Sam Peter Jackson – A while ago I found out that the British Film Institute (BFI) Reuben Library in London holds a variety of Muppet-related items, particularly scripts, and I became intrigued about checking them out in more detail.
Looking at the listings in the online catalogue, not every description made it immediately clear what might be of particular value or interest. And to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. So I ordered up everything that seemed intriguing (10 items) and was given an appointment in roughly three weeks time to come and view the materials.
The library has strict rules about handling its materials and unfortunately they don’t allow any photographs or copies, but don’t worry. I took extensive notes.
I’ll start with the disappointments. Two of the items I had very high hopes for were original screenplays of The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper. In my fantasy, these were going to be Jim Henson’s original copies with his scribbles and sketches all over them, but instead these were export scripts, which are only used in the post production phase of the film, usually for subtitling or dubbing. So everything in them is pretty much identical with the finished movies and therefore left little for me to discover.
Next up was something called Great Muppet Caper Information Folders. Again, I fantasised about a box of internal Henson Company letters, puppeteer contracts, fabric samples, handwritten notes between Jim and Frank or a dismissed prototype of a new Fozzie nose, but instead I was given a very basic press information booklet of the film. Nice, but you know, you could probably find one on Ebay.
So onto the good stuff. My next item was something pretty damn cool.
An original screenplay of The Muppets Take Manhattan. This time not just an export script, but a second draft (revised April 29th 1983) with lots of additional sections that were cut before the film went into production, which got me quite nerdishly excited. I should perhaps add that only Frank Oz is credited on this script, so I’m guessing Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses came on board later. The overall structure and story of the film is pretty much what we know, but there is a lot of additional material, which I’ll try to detail for you below on the assumption that, like me, you know this movie pretty well…
1) DANHURST COLLEGE GRADUATION SCENE:
- After the performance Statler & Waldorf are in the audience.
Statler: Hooray! Fantastic! Wonderful!
Waldorf: Hey Statler, what are you doing?
Statler: This is the best part of the show!
Waldorf: Cause the cast’s up there taking their bow?
Statler: No – cause it’s over!
- After Gonzo looks through the curtain…
Scooter: Gonzo, that’s unprofessional.
Gonzo: They couldn’t tell who it was. All they could see was my nose.
- In Kermit’s speech he has an additional joke about how he was voted Captain of the swim team and had a disagreement with the professor in the Biology Labs.
2) ARRIVAL AT BUS STATION
- Kermit says that he’s always wanted to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and that it must be beautiful. Piggy adds that it must be romantic. Gonzo responds:”I wonder how much ketchup you could fit inside?”
- Waldorf and Statler walk past as the other Muppets have moved into their lockers.
Waldorf: You know that on the Statue of Liberty it says “Give me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores?
Waldorf: Someone took it too seriously!
3) IN MURRAY’S OFFICE AFTER THE POLICE ARREST
- After the line “He never wanted our show, he just wanted our money” Janice replies “Yeah. He’s into like possessions.
4) IN “CAN’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER” MONTAGE
- This has an additional shot in which Zoot plays sax and Gonzo balances Camilla on the end of a can. I should also add how impressively detailed this montage is in the script. Except for the one additional shot it is written EXACTLY as it appears in the film.
5) FIRST SCENES AT PETE’S
- After the Muppets say that they’ve had job offers, Kermit responds “ Now we can repaint the lockers, huh?”
- After the rats are hired, Masterson goes immediately to serve a customer. In the script it says that this could be a celebrity cameo. None of the cameo cast are specified in this version of the script.
Customer: You’re the waiter?
Masterson: Yes, I am, Sir (or Madame)
Customer: Uh huh, what would you recommend, the chicken or the fish?
Masterson: Oh, definitely the chicken.
Customer: I’ll take the fish.
6) AFTER PHASE ONE OF KERMIT’S PLAN
- As he walks past Waldorf and Statler with their sun reflectors…
Statler: I’m getting a fantastic tan.
Waldorf: Is your neck stuck too?
Statler: Yeah. (Beat.)
Statler & Waldorf: Help!
7) QUELLE DIFFERENCE AT BERGDORF GOODMAN’S
- Additional lines…
Piggy: What have you got to be mad about?
Eileen: My rent went up. My car broke down. My ceiling fell in and my boyfriend moved out.
- It’s also noticeable that the beginning of the scene is very much scripted and the end seems to leave room for improvisation, which comes as no surprise given the very electric performance Joan Rivers and Frank Oz give in the movie.
8) ELECTRIC MAYHEM POSTCARD POLKA SEQUENCE
- This is a much longer scene in the script. First Floyd announces a Wiener Schnitzel bake-off, then Bunsen and Beaker join the band, as Animal has been playing polka out of tempo and Bunsen has invented the patented gas-powered Drum-o-meter. It works like a metronome, but is plugged straight into the drummer’s brain. A cap is put on Animal’s head and as a result he plays in perfect rhythm, but then slows down again. Beaker pulls a cord to agitate Animal’s mental molecules. Animal now drums super fast and the dancers all speed up to keep up. Bunsen shouts:”No! No! Too hard!” and smoke comes out of the cap and Animal’s ears. There is a big explosion after which Animal’s head is all black and smoking. He says:”One more time!” and falls over. I don’t know about you, but I think this scene feels so authentically Muppets that I can really see it play in my mind’s eye.
9) GONZO WATER SKI POSTCARD SEQUENCE
- The only difference here is that Gonzo says he will perform his trick to the tune of Do You Know The Way To San Jose instead of Tony Bennet’s rendition of the William Tell Overture. I’m guessing this must have been a financial decision to choose music in the public domain rather than a song they’d have to pay a royalty fee for. Or maybe they just thought it was funnier.
10) KERMIT AND JENNY IN CENTRAL PARK
- The scene begins with slightly different dialogue. Jenny says that Rizzo made them lunch because he felt badly about yesterday at the restaurant, i.e. the scene at Sardi’s, but Kermit isn’t hungry. He says “I thought it was going to be a whispering campaign. It turned out to be a yelling and screaming campaign.”
11) ROWLF DOG POUND POSTCARD SCENE
- The dialogue is pretty much the same here, but what’s interesting is that instead of James Coco’s character bringing in Snookumbs alone (or rather with a silent butler), in this version it’s both him and his wife and the lines of dialogue are shared between them.
12) AT PETE’S AFTER RONNIE CRAWFORD MEETING
- Yolanda sees that Jenny is feeling down and asks her what’s up. She is having self-doubts and asks if Kermit is having so much trouble selling his show, how can she ever be a success.
Pete: Success is not selling a show or being a successful fashion designer. To be a good person, that’s success. And you are. Is true.
Yolanda: That’s beautiful. (to Rizzo) Why can’t you talk to me like Pete?
Rizzo: (baffled) What?
13) BEARS AND CHICKENS AND THINGS RECEIVE PETE’S LETTER
- Floyd: We gotta get back to NYC.
Beauregard: Gosh, I’ve always wanted to go there, I can drive for you.
Floyd: Who are you?
Beauregard: I’m Beauregard, the janitor.
Janice: Oooh…I just love a man in uniform!
14) KERMIT IN HOSPITAL
- The scene with the doctor and Kermit in the hospital bed was a lot longer in the script. She hypnotises him with a swinging watch chain.
Doctor: Now repeat after me.
Kermit: After me.
Doctor: Good. I want to take you back to your childhood. What do you recall?
Kermit: I remember my father croaking.
Doctor: I’m sure his death was very painful for you. All right. Let’s move ahead.
- She then asks him to think of his first love as a teenager. Kermit responds “Frieda! Let’s get married!” The doctor takes on the role of Frieda and replies “But it’s our first date!” It’s revealed that Frieda’s pet name for Kermit was Snuggles and as the scene escalates the doctor also takes on the roles of Kermit’s parents. It’s too long for me to fully transcribe, but if you’ve ever seen 30 Rock, it plays out a lot like the therapy scene between Tracey and Jack when Alec Baldwin plays all the different characters. (Season 2, Ep 4 – Rosemary’s Baby)
- The hypnosis doesn’t work in the end and as the doctor sends Kermit out into the world she once again calls him “Snuggles”.
15) BACKSTAGE ATTEMPTS TO BRING KERMIT’S MEMORY BACK
- As different Muppets try to get Kermit to remember his identity, Piggy asks Gonzo if he found a doctor. Gonzo replies “Not exactly, but close!” and brings in the minister from the final wedding scene. Rowlf replies: “Hey, he’s not that bad off.” There was also an insert here of an alternate version of this from the script’s first draft. In this version they make an announcement in the theatre asking if there is a doctor in the house and the minister comes forward and offers himself as the next best thing. Later in the “You’re all gonna be in the show!” section, we see Piggy talking to the minister.
- In another attempt to get Kermit’s memory back Waldorf and Statler stand in front of Kermit.
Statler: Someone said you needed some help.
Waldorf: We came anyway.
Statler: He’ll remember us. You call this an opening night? I’ve seen better openings in Swiss Cheese.
Waldorf: Are those your eyes or did you sit too close to a ping pong game?
16) WEDDING SCENE
- The script states that as we enter the chapel the seating is divided in three categories. The Muppet Show characters, the Sesame Street characters and the Muppet food. After the first two each have their “Are they here yet?” moment, it was meant to cut to the food next.
Lettuce: Lettuce wish them joy and hope.
Cantaloupe: It’s a shame they cantaloupe.
- After Kermit and Piggy both say “I do”…
Kermit: Hey Gonzo, Why didn’t you play the minister? Who was that actor?
Gonzo: That was no actor. That was a real minister.
Kermit: What? Piggy!!
Piggy: Oh Kermy, I’m so happy. (Kermit shrugs in a what the hell sort of way).
- After the wedding Kermit and Piggy get in the front seats of a white convertible cadillac while the rest of the original twelve Muppets get in the back (I find it interesting that the script refers to the original twelve. Obviously it means the original gang at the start of the movie, but I wonder if they were routinely considered the core 12 characters by the Henson company at the time). As the car drives off the other Muppets are waving and smiling. Piggy throws her wedding bouquet. We cut to Rizzo and Yolanda and the bouquet lands on Rizzo and knocks him out. The car drives through the streets of New York and the Muppets react to the city in wonderment, as they sing “Together Again”. They go past the Empire State Building and the car takes off into the sky with Animal hanging on to the back of the Cadillac. As the car flies over NYC it leaves behind a glittery stardust, which forms a heart. The car flies through the heart, which then falls as stardust over the city.
And there you have it, the original second draft of the Muppets Take Manhattan script. What I found remarkable is that the only real differences between this and the movie are cuts. There weren’t any massive plot changes or character rewrites (although, obviously, they may have happened from draft 1 to draft 2), but everything we see in the finished film is pretty much here on the page. The page just has some extra stuff.
And whilst these additional moments are really fun to see and imagine, I also think it’s satisfying to realise that the film didn’t need them and that the writers, in my opinion at least, made good decisions. Sure, it’s nice to know where the minister suddenly came from, how they left the chapel or that the experience with the Muppets made Jenny believe in herself more. But the truth is, we’d already filled in those gaps ourselves and probably came to roughly the same conclusions.
This is a fantastic movie and its tight 94 min running time is part of what makes it such an enjoyable, fast-moving comedy classic. And reading this draft has given me even more respect for Frank Oz as a filmmaker.
So what items were next? Well, imagine my excitement when I realised that what awaited me was a box of six original Muppet Show scripts, each at different phases of the writing process. But having gone into far more detail with The Muppets Take Manhattan than I ever imagined, I will save those for Part 2.
Watch this space for some unused Waldorf & Statler jokes, a lost Pigs in Space sketch and some alternate Kermit intros.
Sam Peter Jackson is a playwright, filmmaker and geeky Muppet fan based in London.
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