In July 1965, Knoxville advertising executive Edwin Huster wrote to Jim about a new advertising campaign for Southern Bakeries. Jim had been working with Huster on commercials for Kern’s Bakery using his Tommy and Fred characters, and there had apparently been some sort of conflict with another client of Jim’s, the C & P Telephone Company, in an overlapping television market. Perhaps because the characters for those two companies were too similar, Huster suggested going with something different – resurrecting an old corporate character from an earlier print campaign, the Southern Colonel, and transforming him into a Muppet.
In August, Edwin Huster’s colleague (and relation) Carl Huster sent Jim some cartoon images of the Colonel to use as reference, and Jim and Don Sahlin worked on building the puppet, sending back images of the nearly completed Colonel a few days before the commercial shoot. All went well and the 10-second spots went out to 17 television stations for airing in November. There was a small delay in finishing one spot (“I’d do anything for Southern Bread. I’d even face a herd of stampeding elephants!”) as they unsuccessfully tried to acquire footage of stampeding elephants.
Jim clearly felt some affection for this character and enthusiastically agreed to make more Southern Bread commercials the following summer. He was more ambitious and eager to take the Colonel out of the studio. Safety considerations were secondary – a real archer shot an arrow at an apple on the Colonel’s head in one spot, and Jim and Frank Oz lay down (sans permission) on railroad tracks to shoot another, leaping off when they heard the oncoming train. Jim did get permission to shoot at Yankee Stadium, and he wrote to the US Air Force to request shooting, “…a short scene showing our puppet in the cockpit of a jet plane.” Another scene was in more familiar environs – the offices of the William Morris Agency on Sixth Avenue.
Jim continued performing the Southern Colonel after he completed his work for the bakery. The Colonel later appeared on the public television special The Muppets on Puppets (taped in June 1968) to demonstrate the Anything Muppet concept, and he also appeared as “The Changing Man”on various talk/variety shows including The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 and The Dick Cavett Show in 1971.