LaMarr recalled how dismayed he was when the showrunners realized that his depiction of Hermes — originally called Dexter — wasn’t working out the way they had hoped.
“Originally Hermes was not Jamaican, and not even named Hermes. He was the Planet Express accountant and his name was Dexter, but they realized they had too many characters whose names ended in ‘er’ — Bender. Dexter. There was somebody else. — But the first three or four episodes, [affecting a bland, flat voice] Hermes sounded like this. He was sort of a nerd and it just wasn’t working, which is a horrible thing to hear when you’re an actor on a series that’s not done yet.”
Who can say while Groening imagined this, but it was his idea that “Dexter” become Jamaican. LaMarr, without missing a beat, claimed that he could do a Jamaican accent … even though he implied that he couldn’t. Once that detail was settled on, LaMarr said, the writers suddenly unlocked the character. He said:
“Matt Groening came in and stopped me in the hall and said, ‘Can you do a Jamaican accent?’ ‘Yes, yes I can! Don’t go ask anyone else! I can do that!’ And so then we changed it to the Jamaican accent, and that sort of spurred something with the writers; they sort of got more of a hook. And then finally, I think maybe seventh episode, David Cohen came up with ‘Sweet lion of Zion!’ and then it all sort of fell together.”
Hermes, of course, was fond of colorful rhyming interjections, usually involving an animal. Sweet llamas of the Bahamas! Sweet gorilla of Manila! Sweet guinea pig of Winnipeg! And of course Sweet Sally in the Alley! With a catchphrase, no one can die.