9/8/1980 – ‘Shooting Peter Falk.’

Going back to their earliest days on television, it was clear that the Muppets worked well bantering with celebrities as their expressive performances and human qualities made these interactions completely believable. Jim crammed his feature films with cameos, showcasing an array of stars alongside his characters. While most got billing in the credits, in The Great Muppet Caper, Peter Falk’s appearance as a “disheveled gentleman” went uncredited. The first week of shooting took place in Battersea Park and focused on action from the middle of the film. The seemingly arbitrary scene gives the audience a chance to enjoy Falk’s performance but does little to move the action along. It opens with a gratuitous conversation between a father and daughter (Jerry Nelson and his real daughter Christine) strolling along the path. Falk sits down with a disappointed Kermit who has learned that Miss Piggy is not who she said she was. In a sort of depressed version of his Columbo character, Falk proceeds to deliver a monologue about what he thinks is wrong with Kermit but is clearly describing his own sorry life story. Annoyed, Kermit tells him to get lost and that they are trying to make a movie. With that, they return to the action.

Shooting in London, Jim wrote regular updates to his staff in New York. After three weeks were finished, Jim described his progress, starting with:

“This is a note just to let you know what is happening on The Muppet Movie here in London. (We still have no title but we are working on it.)  The first week of shooting involved the bicycle number which we shot in Battersea Park. The radio controlled puppets were terrific and all the new puppets look beautiful. We have a film crew of about 110 people, so when I say we went to Battersea Park I mean the whole crew of Muppet people, the film crew, various trucks and lots of equipment. It takes a lot to shoot a few puppets! On one day we also shot the scene with Peter Falk and Kermit on a park bench. He was a delight to work with. In his scene he plays a seedy character, starts talking to Kermit and Kermit has to ask him to leave because Kermit says they are making a movie.”

While Jim reveled in the technically complicated scenes that make The Great Muppet Caper truly spectacular (the nightclub dance number, the bicycle scene, the water ballet, and more), it is clear he also enjoyed the simpler scenes that provided transitions and just gave the audience a laugh.

Call sheet for Peter Falk’s day on The Great Muppet Caper, September 8, 1980.

In an effort to choose a name for his second feature film, Jim took suggestions from his family, friends and staff. Lisa Henson came up with the winner.

In an effort to choose a name for his second feature film, Jim took suggestions from his family, friends and staff. Lisa Henson came up with the winner.

Miss Piggy with Kermit and Fozzie in The Great Muppet Caper, 1980.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

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