By his January 17, 1971 appearance on the last season of The Ed Sullivan Show, Jim was a seasoned veteran, having appeared more than twenty times before. The Sunday night audience enjoyed the Muppet interludes which included musical numbers, parodies, monsters, reindeer, and Kermit. Jim tried out new material and also went back to tried and true bits he had performed on other programs. “The String Quartet” was a bit of both. Almost a decade earlier, on March 30, 1962, Jim juxtaposed the staid world of classical music with the anarchy of his early Muppet characters for The Today Show. Kermit tries to organize a classical quartet with Harry the Hipster, and Theodore (graduates of Sam and Friends) only to be frustrated by the lack of a fourth musician (Mildred kindly offers violets when violins are requested) and the unwillingness of the group to all play the same piece of music. By the finish, Kermit is at his wits’ end (a place he will find himself frequently over the years), yelling to anyone who will listen, “Help! Help! Help!”
The Sullivan version was a much more polished piece but had many of the same conceits and bad jokes. Again, the group starts out with only three musicians but is joined by a fourth – Mahna Mahna, Jim’s hipster character known for the song of the same name. In this bit, he is called Harry, perhaps in homage to the original script, and despite the need for a violinist, is a drummer. His exuberant playing anticipates Animal from The Muppet Show and is a neat contrast to the refined world of classical music. Using opposites is an easy way to make a joke, and it always seems to work for The Muppets. In the end, despite the best efforts of the leader, the group is won over to the groovy side and they happily make music together.
Jim’s script for The String Quartet on The Today Show, March 30, 1962.
Script used on The Ed Sullivan Show for The Sting Quartet bit, January 17, 1971.