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TV Legends Revealed: The Secret Origin of Cookie Monster!

TV URBAN LEGEND: Cookie Monster was originally created as the “Wheel-Stealer” for a cheese snack commercial.

An interesting aspect of Jim Henson’s career is that before the debut of Sesame Street, while he made a number of appearances on late-night television (and his character Rowlf was a regular on The Jimmy Dean Show during the early 1960s), his Muppets were best known for their appearances in commercials around the country (in the Washington, D.C., area, where Henson got his big break doing the puppet television show Sam and Friends in the 1950s, he did more than 300 ads for Wilkins Coffee). These early commercial works helped Henson to develop the style he would later use on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. However, these ads also gave him freedom to create new characters — and one of the most amusing character developments was the evolution of the “Wheel-Stealer,” which went from being one of three puppets in an unaired ad campaign for a long-forgotten cheese snack to become one of the most famous Muppets of them all, Cookie Monster.

From the IBM training film

In 1966, Henson’s Muppets Inc. made a pitch for an ad campaign for a new General Foods snack food called Wheels, Crowns and Flutes, which were cheese snacks (similar to Goldfish) shaped like, well, wheels, crowns and flutes. Henson developed three puppets that were each obsessed with one of the three designs of the snacks. There was the Crown-Grabber, which was a big Boris Karloff-esque monster, the Flute-Snatcher, which Henson described as a “speed demon,” and, finally, the Wheel-Stealer, a cute, sharp-toothed monster that excitedly devoured wheels. The ad campaign was not chosen by General Foods, so the commercials never aired.

Undeterred, Henson adapted the Grown-Grabber for a sketch on The Ed Sullivan Show, where he ruins a girl’s day. From that point on, he was known as the Beautiful Day Monster and made a few appearances on Sesame Street. Flute-Snatcher made a couple of Sesame Street appearances but never really amounted to anything.

The Wheel-Stealer, though, was meant for bigger things. First, Henson used the character for a training film for IBM in 1967, where it devours a talking coffee machine (that then explodes) and then adapted the film for an Ed Sullivan Show sketch (the coffee machine was now a bomb).

From a Muchos TV ad

Then Henson adapted the character for a new ad campaign for Frito-Lay in 1969 for a potato crisp snack food called Munchos. This new version didn’t have the teeth of the previous incarnations, and changed color to purple. He basically looked like a smaller purple version of Cookie Monster. This character did well in his three commercials for the product, and Frito-Lay wanted to continue the campaign but Henson declined to extend the contract, as he was by that point developing Sesame Street and wanted to use the character in his new show.

Cookie Monster then made his official debut in the very first episode of Sesame Street in November 1969 and has been a delight ever since!

The legend is …


Thanks to the Muppet Wiki for the images!

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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!


  • Phil

    Rumor has it that Henson himself was something of a “Flute-Snatcher”.

  • Raymond Ancog

    Thank goodness they ditched the teeth! Kids would have had nightmares seeing them.

  • Ian A

    Oh, whoa, I had no idea Cookie Monster used to promote Munchos. 

    And now I want to go buy some of those…

  • Cjorg2

    Wow, a cryptic comment that makes no sense. Good stuff : (

  • RY

    Munchos. Ohhhhh so tasty.

  • Pedro Bear

    He did spend a good part of his life with his hand up the butt of one thing or another.

  • James Kosmicki

    I am fairly certain that the flutes eventually morphed into Bugles, which are still in production today.  My wife and I both remember a short-lived product called Pizza Spins that were the shape of the Wheels pictured above, but obviously pizza flavored, not cheese flavored.  Crowns must have been the least favored product, as I certainly don’t remember anything like they are described as hitting the market in the late 60s/early 70s.

  • Matt D

    Honestly? all I can think about is how good those Cheese Wheel things look. 

  • demoncat_4

    scary i remember seeing the commercial where cookie monster eats the machine and blows up  on some tribute to ed sullvian. this just proves even the muppets had to have gotten their start somewhere

  • Michael Asimos

    hahaha to the teeth comment.

  • Martin Muse-Amiel