In 1965, with a regular gig on ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show, Rowlf the Dog was Jim’s best known character and popular across the country. That summer, Jim signed on to work on a pilot for an ABC series based on Cinderella. With the growing market for merchandise related to children’s programming, ABC was eager to extend their brands onto the toy shelf. It was clear that Rowlf had potential as a licensed product, and it appeared that the characters planned for the Cinderella series, including Kermit the Frog, could create a group of toys under the Muppet brand. In the end, the series did not get picked up, but the Ideal Toy Company was already in development on toy versions of Rowlf, Kermit and an abstract Snerf monster.
Jim promoted the toy line for Ideal’s sales force in early 1966, and later that year, they introduced two items, each billed as a “Professional Style Action Puppet,” a Rowlf and a Kermit. Instructions on the packaging explained that Rowlf could be operated with one hand, opening and closing the mouth. Kermit, however, was more complicated – his mouth worked like Rowlf’s, however, there was also a metal rod on the inside that extended into the arms. With a second hand, a child could rotate the rod, perhaps even producing Kermit’s signature flailing motion. While the toys were promoted “As Seen On TV,” Jim owned the characters and ABC did not seem to share in the licensing. And while Jim took great care in overseeing the look of the toy puppets, he did not get the chance to copy-edit the packaging. Toward the bottom of the back of the box, “Created by Jim Hensen” (spelled wrong) was printed in smaller type.