Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Muppet Show Guest Stars

Roger Moore and Miss Piggy
The Muppet Show is my favorite TV variety show of all time. It aired on television from 1976-1981, a total of five seasons and 120 episodes. Each episode was a potpourri of puppetry, comedy, and music. Lots of music! And each episode featured a different human celebrity guest star. The Muppets themselves became celebrities too -
Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang. They even have their own star on the Walk of Fame. And last I heard, they're all at work on a new movie.

And even after 30+ years, a number of the human guest-stars are still in the showbiz spotlight, too. Alan Arkin (a season #4 guest) is nominated for an Oscar this year for his role in the film Argo. Sylvester Stallone (season #3 guest) has a new movie out this weekend (but I heard it's mediocre). And Steve Martin (season #3 guest) is still making movies and performing with his bluegrass band.

Alice Cooper and The Muppets
Rockers Alice Cooper and Elton John are still touring and playing to packed venues.  And Paul Williams is "still alive"; he's the subject of a new highly acclaimed documentary  - Paul Williams: Still Alive.  Joan Baez and Paul Simon are still touring, too.

Ah, music. There were sooooo many singers on the show. I loved the episode with Lena Horne, certainly a favorite. And John Denver's show was great, too---love anything with him and the Muppets. And there were also episodes with Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Belafonte, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Connie Stevens, Theresa Brewer, Debbie Harry, Melissa Manchester, Rita Coolidge, Beverly Sills,  Arlo Guthrie,  Leo Sayer, Cleo Laine, Lola Falana, Helen Reddy, Petulia Clark, Twiggy, and Jaye P. Morgan.  But one of my favorite all-time musical moments came when Judy Collins sang "Send In the Clowns".

Johnny Cash and Miss Piggy
There were some great country singers on the show, too. The episodes with Johnny Cash singing "Orange Blossom Special" and the one where Loretta Lynn singing "You're Looking At Country" were two of the best shows ever. There was also Kenny Rogers (singing "The Gambler" - another great music moment), Kris Kristofferson, Crystal Gale, Mac Davis, Roger Miller, Jim Nabors, and believe it or not, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Now that was a great show. And one of my favorite singers, Anne Murray. When a country star appeared appeared, it was almost like watching another great variety hit, Hee Haw, especially when Roy Clark was the guest. Specially-designed "hillbilly" Muppets were created for country-themed sketches. I love those puppets; they haven't been seen since the show went off the air.

Vincent Price and Kermit the Frog
It's not easy to pick a favorite episode, especially with so many movie-themed shows, such as the Star Wars-themed episode, when Mark Hamill, Chewbacca, and the Droids stopped by. That is a classic show. I also loved the episode with Roger Moore, another one of my favorites; all the Muppets think he's James Bond 007.  In another show, Shirley Bassey sang "Goldfinger", one of the coolest musical moments. Other movie stars who hosted included Danny Kaye, Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, James Coburn, Lynn Redgrave, Rita Moreno, Dom DeLuise, Leslie Ann Warren, Candice Bergen,  Elke Sommer, Charles Aznavour, Raquel Welch, Marty Feldman, Dyan Cannon, Madeline Khan, John Cleese, and Glenda Jackson.  When Brook Shields hosted, the entire show had an "Alice In Wonderland" theme. Two more great shows were the Gene Kelly episode and the Peter Sellers episode. And the Julie Andrews episode was terrific, too. And then there was "Superman" himself, Christopher Reeve. 

Fellow comic hero "Wonder Woman" also appeared - Lynda Carter. Wow. Plus many other successful TV stars: Tony Randall, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Loretta Switt, Cheryl Ladd, Hal Linden, Linda Lavin, Gilda Radner, Rich Little, Florence Henderson, Avery Schreiber, Nancy Walker, Bruce Forsyth, and Jean Stapleton.

Phyllis Diller and The Muppets
Stars of other TV variety shows were also guest, and they blended in so well, it was magical. Carol Burnett hosted and it was a great show. Harvey Korman hosted once, too, as well as Ruth Buzzi (Laugh In) hosted. And then there was the great show with Andy Williams. 

What other greats were on the show? There were legends of stage, including Zero Mostel, Ethel Merman, Ben Vereen, Bernadette Peters, Pearl Bailey, Carol Channing, Joel Grey, Sandy Duncan, Phyllis Diller, James Coco, Leslie Uggams, and Kaye Ballard. 

Other wonders of the stage were magician Doug Henning, mime acts Shields & Yarnell and Mummenschanz ("cousins of the Muppets", as Kermit calls them), Senor Wences, and balloon artist Wally Boag, whom I knew very little about until his passing a few years ago.

Dance legends Juliet Prowse and Rudolf Nureyev graced the Muppet stage. And music legends Dizzy Gillespie, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Liberace also were guests. Buddy Rich's drum showdown with Animal was one of the all-time best moments ever.

George Burns and Gonzo
Did I mention how much I love this show? And I haven't  even mentioned Bob Hope, George Burns, Milton Berle or Edgar Bergan yet! All comedy legends who started off on vaudeville.  And with The Muppet Show being so very "vaudeville-esque", and they fit in just well. Other comedy legends on the show included Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, and Spike Milligan. 

And finally, the lesser known guests. There are a few who - I'm embarrassed to say - I still don't know much about. For example, Phyllis George and Marisa Berenson; they were guests, but I'd have to look them up to remember their claims to fame. Also, someone named Chris Langham was a guest on the show once. According to the Muppet Wikipedia, Mr. Langham was a Muppet Show writer, and appeared on the show at the last minute as a replacement. 

Well, there you have it. Every guest of the original Muppet Show. I don't know if I could ever pick a favorite one because they're all so much fun!

This post is a submission in the 2013 blogathon


  1. Highly entertaining post! I had no idea that all of those celebrities hosted THE MUPPET SHOW (which seemed like it ran longer than a scant five years). You are certainly right about the enduring popularity of The Muppets (frankly, I'm surprised a cable TV channel hasn't revived THE MUPPET SHOW like MTV did with THE MONKEES several years ago). Loved your photos, especially the one of Roger Moore and Miss Piggy. By the way, I do remember Phyllis George, a former Miss America who appeared on one of the CBS sports shows in the 1970s.

  2. I LOVED this show growing up and still find it entertaining and charming today. I'm slowly picking up the DVD sets (at least, what's been released so far, don't think the last two seasons have seen the light of day yet, unfortunately). Their innocent yet slightly skewed sense of humor works well with both kids and adults, and I always get a big kick out the recurring skits, like "Pigs in Space," etc. I've never been much of a fan of the Muppet movies (except for THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, which is pretty great) - I think they worked best in the variety show format.

    Thanks for the lively, fun post!

  3. WOW. I hadn't a clue The Muppets even had a prime-time variety show! And what an impressive array of hosts! I've seen images of some of the major stars you mention with the Muppets through the years but always assumed they were from Sesame Street. Where the hell was I? Learned something HUGE I must look into so thanks! Fun post.


  4. Fun stuff, Tom. It's great how many stars have played along with the Muppets through the years, both on the TV show and in the movies (I still remember Kermit and Piggy with Johnny Carson on the Oscarcast). Thanks for spotlighting this!

  5. Sitting down to watch the Muppets, with my son, was something we very much enjoyed watching together... Thank you for the wonderful memories..

  6. Educational post as I was not familiar with this variety show. Quite a collection of talent.

  7. LOVE the Muppets! This brings back great memories.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone! - Tom