Rowlf the Dog
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|Rowlf the Dog|
|The Muppet Show character|
|Created by||Jim Henson|
|Portrayed by||Jim Henson (1962 - 1990; 1993)
Bill Barretta (1996 - present)
|Voiced by||Katie Leigh (Muppet Babies)|
Rowlf is the Muppet Theatre's resident pianist (as well as one of many vocalists). Though Kermit the Frog is often credited as the icon of Henson's Muppets, Rowlf was actually the first true Muppet "star" as a recurring character on The Jimmy Dean Show, first appearing in a show telecast on September 19, 1963.
Rowlf is a calm and quiet fellow. He is very easygoing and a fan of classical music (particularly Beethoven) and musicals. Equally likely to be found cracking dry jokes as tickling the ivories, Rowlf is one of the few Muppets rarely flustered by the mayhem so prevalent around The Muppet Show.
Rowlf was introduced in 1962 for Purina Dog Chow commercials, in which he appeared with Baskerville the Hound. Jim Henson designed Rowlf, and Don Sahlin built him; it was Sahlin's first Muppet construction.
Rowlf rose to popularity as Jimmy Dean's sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show. He was the first Muppet with a regular spot on network television appearing in numerous episodes from 1963 to 1966. Jimmy Dean stated that the segments with Rowlf were one of the most popular parts of the show, and that Rowlf drew two thousand fan letters a week.
In 1968, Rowlf appeared with Kermit the Frog on the pitch reel for Sesame Street. At the end of the pitch reel, Rowlf is depicted as being eager to join the Sesame Street cast, while Kermit seems reluctant to do so; ironically, it was Kermit who became a Sesame star, while Rowlf appeared only in one filmed segment and was never a part of the show's regular cast.
In 1976, Rowlf joined the recurring cast of The Muppet Show as the show's pianist. Rowlf also played Dr. Bob, the wisecracking doctor in the recurring medical drama parody skit "Veterinarians' Hospital," alongside nurses Janice and Piggy.
Rowlf achieved movie stardom with his appearance in The Muppet Movie (1979). The film depicts Rowlf's origin as a musician at a piano bar, who is discovered by Kermit while on his way to Hollywood. In the scene, Rowlf and Kermit sing the duet "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along!", a song about their troubles with women. Afterwards Rowlf leaves the bar and joins Kermit and the other Muppets on their trip to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. He later plays the harmonica during Gonzo's song "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday."
In 1984, Baby Rowlf debuted playing a toy piano during a musical number in The Muppets Take Manhattan. This fantasy sequence with the Muppets as babies was so popular that it resulted in the successful animated cartoon spinoff, Muppet Babies. He was voiced on that program by Katie Leigh.
Jim Henson's last public performance as Rowlf before his death was as guest on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1990. For several years afterward, the character was retired out of deference to Henson's memory as he was both the first Muppet to achieve popularity and, according to some sources, the character closest to Jim Henson's personality, with his son Brian saying in the introduction to episode 117 of The Muppet Show "Kermit was my father's best known character, but a lot of people think he was more like Rowlf in real life except he couldn't play the piano as well."
Since 1996, Rowlf has been portrayed by puppeteer Bill Barretta. Barretta has gradually transitioned into the role. Rowlf uttered his first word since Henson's death in the second episode of Muppets Tonight. Rowlf had several lines of dialogue in The Muppet Show Live in 2001 and also spoke two lines of dialogue ("Hey, Kermit!" and "Yeah! Heh, heh. Oh!") in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie in 2002. In 2005, however, Rowlf had a 190-word monologue in the second episode of Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. Rowlf appeared in the "Keep Fishin'" music video for rock band Weezer. Although he's only briefly seen, Rowlf had a more prominent role in the behind the scenes making-of special that accompanied it, Weezer and the Muppets Go Fishin'.
Additionally, Bill Barretta recorded the vocals as Rowlf singing "The Christmas Party Sing-Along" for the 2006 The Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas album.
Rowlf and Kermit appeared at the 2011 Disney D23 Expo to honor Jim Henson winning a Disney Legends award, singing a duet of The Rainbow Connection in front of a live audience, being Jim Henson's first two Muppet characters.
Rowlf appears in The Muppets, initially saddened he wasn't included in the montage depicting the principal Muppets being reunited (Rowlf was asleep, and was simply woken up by Kermit and easily convinced to join the cause), and helps rebuild the Muppet theater. He also performs "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a barbershop quartet with Sam the Eagle, Beaker, and Link Hogthrob during the Muppet Telethon, as well as an unwilling (and captive) Jack Black.
Rowlf was featured on the #7 Sirius Dodge of Casey Atwood in the 2002 Tropicana 400 in an advertising campaign in which he and his fellow Muppets were featured on a select few race cars.
Television and film appearances 
- Purina Dog Chow commercials (1962–1963)
- American Photocopy Equipment Company industrial film (1963)
- Esskay Meats commercials (1960s)
- The Jimmy Dean Show (1963–1966)
- IBM Industry Film (1966)
- The Mike Douglas Show (1966) ... guest
- The Ed Sullivan Show (1967) ... guest
- "Our Place" (1967)
- The Muppets on Puppets (1968)
- Sesame Street (1969)
- The Muppets Valentine Show (1974)
- The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
- The Muppet Show (1976–1981)
- The Bob Hope All Star Christmas Comedy Special (1977)
- Julie Andrews: One Step Into Spring (1978)
- The Julie Andrews Hour (1973) ... guest
- The Mike Douglas Show (1979) ... guest
- The Muppet Movie (1979)
- The Muppets Go Hollywood (1979)
- John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
- The Muppets Go to the Movies (1981)
- John Denver and the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday (1983)
- The Merv Griffin Show (1983) ... guest
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Muppet Babies (1984–1990) ... as Baby Rowlf
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (1986)
- A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
- The Jim Henson Hour (1989)
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World (1990)
- The Arsenio Hall Show (1990) ... guest
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson (1990)
- Dog City (1992)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
- Muppets Tonight (1996)
- Muppets From Space (1999)
- "Keep Fishin'" music video (2002)
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
- The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005)
- Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony (2005)
- A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)
- The Muppets (2011)
A solo album titled Ol' Brown Ears is Back was released by BMG in 1993 and featured 14 songs recorded by Jim Henson as Rowlf. Although released three years after Henson's death, the tracks were recorded in 1984.
- Dean, Jimmy. Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham: Jimmy Dean's Own Story. Berkley Books. 2004
- Disney D23 2011 Expo, Disney Legends Award Ceremony
- Rowlf the Dog on Muppet Wiki, an external wiki
- Ol' Brown Ears is Back on Muppet Wiki, an external wiki