More than 30 years ago, Charles Grodin shot The Great Muppet Caper, in which he played a roguish thief who woos Miss Piggy in order to steal the massive diamond worn by her boss/his sister. When Grodin arrived in London for the shoot, he had an experience that would forever change the way he looked at Miss Piggy, the Muppet Queen, but he has kept this shocking tale a secret for three decades. Now, with Jim Henson’s creations undergoing a resurgence with their new movie, The Muppets, he decided the time has come to reveal the details of an evening that still frequents his dreams to this day.
My Night With Miss Piggy
I had just arrived in my suite at London’s Atheneum Hotel when the red message light began to blink on the telephone. Calling the desk, I was told a message had just come in from — Miss Piggy! So it was true, I thought!
I had come to London for six weeks to play the first real human romantic interest for the internationally celebrated Muppet sex symbol Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper. Shortly after I was first cast, I began to hear little rumblings, whispers, innuendos that this acclaimed puppet star was, in fact, not just a puppet. Yes, there was, of course, a puppet version of Miss Piggy the Muppet Queen. But — and it came in a whisper here, a rumor there, too impossible to really believe — there was also a real short piglike woman who was in fact the real Miss Piggy. She was kept under wraps, but it was she who was called in to play the more demanding Miss Piggy scenes. And now here was a message, seemingly from the real actress: “Please come by my flat this evening if you’re not too tired after filming for a drink — Miss Piggy, 82 Park Street, Flat 10 — 8:00 p.m.”
My mind began to race. Was this a courteous, “Welcome to London” invitation? A romantic invitation? A joke? Or was there a short piglike woman?
As the cab pulled up to the designated address, I stepped out, pressed the flat number, and waited. I was remembering my first meetings with Cybil Shepherd and Candice Bergen. Never had I felt this kind of anticipation. A high-pitched but attractive voice called down. “Who please?”
“Charles Grodin,” I answered.
“Charles! Come up!” The buzzer sounded.
I pressed the button on the door. After a long moment, it opened. Just taller than my waist, she stood — a short piglike woman around 40. Stunningly identical to the Muppet re-creation. “Charles!” she said once again, with a voice full of enthusiasm, delight, and coyness all at once!
“Hello,” I murmured as I stepped in.
She closed the door behind me and stood there looking at me in the dimly lit entryway. “You’re even more attractive in person than on the screen. I loved you in Heaven Can Wait. I asked for you for this, you know”: It all came rushing out as one sentence.
“Thank you,” I muttered, as she moved quickly into a lush, romantically lit apartment done almost entirely in shades of red. I don’t know if it was the lighting, all the compliments, my usual loneliness at arriving in another country, or none of that, but she was powerfully attractive. She was short. Really one of the shortest women I’ve ever seen. She was chunky, not really fat or even heavy, but definitely chunky. She was very piglike in her features. Very piglike. It did take you aback. And yet, as she turned and threw herself onto a chaise lounge and called out in a high pitched voice, “Fix us both what you like to drink!” she was attractive, damn it! The hell with society’s standards, this woman was attractive!!!
Framed covers from magazines from all over the world with the Muppet version of Miss Piggy seemed to be everywhere. “I’ll have mine neat,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“Whatever you’re making. I don’t use ice. I don’t dilute any of my experiences.” Was she being intentionally provocative, or was this the real goods? Real goods, I quickly decided. I had a girl back home. I didn’t even have one drink in me, but something was already happening in that room. “Do you see Warren?” she asked.
“Uh, I haven’t for a while.”
“I love Warren, but he just doesn’t understand,” she said cryptically. I decided not to pursue it. I poured two straight scotches and handed her one. She patted the end of the chaise for me to sit. I did. She looked at me a long moment. “Cheers,” she said. I took a good amount. “You’re very funny, Charles, but you’re also very good-looking. I’m thinking Cary Grant, not Tony Randall.” I hung on every word. “I’d like to see us concentrate as much as is allowed on the romantic aspect of the relationship in the film and leave the comedy to the Muppets. They’re darling. They’re funny. You’re romantic. They see this as Kermit and me. I see this as a triangle. What do you think?”
“Let me tell you something, Chuckie.” She handed me her empty glass. “Fix me another, sweetie. Romance! Romance is what it’s all about for me, for you, for the audience. They don’t know it yet, but romance … ” She took a long swig; she was quickly a little high, it seemed. “ … is what it’s all about.” She lay her head back and stared at me. Her eyes were suddenly half closed. A sultry look. Things were moving fast. “Who’d ya study with, Chuckie?”
“Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg,” I told her.
“Lee was too doctrinaire for me,” she blurted. “I dated him briefly you know.” Warren Beatty and Lee Strasberg, I thought, and she said, “Yes,” as if she was reading my mind. “I have a wide range of interests. Dearest,” and she took my hand. “How old do you think I am?”
“I … uh … ”
“Fifty-six years old!”
“No!” I said.
“Not bad, huh? I’ve been in radio, years of stock, TV, movies — nothing you’d know. Nothing, you understand me, Chuck, nothing! I was knocking around Hollywood and New York for 28 years before this all happened. Nothing!” she again blurted. “Fix me another, my sweetness. Was there a cube in that last one? It was a little weak. Are we running out?”
“No, there’s plenty here.”
“Well, let’s have it. You’re only young once, darling, and that’s over.” She suddenly laughed uproariously, startling me. I turned and looked at her. She was clearly high. So was I. Her hair had fallen over her face. Lying there, her head thrown back, she looked shockingly vulnerable. She reached behind her with one thickish hand, flipped a switch on a stereo and suddenly the room was filled with a slow vibrating beat of a sensuous disco number. Ba dam Ba dam, uuuuu, oh … She smiled at me and again patted the chaise.
“I waitressed in Cleveland as a baby. I came to New York when I was a kid, 15. I had to get away from home. They’re still looking for me.” She laughed gleefully, seeming to still enjoy the delight of going against what was expected. “I’m not gonna kid you. I knocked around plenty.” Her voice was now slurring. “You know what I’m saying?”
“Sure,” I nodded.
“Hey, Chuckie, I even drove a cab for a while. You had to make a buck. You did what you had to do. I carried mail. I studied. Acting, dancing, singing — years — nothing!” She again was shouting. “A bit here, a bit there, but nothing! I mean, have you ever seen me in anything, before this all happened?”
“Not that I recall,” I said.
“’Not that I recall!’” she screamed. “You bet you couldn’t recall it. I was in a couple of women’s prison films, but the camera went by me so fast.” It was clear the prison film thing still hurt her. “’Not that I recall’ — you’re sweet. C’mere,” she said. “C’mere … ” I leaned toward her — our faces inches away. She studied my face closely, caringly. “Is this a nose job, sweetie?” she whispered.
“No,” I said.
“I didn’t think so. You have beautiful features. The sensuality of Brando. I knew him briefly, I don’t want to talk about it. The intelligence of Redford, but you’re your own man, aren’t you, my baby?” She stared at me. It was probably a little bit the scotch, a little the music, the lights — but this woman had my number. I was shocked to find myself thinking marriage … children.
“It’s a lonely business,” she said. “All the magazine covers in the world,” she said, waving her short arm around the room. “And it’s a lonely business.” She slowly pulled me toward her. Suddenly, she screamed and leaped to her feet! “I love this part.” And she was quickly moving into one of the wildest, most sensuous disco dances I had ever seen. Scarves I was unaware of were swaying and swooping behind and around her, as she moved this way and that around the room. She had studied dance. You could see it. She hadn’t made it. You could see that, too, but she was electrifying. “Um bada umba da,” she began to wail, twirling this way and that. Suddenly the framed Life magazine cover of the Muppet Miss Piggy was in her arms, as she quickened her beat. I stared, transfixed at her. It was one of the most erotic displays I had ever seen. What a woman! What had happened in Cleveland? What had happened with all those classes — the cab driving, the mail deliveries, the prison pictures — the hurt of it all was there. She suddenly gyrated past me through an archway and into another room without a glance at me. What a cool move, I thought.
I sat there. The record came to an end. She had compared me to Brando, Redford, Cary Grant. I looked in the mirror. Yes, I could see it. When the light hit a certain way I could see it. Five minutes passed, as I tried to get the light to hit again. I leaned back on the chaise. There was no sound from the other room. I waited. Was she going to reappear? Was she going to call out to me? Was she asleep? It was all possible. She admitted to being 56. She had danced quite powerfully. We had finished the bottle. There was an early call for filming tomorrow.
Suddenly, I heard a loud sigh. I waited, listening intently. Was that an invitation? Was she calling me? Was she asleep in a dream? Another long moment passed. I got up and stood uneasily.
“Miss Piggy,” I called softly, then a little louder. “Miss Piggy,” trying to be louder but still romantic. Silence. “Miss Piggy,” I again called, moving slowly toward the other room. “Miss … ” She was asleep — thrown diagonally across a huge, more than king-size bed. Must have been specially made, I thought. Her short body was almost like a child’s on such a huge bed. Fully clothed, she was surrounded by dozens of stuffed animals. Little bears, little lions, monkeys. She was breathing easily, a deep sleep. There was a little smile on her face. She was beautiful. This international fame was no fluke. The public knew. She was the real thing. It was hard to say what it was, but it was real, and that’s what the world was crying out for.
I leaned down to kiss her softly on her forehead, and then I saw it. One tiny tear halfway down her cheek, as though drawn in a smooth line from her eye. A photograph. She was asleep. She had drunk, laughed, danced, maybe even loved a bit, and now that tear. I stared at her. I adored her. “Good night, Miss Piggy,” I said softly. I picked up one of the throw blankets by the foot of the bed to cover her little body, and was startled to see, lying there limp beneath the blanket, her puppet doppelgänger, the Muppet queen Miss Piggy. I put the blanket back over the Muppet Queen and found another blanket on a chair and covered my Miss Piggy. She was so little. Not much bigger than the Muppet re-creation. In spite of all her flamboyance, she was so vulnerable. What must it have all been like? What was it really even like today? All the acclaim for the Muppet queen. Only an insider’s whisper of the truth of the real actress’s existence.
After all those years of struggle and anonymity, now this Muppet Miss Piggy had worldwide fame, but still almost no one knew that there was a real woman here, a real flesh and blood woman, an enormously gifted actress with an essence of romance and humor and a stunning joie de vivre.
I moved slowly out of the room, out of the apartment. On the elevator, the evening raced through my brain — the Muppet queen and all the attention to her, the hidden truth of the real Miss Piggy, the prison movies, the post office job, the hinted at romances with Warren, Brando, and Lee, the studying, the acting, the singing, the dancing, the Muppet queen, and all the attention paid to her. The hidden truth of the real Miss Piggy. The frustration, the tears. I was on the street now. The tears. The tears.
Like the love song in the movie says: “Ah, Miss Piggy — It’s you, It’s you, It’s you.”