1970 Ernie – Rubber Duckie
While still in high school, Jim Henson began working for a local television show, The Junior Morning Show. Puppets were commonplace on television in the fifties and Jim created puppets for the show. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and took a course in puppetry. While in college, he developed Sam And Friends, a five-minute puppet show that ran from 1954 to 1961. One of the puppets on that show was a now-familiar-looking frog. He began making commercials using his puppets, the most successful of which were some coffee commercials.
Jim moved to New York City in 1963 and recruited Frank Oz and established Muppets, Inc. He developed Rolf, the piano-playing dog, who appeared regularly on the Jimmy Dean television show. Sesame Street began in 1969, with Jim performing as Kermit and Ernie and Frank performing as Cookie Monster and Bert (and many, many more Muppets as well as Miss Piggy, who never appeared on Sesame Street). The show involved a large number of extremely talented people, including writer Jeff Moss and music composer Joe Raposo.
A popular sketch with Ernie had him singing Rubber Duckie in the bathtub. The song was written by Jeff and Joe and first used on the show in February 1970. The song was successful enough that a 45 single was released. Everybody was surprised when the record began getting airplay on radio and the single quick hit the charts, peaking at #16 in September.
Rock station WKDA-FM in Nashville had a daily event where two new songs were played and listeners could vote for the song they wanted to keep hearing. The winner would return the next day to face a new challenger. Somebody put Rubber Duckie on as a joke, and the song easily began a winning streak that was finally stopped by Lola by the Kinks. Would that we could have vanquished Baby Shark that easily!
Rubber Duckie was Ernie’s only visit to the charts.
A number of people have recorded Rubber Duckie, but no doubt the most unusual performance was also on Sesame Street: Little Richard brought along a rubber duckie and a piano and a tub and other props and reproduced the entire sketch.
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