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Episode 314: Harry Belafonte

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The Muppet Show
Guest Starring Harry Belafonte
Production Dates November 8-10, 1978
Home Video Season 3
Best of the Muppet Show
Harrybelafonte
This episode is available for viewing, sans U.K. Spot, at the Paley Center for Media.

Despite Kermit's insistence that everything on the show is spontaneous, Fozzie Bear decides it needs scripts. He tries his hand at scripting the show while it's actually going on, but his scripts are extremely confusing. He gives up when his tie gets caught in the typewriter.

Songs/Sketches

Background

This episode represented one of the closest collaborations between The Muppet Show creative team and the guest star. This was contrary to the norm, where generally, apart from asking the guests if they wanted to work with a specific character, the scripts were shaped entirely by the writers. Jim Henson recalled the process:

Sometimes a star can make a big contribution to the script. Harry Belafonte was enthusiastic about doing the show, but he wanted to be sure it was worthwhile, and he worked very closely with us, which led to some wonderful things like the piece with the African masks. [1]

Belafonte himself spoke in detail about the experience:

I seldom do television appearances, but I have always had the highest regard for Jim Henson's taste and artistry, so when I was invited to be a guest on The Muppet Show, I saw that this might be an opportunity to do something very worthwhile. I had a long talk with Jim in California at about the time he was beginning work on The Muppet Movie, and -- given that I have a more than casual interest in Third World music -- I proposed to him that the show might provide the occasion to take a look at the lore and history of other worlds, other places. [2]

Belafonte compiled a tape of songs from around the world, and selected four to discuss with Henson and David Lazer. "Turn the World Around" was selected, and designers at The Muppet Workshop did background research on African masks, to serve as the chorus. While these would be patterned very closely on real African masks, Henson was very particular about selecting the final designs, since as Belafonte recalled, "he didn't want to cause offense by choosing masks that would have some religious or national significance."[3]

In addition to "Turn the World Around," Henson had pointed out to Belafonte that standard material was also required, to help entice the audience. Thus, it was agreed that Belafonte would sing his hit "Banana Boat" and "have a drum duel with Animal, because Animal is a favorite character of mine."[4] Belafonte felt that the first script read-through was "so dry, so dull, so wrong." When the second read-through was performed with the puppets, everything came together. One scene which was cut from the final episode required Belafonte to argue with one of the Muppets:

It didn't work and Jim explained to me that a certain kind of anger never could work in the Muppet world, no matter what kind of mischief you were reacting to, because the characters are incapable of acting in a truly immoral way, they are free of greed and avarice and all those things that afflict the human condition. Once I understood that, everything became easy."[5]

This "Turn the World Around" number has since become a favorite clip, used in documentaries like The World of Jim Henson, to illustrate that The Muppet Show could address wider concerns and seriousness. Belafonte also sang "Turn The World Around" at Jim Henson's memorial.

Episode

Picture Description
314-1
Guest star Harry Belafonte believes someone in the theater has been putting him down, telling Scooter what they said: “Don’t go inside that dressing room! Crazy Harry’s in there!” Scooter assures Harry that they weren’t talking about him, but by the time he realizes what they ‘’were’’ talking about, the real Crazy Harry has blown up the dressing room.
314-2
The Muppet Show Theme”: A small spot flies out of Gonzo’s trumpet, buzzing around his head like a bee.
314-3
Kermit the Frog introduces the show with a script by Fozzie Bear: “Lagies and genglefenz, welcone again ty the Muppel Shox. My name is Kermit the Forg… and our spegial guest stap is the amazing Hapry Belaf-“
314-4

314-5
Fozzie interrupts Harry's first rendition of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” on TV, bringing in a pig chorus, offering to be the tally bear, and trying to get bananas from Beauregard, who brings onions, eggplants, and pineapples instead. Eventually, some giant bannanas are brought in by Sweetums.
314-6
Backstage, Fozzie writes the script for the following musical number so as to leave nothing to chance: “Curtains open. Lew Zealand and Rowlf do something funny. Curtains close.”
314-7
Rowlf and Lew Zealand sing “Tea for Two” backwards.
314-8
Pigs in Space: Dr. Strangepork's Dissolvatron malfunctions, switching the minds of Piggy and Link Hogthrob, Strangepork and Janice, and Kermit and the Swedish Chef.
314-9
UK Spot: Zoot and Floyd play "Honeysuckle Rose", but are bothered by a bee. Zoot eventually sucks the bee in through his saxophone, spitting it out at the end of the song.
314-10

314-11
Harry and Animal perform a drum battle. At the end, they both pass out.
314-12

314-13
As Fozzie is writing the script, his tie gets stuck in the typewriter. When Rowlf hears that Fozzie is “stuck,” he assumes that he must have writer’s block and tries to help him out. He checks on Fozzie’s progress, yanking the paper from the typewriter and pulling Fozzie’s tie through with it.
314-14
In Muppet Sports, Louis Kazagger presents the blindfold sprint, in which every runner is blindfolded and can't see the finish line.
314-15
Depressed that he’s getting nowhere with his writing, Fozzie asks Harry for advice. Harry tells him about his inspiration for writing songs, specifically the next number. He tells Fozzie of an African storyteller who spoke of African mythology, how the elements turn the world around. He tells of how there is very little difference in any of us, and have to take the time out to understand each other. “Together we can turn the world around.”
314-16
Harry sings "Turn the World Around", a song about the interconnection between fire, water, mountain and spirit, accompanied by Muppets based on African masks.
314-17
The song continues to play over the show’s closing and credits—and even Statler and Waldorf are singing along!

Edits

Cast

Muppets:

Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog, Louis Kazagger, Lew Zealand, Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Beauregard, The African Masks, Floyd Pepper, Zoot, Statler and Waldorf, Janice, The Swedish Chef, Scooter, Crazy Harry, Animal

Background Muppets:

Sweetums, The Pigs, Zelda Rose, Gonzo, Eric the Parrot, Whatnots, Tarantula

Performers

Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, Link Hogthrob, Waldorf and the Swedish Chef
Frank Oz as Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Animal
Jerry Nelson as Lew Zealand, Louis Kazagger, Floyd Pepper, Dr. Strangepork, African Mask, Eric the Parrot, the Tarantula and the Announcer
Richard Hunt as Scooter, Statler, Sweetums, Janice, African Mask and a Pig
Dave Goelz as Gonzo and Beauregard
Louise Gold as African Mask
Bob Payne as others

Gallery

Sources

  1. Finch, Christopher. Of Muppets and Men. p. 101.
  2. Finch. Of Muppets and Men. p. 110
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Finch. Of Muppets and Men. p. 112.


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