Films

The sweet squeal of success

Rita Christopher July 9 1979
Films

The sweet squeal of success

Rita Christopher July 9 1979

The sweet squeal of success

Films

She doesn’t have Marilyn Monroe’s curves or Lauren Bacall’s sultriness or Katharine Hepburn’s breezy sophistication, but Miss Piggy has something none of the other great ladies of the screen can lay claim to— animal magnetism. With the release of her first wide-screen spectacular, The Muppet Movie, the divine Miss P. joins the ranks of the superstars. Her performance has already prompted formation of the kind of pressure group necessary to win her filmdom’s highest accolade: the Committee to Award Miss Piggy the Oscar.

At a jam-packed press conference, Miss Piggy with Kermit the Frog in tow turned the full blast of her pigly wit on the assembled reporters. As ever, when dealing with an unattached actress of legendary charms, the question of romance was the first to come up: Are the rumors about her and Kermit true? “We’re engaged,” squealed the lady, not quite hiding the delight in her oink. But her ecstasy was shortlived. Without so much as a ribbit, Kermit shattered the dream: “That’s a blatant lie. Despite all the rumors going around, there is no personal involvement between the lady pig and me.”

Miss Piggy took it like the real trooper she is. The show went on. She and Kermit set up lines and knocked them down with the smoothness of a Burns and Allen vaudeville routine. How is her French? “Are vous asking moi?” cooed Piggy. “She gets most of that stuff off perfume bottles,” revealed Kermit. When will her memoirs be out? “When they relax the censorship,” Miss Piggy snapped without missing a cue. Would she abandon her career for Kermit? “For my frog, I’d give it a try,” she parried, “but I won’t give up my press agent.”

It was a wonderful game, grown men and women trading wisecracks with two foam-rubber and fuzz puppets, until a towheaded youngster in the audience unwittingly turned the press conference from show-biz hype into entertainment magic. “Miss Piggy,” he asked, “who do you hang out with when you’re not on the show?” The boy could clearly see

Miss Piggy wiggling on the arm of Frank Oz and Kermit artfully manipulated by Muppets’ creator Jim Henson, but despite the visible evidence he still believed with the kind of passion that extends well beyond youthful audiences. “I’d say about 75 per cent of the letters Miss Piggy gets are from adults,” says Oz. It’s a suspension of disbelief owing most to the overwhelming perfection and meticulousness of the Muppetry. For Kermit’s opening swamp scene in the movie, Henson crouched out of sight beneath the water in a large aluminum tube for up to four hours at a stretch. During the crosscountry drive piloted by Fozzie, several Muppet masters crammed themselves beneath the dashboard of the car, steered by a technician stowed in the trunk guiding the vehicle by television monitor. In one of the best sequences, Kermit tools along the road on a bicycle completely powered by remote control. After a spectacular crash with a steamroller the literate amphibian sighs, “Gone with the Schwinn ..

The success of the Muppets, now televised in more than 100 countries, amply proves Jim Henson’s contention that their appeal stretched far beyond teaching the ABC’s on Sesame Street. Initially turned down by U.S. networks, Henson convinced British entertain-

ment magnate Sir Lew Grade to coproduce a big-budget Muppet series. With The Muppet Show now entering its fourth season, Miss Piggy has filled international airwaves with such memorable moments as Swine Lake, her unforgettable pas de deux with Rudolph Nureyev, and square-offs with the likes of Raquel Welch and Marisa Berenson. For beauties who want to stay clear of her famed karate chop, Miss Piggy’s advice is simple: “Don’t ever try to look prettier than me—it’s futile.”

All these wonders emanate from the heart of Muppetdom, a recently refurbished New York townhouse that is the headquarters of Henson Associates, known to its intimates as“HA!” Miss Piggy’s wigs stand neatly atop a long table, two holes cut into their crowns for those delicate ears. Nearby are swatches of material for the beguiling porker’s outfits—make no mistake about it, Miss Piggy is a lady who knows how to dress. Like the movie queens of old, special press releases are issued on her latest accoutrements, including such showstoppers as a “chinchilla ‘chubby’ coat over a grey satin dress, black clutch bag and a grey slouch hat [and] . . . grey pumps with open toes of the kind popu-

larized by Joan Crawford in the ’40s.” Of course, Miss Piggy’s elaborately costumed foam rubber comes alive only with the genius of her Muppet master. Frank Oz knows her temperamental psyche backward and forward: “She is great to play because she has such great conflict. She is really torn. She wants her frog but she wants stardom, too. There is real pain there.” Oz ought to know. He made her what she is today. She started as a bit player in a sketch that (heaven forbid) starred other pigs, but once Oz got a bead on Piggy’s highstrung ego, she was out of the chorus

line and up front where she belonged. “Once Piggy got started, there was not much we could do,” confesses Henson. “She just took over.” Henson, a softspoken man who made his first puppet in high school, saves his own best lines for Kermit. “I think Jim likes to hide behind Kermit in public,” says one associate. Explains Henson: “There’s a lot of me in Kermit and vice versa. He is secure. He can let Piggy do her thing because he knows who he is. He’s the glue that holds everything together.”

At the rate the Muppet empire is growing, Henson will need an entire

glue factory to keep things together. Muppet faces grace everything from place mats and coffee mugs to the inevitable T-shirts and bed linen. There is talk, naturally, of a movie sequel and even of bringing the Muppets to Broadway. But one thing you can be sure of—there will never be a Muppets restaurant. “Frogs’ legs?” says The Muppet Show's executive producer David Lazer, wrinkling his nose. “I just couldn’t eat them. After all, I’ve known Kermit such a long time.”

Rita Christopher