6/21/1977 – ‘Judy Collins (MS)’

Among the many singers that appeared on The Muppet Show, Judy Collins lent an uncharacteristic calm air to the proceedings. Singing some traditional songs, like “Leather Wing Bat” accompanied by a bat, a woodpecker and an owl, and the show tune, “Send in The Clowns” which had earlier earned Collins a Grammy nomination, the classically trained folk singer’s serene demeanor belied the stressful undercurrents being felt by Kermit and company. Throughout the show, the Muppets were fending off threats from theater owner J.P. Gross that he was planning to tear down the theater (an eternal problem, it seems), but at the last moment, the cost of destroying the theater inspired Gross to change his mind.

Perhaps the most interesting segment in this episode was Collins’ performance of “I Know An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly.” Singing softly while strumming her guitar, she unspooled the tale with Statler and Waldorf providing the chorus of reactions (i.e. “She swallowed a bird? How absurd!”) To illustrate the scene, Jim used shadow puppets, designed by Michael Frith and Caroly Wilcox, of an old lady in a rocker and her meal. For each verse, the appropriate animal appeared in silhouette and was swallowed up. And, of course, the song had the traditional Muppet ending: the old lady exploded. Shadow puppets were not typically used on The Muppet Show, but this segment illustrated Jim’s willingness to use whatever type of puppet worked best to make an impact and his respect for and familiarity with the range of puppets used around the world. The success of this piece was not forgotten; when the Henson pre-school show Bear in The Big Blue House was developed in the 1990s, the creators included a regular segment featuring Bear interacting with his friend Shadow (voiced by Tara Mooney). Each of these featured a shadow puppet interpretation of a traditional nursery rhyme produced by Jon Ludwig of The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

Clearly, appearing on The Muppet Show was a positive experience for Judy Collins. Three years later, she wrote a note to Jim to let him know she was thinking about him. She expressed her appreciation for a small Muppet gift she had received, “I have on my Kermit watch and everything is perfectly timed.”

Judy Collins singing “The Leather Wing Bat” on The Muppet Show.

Michael Frith’s design for the Old Lady Who Swallowed The Fly shadow puppet with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Fly with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Spider with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Bird with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Cat with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Dog with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

Michael Frith’s design for the Dog with notes by Caroly Wilcox, 1977.

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