The Internet Is Losing Their Minds Over Jim Henson’s Wilkins Coffee Commercials

"Drink our coffee or a puppet will murder you" is quite the take.
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When you think of Jim Henson, you probably think of childhood staples like Sesame Street and The Muppets, which have influenced generations of children. But you might not know that the iconic creator got his start making commercials for Wilkins Coffee, which starred a proto-Kermit character called Wilkins and his grumpy counterpart Wontkins. The commercials are simple: Wilkins offers Wontkins some Wilkins brand coffee, which Wontkins refuses. Then, Wilkins savagely murders Wontkins.

I’m sorry, what? Henson made 179 of these hilariously sadistic 8-second long ads from 1957-1961, which was massively popular across the country. The ads were so successful that they inspired a series of remakes for companies in other local markets throughout the 1960s. Apparently in the 1950s and 60s, people COULD NOT get enough of puppet-on-puppet crime. Don Draper could never.

The ads have resurfaced on Twitter, exposing a whole new generation to the macabre genius of these ads, wherein Wilkins is forever murdering Wontkins to our collective delight.

The commercials basically function like an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, with Wilkins devising more and more ways to murder Wontkins because he … doesn’t like his coffee. There’s gunshots, stabbings, guillotines, bombs, cannons, electrocutions, all of which makes us wonder, A) who gave these puppets weapons and B) wow, Wilkins Coffee must be really good huh?

And while the product was targeted at adults, Wilkins was sure to tie-in the kid-friendly characters, offering vinyl puppets if you mailed in he characters proved so popular that in October 1958, the company offered vinyl puppets via the mail for $1.00 and a coffee can label.

wilkins puppets

(image: Wontkins/Wikipedia)

Thanks to their gruesomely goofy ads, Wilkins saw a 300 percent increase in the home sales of its coffee. In 1958, 25,000 pairs of vinyl Wilkins and Wontkins puppets were sold. And the duo weren’t the only Henson characters featured in commercials. In 1962, Henson created future Muppet Rowlf the Dog, who appeared in ads for Purina Dog Chow. Rowlf then appeared as Jimmy Dean’s sidekick on the variety series The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963-1966.

And if you’re surprised by Wilkins and Wontkins, then wait until you see these Winston Cigarettes ads starring the Flintstones.

From cigarettes to kid vitamins, what a come up. In the meantime, we’ll still be here chuckling at these Wilkins Coffee ads and the memes they’ve inspired.

If you’re looking for more Henson fun, The Muppets original series is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+.

(via National Museum of American History, featured image: screencap)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.