Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

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First edition of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas is a children's storybook by Russell Hoban which was first published in 1971.

Russell Hoban storybook[edit]

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas was written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by his then-wife, Lillian Hoban, in 1969. The book was published in 1971 by Parents' Magazine Press. The story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home in the town of Frogtown Hollow despite both of them often being cheated. Some of the people who cheated them are Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox (the wife of Mayor Harrison Fox). As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville, and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other—a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest. Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band. Emmet and Ma assemble Wendell Porcupine, Harvey Beaver, and Charlie Muskrat as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band.

Emmet and Ma each do an excellent job (despite Emmet's jug band having to frantically change songs after another contestant performs their song, Bar-b-que), only to be defeated at the last minute by a rock and roll band called The Riverbottom Nightmare Band (most likely due to the nasty Gretchen Fox on the judging committee with James Badger and Doc Bullfrog), which comprises a hoodlum gang from the fairly distant town of River Bottom made up of Chuck Stoat, Fred Lizard, Howard Snake, "Pop-Eyed" Catfish, and Stanley Weasel. However, as the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band sing a song together on the way home (more accurately, both of their talent show songs together after Ma realized they fit together), they are overheard by Doc Bullfrog (owner of a local restaurant called the Riverside Rest) who hires them to sing for his customers. This grants them the bigger prize.

Jim Henson television special[edit]

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Genre Family film
Television Special
Created by Henson Associates
Directed by Jim Henson
Produced by Jim Henson
Written by Jerry Juhl
Based on Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
Starring Jim Henson
Frank Oz
Jerry Nelson
Richard Hunt
Dave Goelz
Eren Ozker
Marilyn Sokol
Music by Paul Williams
Country USA
Original channel HBO
Original airing December 17, 1978 (1978-12-17)
Running time 48 min.

In 1977, Muppet creator Jim Henson produced a one-hour television adaptation of the story filmed in Toronto for HBO in the United States, and CBC in Canada. The special premiered on HBO on December 17, 1978.[1][2] The special later aired on ABC in 1980 and on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The special features several original songs written by song writer Paul Williams.

The original special was hosted by Kermit the Frog. However, later releases edited out the frog's narration due to legal issues. While The Jim Henson Company retained ownership of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, the company sold the rights to the Muppets (including Kermit) to The Walt Disney Company in 2004 (namely their branch in The Muppets Studio).

The special utilizes a number of different puppetry methods. The main puppets used are the usual Muppet hand puppets, but the characters are frequently represented by marionettes as well. It also utilizes the Bunraku and Black Theater techniques. This is also one of the first Muppet productions to use radio control puppet effects, designed by Faz Fazakas.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas also featured extensively platformed-up sets, all created with great attention to detail. Jim Henson explained:

John J. O'Connor gave the special a very positive review in The New York Times on December 15, 1980 for its ABC airing: "Jim Henson and the Muppets are on a dazzling winning streak these days... Mr. Henson has produced and directed one of the most charming Christmas specials of the last several years... Once again, Mr. Henson's creations verge on the marvelous, perfectly capturing the Wind in the Willows aspects of Emmet Otter's story... These really are the nicest folk on the river – and on prime-time television."[4]

Muppet Performers[edit]

  • Jerry Nelson – Emmet Otter, Doc Bullfrog, Melissa Rabbit, Stanley Weasel, Yancey Woodchuck, Additional Voices
  • Frank Oz – Performer of Alice Otter, Chuck Stoat
  • Marilyn Sokol – Alice Otter (voice)
  • Jim Henson – Kermit the Frog, Harvey Beaver, Howard Snake, Mayor Harrison Fox
  • Richard Hunt – Charlie Muskrat, Fred Lizard, George Rabbit, Additional Voices
  • Dave Goelz – "Pop-Eyed" Catfish, Wendell Porcupine, Will Possum, Additional Voices
  • Eren Ozker – Gretchen Fox, Hetty Muskrat, Mrs. Mink, Old Lady Possum, Additional Voices


The special features several original songs written by song writer Paul Williams. Paul Williams had previously worked with the Muppets on The Muppet Show and would go on to collaborate with the Muppets by writing all the songs for The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol. The song "Brothers In Our World" was later covered by My Morning Jacket for the special Muppets cover album Muppets: The Green Album.

List of songs
  • "The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore"
  • "There Ain't No Hole in the Washtub"
  • "When the River Meets the Sea"
  • "Bar-B-Que"
  • "Our World"
  • "Brothers"
  • "Riverbottom Nightmare Band"
  • "Brothers in Our World"



  • 1983 – Muppet Home Video
  • 1996 – Buena Vista Home Video
  • 1998 – Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video


  • 1983 – Muppet Home Video [RCA CED VideoDisc – Also Contains: "The Muppet Musicians of Bremen".]


  • 2001 – Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
  • 2005 – Hit! Entertainment [Collector's Edition]
  • 2008 – Hit! Entertainment

In 2005, Hit! Entertainment released "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: DVD Collector's Edition" featuring, a one-hour behind the scenes documentary and other all new bonus features. The 2005 Collector's Edition DVD also revealed a "lost" song that was recorded, but never actually used in the special. Called "I Was Born in the Trunk", the song was written for the talent show scene and was performed by the Waterville music store owner.

In 2007, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the special, musician Matt Surowiec produced an officially licensed "tribute" album featuring all-new covers of Paul Williams' original songs from the special.[5]


Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 1981:

  • Outstanding Children's Program, David Lazer (executive producer) and Jim Henson (producer)
  • Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Calista Hendrickson (costume designer) and Sherry Ammott (costume designer)
  • Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Paul Williams (composer/lyricist) for the song "When The River Meets the Sea".
  • Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children's Programming, Tom Wright (lighting)

Jim Henson musical stage adaptation[edit]

In 2008, the Jim Henson Company partnered with "iTheatrics" to develop a musical stage adaptation of the 1977 special. The musical featured a mix of stage actors, puppet characters and songs. Paul Williams wrote new songs specifically for the stage show. Tim A. McDonald and Christopher Gattelli adapted the story for the stage, and Gattelli directed the production.[6] It premiered in a limited-run engagement on December 7, 2008 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and closed on January 4, 2009. The cast featured Daniel Reichard (Emmet Otter), Cass Morgan (Ma Otter), Alan Campbell (Pa Otter), Kate Wetherhead (Jane), Lisa Howard (Mrs. Gretchen Fox), and Jeff Hiller (Will Possum).[7] The musical returned on December 5, 2009 and ran through January 3, 2010

Later appearances[edit]

  • Chuck Stoat, Howard Snake, and Old Lady Possum made cameos in The Muppet Movie. They are seen in the Rainbow Connection Finale.
  • Some of the puppets made cameos in The Muppet Show:
    • Mayor Harrison Fox's puppet was reused in several episodes that included the Woodland Animals including the "Bob Hope" episode (where he was in the "For What It's Worth Number" with unclothed versions of Old Lady Possum, James Badger, Will Possum, George Rabbit, and Nat Muskrat alongside a deer, a mouse, a toothless beaver, and a weasel), the "Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge" episode (where he alongside James Badger, Nat Muskrat, and Will Possum were repurposed for the "We're All Alone" song that also featured Billy the Bear, a Deer, a Beaver, and a Weasel), and the "Leo Sayer" episode (where he was featured in the "When I Need You" number with Billy the Bear, Mickey Moose, Harold Woodpecker, a beaver, a weasel, James Badger, and Crazy Harry).
    • Fred Lizard was seen in the "Shields & Yarnell" and the "Dyan Cannon" episode.
  • Doc Bullfrog, Yancy Woodchuck, Old Lady Possum, George and Melissa Rabbit, and two squirrels appeared in the "Jim Henson's Musical World" concert at Carnegie Hall.


  1. ^ December 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 13
  2. ^ HBO Soundtrack:The Muppets are coming! – November 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 22
  3. ^ Jim Henson: The Works, p. 199, 202
  4. ^ O'Connor, John J. The New York Times, December 15, 1980
  5. ^ Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Tribute, August 21, 2007
  6. ^ "Emmet Otter" Stage Show Takes Shape, May 27, 2008
  7. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Emmet Otter Musical, with Reichard, Morgan, Campbell, Opens in CT", playbill.com, December 17, 2008

External links[edit]