“Garbo, Marilyn, Dietrich – I feel that I’m a continuation of that timeless legacy”
Miss Piggy and Tara Brady talk fame, frogs and feminism
MISS PIGGY is late – so late, in fact that her significant other, Kermit, feels obliged to pop up and apologise. “I’m afraid we might have to hold on Miss Piggy. Last time I saw her she was leaving the bar. I’m not saying she was drinking. I’m just saying that’s where she was.”
The amphibian half of Tinseltown’s longest marriage and screen partnership is, understandably enough, reluctant to speak on behalf of his long-time porcine paramour.
More than three decades have passed since the frog impresario promoted a budding show-sow to headline act for an early episode of Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show. Nobody expected the inter-species romance to last.
In a 1979 interview with the New York Times, Frank Oz, Piggy’s former assistant and confidante, described her as a possible pig Eve Harrington on the make. A smalltown girl from Idaho, Pigatha “Piggy” Lee had survived a reputedly tough upbringing by seeking fame and fortune on the beauty contest circuit.
Kermit the Frog’s discovery of the young pageant queen was recreated for The Muppets Movie in 1979. By then, Piggy had already eclipsed Kermit and her other Muppet Show colleagues in terms of merchandise sales; the others had lunchboxes but only she had a No 1 book on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Mr the Frog, for his part, attributes the couple’s longevity to decades of devout “compliance” though concedes the relationship has, at times, been “tumultuous”. “Matured? Yes. An interesting word,” he says later. “I’d say the relationship has developed.”
He’s keen, as ever, to defend his superstar partner’s tardiness. This is London, day two on the couple’s gruelling publicity tour for their new film, The Muppets. Piggy, explains Kermit, has many important appointments to attend to. “Harrods. Camden Market. Oxford Street. She’s very, very busy.”
Miss Piggy, when she finally appears, tells a different story: “As a diva I have a very important reputation to uphold. It’s hard work out there. Sometimes the escalators don’t work and you have to use stairs.”
Today, the plus-size editor of Paris Vogue is wearing an animal print sweetheart neckline dress teamed with white evening gloves. Her cascading blonde hair is longer and sleeker than it was during its classic wet-curl disco bob. Indeed, up close and personal, one can only think of one question to ask Rudolph Nureyev’s favourite dance partner. “Miss Piggy, can I touch your hair?” “Sure. But you know it’s only a wig, dear. You can buy them at any wig store.”
She’s right. But few hairpieces can claim to carry quite so much box-office clout.
Two months ago, industry pundits rubbed their eyes in disbelief as The Muppets, the 10th feature from an imprint thought near defunct, became a super-size all-ages hit with pre-christmas audiences in the US.
The new reloaded Muppets arrive courtesy of screenwriter and star Jason Segel and a veritable hipster army. Flight of the Conchords co-creator James Bobin directs a cast that includes Jack Black, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Zack Galifianakis, Alan Arkin, Sarah Silverman and Dave Grohl. Eagle-eyed viewers may also note Ricky Gervais, Jim Parsons, Mickey Rooney, James Carvill, Selena Gomez and Neil Patrick Harris hovering around the edges.
For all these cool new chums, The Muppets remain defiantly uncool. The new film brings together the old gang as they attempt to stop oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) from drilling under their old Hollywood theatre. Their plan, as ever, centres on the revival of old-school variety acts and Muppet standards, including Rainbow Connection.
Thus far, the new Muppets picture has attracted rave notices and an Oscar nom for Best Song from what Piggy dismisses as “those species-ists over at the Academy”.
Other commentators, most notably the right-wing mouthpieces at Fox News, have slammed the film as communist, hippie propaganda. Business anchor Eric Bolling, in particular, has led the charge against The Muppets’ liberal agenda: “It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message,” he said last month.
“It’s almost as laughable as accusing Fox News of being, you know, news,” notes Miss Piggy dryly.