and Muppets, Inc. were comfortable poking fun at how all their commercials involved beatings and blowing shit up.
Henson had deftly exploited puppets' uncanny ability to meld life-like, 3-dimensionality with entertaining, cartoon-style violence, and he did it all in the service of selling canned chow mein and Munchos processed potato snacks.
Combine that with the Joan Ganz Cooney report which extolls the educational power of commercials and says "it is difficult to find a young television view from Harlem to Greeley, Colorado who does not cite "Batman" as his favorite television program." And you realize that Sesame Street was not only not created in a purist, non-commercial, idealist vacuum, it was designed from the beginning to channel the cartoonish, wacked out, commercial TV world Jim Henson created toward slightly better social ends.
Shockingly violent coffee commercials starring Muppets [superpunch via boingboing]
Here's a compilation of a ton of 1960's Muppet commercials and films from the 1960's [floobynooby]
Great Minds, &c. &c.Update: Just found Graham's 6/15 post about Henson's commercials on We Love You So. A different, expanding take.