In 1975, Jim Henson introduced the Swedish Chef to the world on a television special titled: The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. This unlikely vehicle unleashed generations of utensil-flinging food preparation on Muppet shows, eventually wending its way onto the campus of the County College of Morris (CCM). Over the years, the Swedish Chef has figured in the careers of both a CCM graduate and a design professor, and also recently rubbed elbows with the family of a college trustee.
The Graduate Connection
When Jerry Ketcham graduated from CCM in 1973, followed by a four-year degree from the University of Florida, it never occurred to him that he would end up in the zany world of the Muppets. But as Senior Vice President of Motion Picture Production at Disney Studios, he has overseen a number of film projects including The Muppets, which will be released nationwide on November 18, 2011. One of the movie’s “stars” is the now-renowned Swedish Chef.
While the Chef is known to be a temperamental star, prone to occasional prima donna outbursts and the tossing of cutlery, Ketcham has ingratiated himself into the epicurean’s inner circle of friends. As a result, he was able to donate a walk-on part for two in the upcoming Muppet movie when he visited CCM last year to accept the Alumnus of the Year award. His only advice to the winner: “Learn to duck.”
The Trustee Connection
The winning bidder for the walk-on roles turned out to be Thomas A. Pepe, CCM Trustee and member of the CCM Foundation Board of Directors. His family flew out to Los Angeles to seize their piece of showbiz immortality. While there, they spent a day on the set and met all the principal performers including a large group of Muppeteers.
“We watched the filming of a couple of scenes and had our pictures taken with the Muppets,” says Pepe. Among the most memorable shot was one in which the Swedish Chef conceded to pose with Pepe’s son, Christopher.
“Jerry Ketcham was a gracious host and we had a terrific time,” Pepe says. “We even got to eat lunch with the cast and crew. Pretty cool.” Sadly, the Swedish Chef was too busy to join them.
The Faculty Connection
At the same time that the Swedish Chef was pulling strings for Ketcham and other show-business successes, he also had a hidden association with a professor at CCM, Stephen H. Longo. Longo, professor and coordinator of the Graphic Design program, was involved with a side project with the Swedish Chef during the 1980s. As the Chef’s popularity on television and movies increased, the Muppet tried to market his own cereal, Cröonchy Stars, in 1988. Longo was part of a team of artists asked to help design the packaging.
“In 1987, I was working as a senior designer/letterer at a small design studio in New York City,” Longo recalls. “The studio received a videotape from an outside ad agency hired by Jim Henson. At that time, ad agencies usually farmed out packaging to studios that specialized in logo design and packaging. The tape was hilarious and showed the Swedish Chef blowing up and machine gunning a kitchen.” The commercials were out-takes to suggest to the artists how a visual could be used on the front of the cereal box.
“I was instructed at first to come up with various logotype sketches for the numerous names they were considering such as Stoopid Flakes, Cröonchy Poofs and Cröonchy Stars. There were more names but those were the only ones that I can recall,” Longo says. The logotypes were all hand-rendered in ink.
“Little did I know that the project would go through over 52 phases! These changes were coming from Jim Henson and concerned subtle changes with letterforms, the actual names and the imagery. I did my final inked pieces and the logotype variations were all sent to Jim Henson.” Longo says his part was small, considering the overall design and the many decisions being made about what would eventually be printed.
“We didn’t know which logotype concept he accepted until the package was introduced to the U.S. market the following year. I’m amazed at the rarity of this box, but considering the short shelf life it had, it appears to be quite a collectible item. And to think, I have one!” So rare is the box that it ended up on a national collectibles blog, www.pricednostalgia.com, which is published by Denville resident Hillary DePiano.
The Connections Connection
DePiano discovered Longo’s involvement with the packaging when she received a copy of CCM Connections magazine in the mail and saw an article featuring his design work with a photo of the Cröonchy Stars cereal box.
While the Swedish Chef has refused to be interviewed for this article, sources close to him say that he is pleased to have had such an impact on CCM, and would like to encourage future students to consider the culinary track at the school so they can follow in his highly successful, off-camera footsteps.