It was that kind of night as TCM closed out Saturday with a poolside screening of THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979) at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. TCM’s Essentials Jr. host Bill Hader was on hand to introduce the film. Right out of the gate he got the audience laughing—“’The Rainbow Connection’ and everyone jump in the pool. You think I’m kidding? I’m not,” Hader quipped. He spoke affectionately about THE MUPPET MOVIE, remembering that he had it on vhs as a kid, along with The Great Muppet Caper (1981). Hader and his sisters used to “play MUPPET MOVIE” it seems. And he was always Animal (his first impression). Years later, Hader would play Animal on Saturday Night Live—it was a memorable moment, reviving his first ever impression on his favorite show.
Hader brought up a couple of interesting points about THE MUPPET MOVIE. First, he mentioned director James Frawley and how this was the only time an “outsider” (meaning someone other than a Henson or Frank Oz) directed one of the early Muppet theatricals. Hader warned about going down a wormhole on YouTube watching Frawley’s many credits, among them a number of Monkees episodes that he directed (something like 28) and (according to Hader) a bizarre episode of Columbo. Frawley did work primarily as a television director, putting his stamp on shows that ranged from That Girl to Cagney and Lacey to, most recently, Grey’s Anatomy. But, in addition to THE MUPPET MOVIE, Frawley did have another notable big screen credit—the disaster movie spoof, which has become something of a cult film, The Big Bus (1976).
Hader also made note of THE MUPPET MOVIE’s classic star cameos. He joked that Orson Welles famously said of his appearance as studio head Lew Lord in the movie–“this is his best work.” Okay, so probably not. But the point is still a good one. There is an unbelievable collection of star cameos in THE MUPPET MOVIE. This was the era when we still had so many of the greats with us. When you could just call up the likes of Orson Welles and ask if he’d like a cameo in your movie. Among the classic folks that turn up in the film: Edgar Bergan (and Charlie McCarthy), Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Bob Hope and Milton Berle.
THE MUPPET MOVIE earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Score and for “The Rainbow Connection” as Best Song. It was number ten at the box office for 1979, doing well enough to establish a Muppet Movie franchise. A number of live-action features have followed, including The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and the film currently in theatres, starring Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais, Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
And as for jumping in the pool, I didn’t see any takers…but the night is still young.