Her Name Was Skeeter: The Mystery of the Missing Muppet
Michael Frith doesn’t recall who first sketched out Skeeter, the myopic Muppet first introduced in the CBS animated series Muppet Babies (1984-1991). She could’ve been named, he says, by the Muppets's creator, the late Jim Henson. Along with Bob Richardson and Frith, all three producers on the show, Henson recognized a need for a strong female character to help balance the anarchy provided by an infantilized Miss Piggy. As the twin sister of established Muppet Scooter, Skeeter was athletic, smart, and capable—all qualities that the little girls watching the show would want to emulate.
“She was a great character,” Frith tells mental_floss. “She was more extroverted than Piggy and brought all kinds of positive energy to the show. I always loved Skeeter.”
So did viewers. But once Muppet Babies wrapped after seven seasons, she appeared to be one of the few Henson-inspired creations to wind up on the Muppet unemployment line. Over time, her fans began to question why Skeeter never appeared in subsequent movies or television series and specials, or earn even a passing mention by her former cribmates. Was Skeeter persona non grata in the Muppetverse? Was Muppet Babies canonical? Never reproduced in felt form, was she even technically a Muppet? Where had this model of female empowerment gone?
If Frank Oz had gotten his way, none of the Muppet Babies would have been birthed. In the early 1980s, Frith had been keen on the idea of regressing the adult Muppets—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, and Fozzie Bear among them—into children for animation. The idea, Frith says, was to use the characters to impart moral and educational messages in ways that would be difficult after they had reached Muppet adolescence.
“Piggy as an adult is not particularly sympathetic to a kid,” he says. “But as a child, she is. Jim loved the idea.”
Oz did not. A longtime puppeteer who performed as Miss Piggy before moving into film directing, Oz was adamant the Muppets not be simplified for a juvenile audience. “He felt it was inappropriate to take characters from one medium with adult characteristics and move them into another," Frith says. "The Muppet Show was intended for families, not just kids.” Sesame Street was Henson’s nod to children; the Muppets were supposed to be slightly edgier.
For a time, Oz got his wish. But during production on 1984’s feature, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Henson found a workaround. According to Frith, Henson casually floated the idea of supervising a segment of the movie. He told Oz, the director, of his plans.
“Sure, Jim,” Oz said. “What’s it going to be about?”
“Well,” Henson said, “I thought it would be nice to do a thing where the Muppets are babies.”
Frith and the rest of Henson’s team got to work on designing and assembling live-action Muppets that appeared as children in a dream sequence. The response to the scene was so strong that CBS began petitioning Henson to do an animated series with the same premise.
Muppet Babies premiered in 1984 to big ratings, becoming a staple of Saturday morning television. But during its development, Frith and the other writers and producers were confronted with a gender imbalance in the cast, something Frith says could be attributed to the heavily male-skewing puppeteers who had worked in the Henson studios since the 1960s.
“We had Piggy and Nanny, strong female characters, but we needed at least one more,” says Frith. “The Muppets evolved around the puppeteers. You can say dispraisingly it was a boys’ club, but no more so than The Beatles were.”
The result was Skeeter, who was bold, brash, and adventurous—the total opposite of her nerdy twin brother. In the show’s many fantasy sequences—which often used clips from film and television shows—she was a problem-solver. (Frith, incidentally, is amused that the clips were perceived as a stroke of genius: They were used because the show didn’t have the budget to be fully animated.)
During the cartoon's run, Skeeter made a little-known but very public appearance as part of a Muppet Babies live stage show. Instead of being designed to fit on a hand, she and the rest of the Babies were formulated into towering, seven-foot costumes worn by performers. It would turn out be the only time she appeared in “person.” Despite several movies and series produced following Babies, Frith says that no one considered using Skeeter as a utility player. During a “home movies” segment for a 1987 television special, the Babies are seen as live-action Muppets: Skeeter is conspicuously absent.
“We never said, ‘Oh, let’s take an old Scooter puppet and put on some long hair and a dress,’” explains Frith. “One of the problems one has with a vast repertory company is accounting for all of the characters and giving them the face time they need. It becomes a handful to try and corral.”
Skeeter did appear in various Muppet Babies-themed storybooks and toy lines throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but always as an illustrated cast member and never as an adult. By the time Disney purchased the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company in 2004, her chances of resurfacing were reduced even further. It would take a die-hard Skeeter fan to help answer the question of what happened when she finally grew up.
Amy Mebberson was one of the legions of girls who sat in front of their televisions admiring Skeeter. A native of Australia, Mebberson moved to the States in 2006 to pursue a career in illustration. In 2009, she was recruited as a penciler for Boom! Studios, which was launching a Muppet Show comic book. It did not take long for Mebberson to make her pitch.
“I consider the Muppet Babies cartoon an integral part of Muppet history,” Mebberson tells mental_floss. “Although Skeeter was made for the cartoon, she left enough of an impact on fans that we were all left wondering whatever happened to her when they [all] grew up. The comics gave us an opportunity to explore that.”
In 2009, Mebberson pitched the comic’s writer, Roger Langridge, on a Skeeter appearance, sketching out how she thought the character might look as an adult. Langridge and Boom!, in turn, had to get Disney’s approval. The company's response helps explain—at least in part—why Skeeter has proven to be such an elusive presence in Muppet lore over the past 25 years.
According to Jesse Post, a former Disney employee who acted as a go-between for licensees like Boom! and the caretakers at The Muppets Studio, Disney shared Frank Oz’s preference to keep the characters aimed toward adulthood. It's an assertion supported by a 2008 piece in The New York Times, which indicated that some children could not readily identify Kermit or his colleagues.
“Muppet Babies was verboten at the time,” Post tells mental_floss. Conferencing with Susan Butterworth, then-head of all things Muppet-related, in San Diego one year, Post says she loved the idea of including Skeeter in the comic series, but didn’t want to make any overt associations with the animated series. (Officially, a source inside Disney tells mental_floss that Skeeter hasn’t appeared in any projects because she was never technically a Muppet.)
“The thing with Muppet Babies was, during the time between the  acquisition and the  Jason Segel movie, Disney had targeted the property to adults almost exclusively,” he says, “with some secondary targets among the different children's age groups. The concern was that an [adult] movie might not work out if there's an onslaught of Muppets diapers and baby bottles out in the market, which makes perfect sense.”
The mandate, while not written in stone, was that the Muppets were preparing for a big-screen relaunch that needed adult ticket buyers and didn't need to be referencing a time when they crawled around on all fours, which made invoking Muppet Babies a problem. Initially, Mebberson and Langridge didn’t get a green light to refer to Skeeter by name—that came later. In the four issues in which she appeared, a framing device featuring balcony vultures Statler and Waldorf helped reinforce the idea that the story might be taking place out of continuity. Disney, it appears, is not committed to acknowledging Muppet Babies as canonical. Neither is anyone else.
“It had its own world the same way the Muppets did,” Frith says. “If you try to parse the movies, the shows, you’ll find all kinds of inconsistencies. I don’t know if they’re alternate worlds. Maybe parallel. It’s a bunch of quantum physics.”
Mebberson’s The Muppet Show arc wrapped up in 2010. She’s since snuck in a few fleeting Skeeter sightings when illustrating Muppet storybooks. In the speculative continuity of both Mebberson and Frith, Skeeter is a world traveler, prone to finding herself in far corners of the globe. “People like to depict fraternal twins as polar opposites,” Mebberson says, “so it kind of naturally lends that if Scooter is the homebody who loves his mother, Skeeter would be the wild child who rebelled and ran away to join the circus or something.”
For his part, Frith—who is retired from Muppet-related projects but recently collaborated on an app, Leonardo’s Cat—believes Skeeter is doing some philanthropic work similar to his own: He’s part of No Strings International, a program dedicated to using puppetry to bring some consolation to poverty-stricken children in third-world areas. “I imagine she’s in the Arctic,” he says. “Or in the Middle East.”
Fans who are truly curious may want to pose the question to the source. Promoting ABC’s The Muppets via Twitter in 2015, Skeeter’s brother, Scooter, was asked what became of his sister.
“Skeeter is currently studying overseas,” he said. “And if she ever reaches dry land, she’ll come visit.”