Show Business: Those Marvelous Muppets

How Kermit, Miss Piggy & Co. captivate 235 million people a week

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The swamp scene was by no means the most complicated. The script calls for a Hollywood talent scout (played by a hu man actor, Dom DeLuise) who has strayed into the swamp to paddle by, discover Kermit and show him a copy of Variety that contains, by chance, an ad urging "all frogs who want to become rich and famous" to come to Hollywood. But down the road lurks Doc Hopper (played by Charles Durning), who wants this particular talented frog to shill for his fast-food chain, which specializes in French fried frogs' legs. Kermit encounters all of his Muppet Show pals and such assorted human characters as Elliott Gould, Carol Kane and Telly Savalas on his journey to Los Angeles. At one point the Muppets are riding in an old Studebaker, with Fozzie at the wheel, several others in .he front seat and another bunch in the rear. Jammed under the dashboard and behind the back seat with all of their cables and TV monitors lie half a dozen puppeteers. In addition to Henson and Oz there are Jerry Nelson, who does Floyd and Dr. Strangepork, and can project nine different voices; Richard Hunt, a young, curly-headed, outgoing fellow who does Scooter and Sweetums; Dave Goelz (Zoot, Gonzo), a former industrial designer who got started when he saw Ernie on Sesame Street and made his own Ernie doll; and squeezed in somewhere, a Muppet newcomer named Steve Whitmire. The Muppet people work under conditions that would not be acceptable to tunnel rats.

The 100 days of shooting ended when all of the scenery fell down, as planned, in a movie-within-the-movie that Kermit and his friends were trying to make. Their fake, Styrofoam rainbow lay in pieces, but through a jagged hole in the soundstage roof, a real rainbow was seen to shimmer. Happy ending. Quick, sweep the stage and pack the Muppets in their boxes, because taping for the new season's TV series begins in London in five days.

Muppets live in suitcases, and Muppet people live out of suitcases. Jim Henson gave up the key of his rented Mulholland Drive hacienda, with its obligatory indoor-outdoor clover-leaf-shaped pool, and flew to Manhattan. There he rallied the support troops at HA! headquarters and conferred with his increasingly large staff of business people.

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