- The Little-known Wilkins Coffee Company was formed in 1916 by Robert Crew Wilkins, in an attempt to bring coffee to a broader audience in the United States. The coffee did not sell well because the manufacturing processes were not up to task at that point in the nation’s history. Taste testers at the Wilkin’s Co. manufacturing plant claimed the coffee tasted like the following: dry dirt, dead snails, wet newspaper and 20-year old Graham Crackers. Mr. Wilkins, who was a strange and rarely seen man, reached out to up and coming puppeteer Jim Henson in 1957. The offer was simple: produce a series of small vignettes, each including two new puppets by Henson: Wilkins and Watkins. Wilkins would later go on to become Kermit the Frog of popular television show “The Muppets.” Watkins, however, was mysteriously never seen after these strange commercials stopped airing.
- At the first the commercials were a huge success, each one promoting the coffee with a little joke. But as time progressed, Henson insisted on including more strange ideas in the coffee commercials. For example, Mr. Wilkins wanted the two eponymous characters to be sitting in a tree, with one of them drinking coffee, and saying “just hanging out.” Henson, after tasting some of the coffee, changed the script without informing Mr. Wilkins. The puppet character Wilkins instead prepared some coffee next to a noose, and offered it to Wontkins. As Wontkins put his head around the noose to access the coffee, Wilkins stated “Just Hanging out.” And pushed the puppet, causing him to be hung to death.
- Mr. Wilkins immediately demanded a refund, but sales were up. The coffee was finally selling. At 2,000 cans a week, the business had quadrupled its profits in a month. The commercials continued. One featured Wilkins offering coffee with the lights out, when the lights were turned on… Wontkins had been stabbed. “Just a stab in the dark.” The puppet claimed. It was hard to tell at that time in history who was actually buying this coffee. What audiences were responding positively to these strange commercials?
- Well, the commercials continued, eventually involving Wilkins, stabbing, shooting, decapitating and mauling Wontkins every time he approached Wilkins about the coffee. Profits doubled every year for all ten years the 15 second vignettes were running, so a distressed and angry Mr. Wilkins continued to increase the advertising spend each year, eventually making Henson what would be the equivalent of a millionaire at that time in history.
- Evidently Mr. Wilkins, on his deathbed, cursed Henson for ruining his coffee’s image. Indeed, as the years passed, bigger companies like Folger’s and Maxwell House took control of the coffee market, leaving poor, decrepit Mr. Wilkins and his terrible tasting coffee in the dust.
- But he still had to thank Henson. After all, in all those years he was making the violent and disturbing commercials, coffee sales were skyrocketing, propelling his mediocre blend of half-cooked coffee beans mixed in unfiltered dirty well water to the national stage. Truth is, Jim Henson supposedly hated coffee, and never drank it on the set. In fact, he cursed Mr. Wilkins for ever trying to utilize Henson’s puppets for something he clearly hated. But Henson claimed he needed the money. So for every year that Wilkins Coffee remained in business, Henson took home enough money to buy an entire storage shed full of Wilkins Coffee…
- Which was most disturbing when Mr. Henson died, and an heir to the estate was doing an inventory of the company property. You had the normal assets you normally sell off when a famous person died, but one inventory item was of particular interest: 1 million cans of Wilkins Coffee, covered in dust, unopened, the seal still intact. The words “Fuck your coffee, Signed Jim” written in sharpie, with an evil smiley face on the wall of the shed.
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