Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Mahna-Mahna Phenomena

 The Mahna-Mahna Phenomena

(Do doo do doo doo) Kermit: (Front stage, center; introduces Juliet Prowse) and "as if that weren't enough, we've also got Mahna-Mahna; whatever that means."Statler: The question is what is a Mahna-Mahna?”Waldorf: “The question is who cares?” 

From the Mississippi Delta came a "gentle giant" as he was called by his friends in later years, and after a move to Washington, DC, Jim Henson would begin a legacy in the form of televised puppetry with a little program he called "Sam and Friends." 

After being noticed by the big Whigs of the TV world, Jim and Jane Henson moved to New York in 1963, all the while having made appearances on The Tonight Show, The Jimmy Dean Show, and The Today Show as well as several commercials. He appeared with his Muppets on The Ed Sullivan Show where, on November 30, 1969, he debuted probably the biggest of his fan favorites that (even though we mock him and sing the 'do doo do doo doo' from his song at even the word 'phenomenon') still goes highly unrecognized. There on Sullivan, performing a song from which he was named, was our little friend, Mahna-Mahna. 

In the jacket of the Muppets 25th Anniversary CD, Craig Shemin (JHC Staff Writer) reminds us of the song's history. Originally, the song "Mah-Na Mah-Na" (by composer Piero Umilioni) was derived from a Swedish documentary called Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso (Sweden, Heaven and Hell).

Piero Umilioni
Bluntly, this documentary, written and directed by Luigi Scattini, explored the problems of Swedish drug use, drinking, high suicide rates, contraceptives for teen girls, lesbian night clubs, wife-swapping, pornography, biker gangs, and (whatever this means) Walpurgis Night Celebrations. Obviously, while closely associated with The Muppets, Mah Na Mah Na was not created as a song for The Muppets.

Regarding the song itself, "Mah-Na Mah-Na" is followed by some vocals. Many people have confused these words, but according to sources the original Umilioni song lyrics are "Pa tee pa tee pee;" the more famous Sullivan/Muppet Show lyrics are "Do doo do doo doo;" while on Sesame Street the vocals are "Ba dee dee dee bee." We've ultimately spelled the character's name several ways, but and the script for The Muppet Show Live! lists his name as being spelled "Mahna-Mahna," notice the placement of the hyphen. However, the song jacket of the audio tape "Jim Henson: A Sesame Street Celebration" spells his name "Mah Na Mah Na," exactly the same as the song, but without hyphens. We'll continue on with Mahna-Mahna. Just a quick note here, and getting way off topic, a bar called Mahna Mahna opened in Tokyo in 1997, not long before a Japanese clothing rental shop called "mahna mahna" opened. By singing his redundant song, Mahna-Mahna has become famous. It's suggested at that characters such as The Electric Mayhem's bass player, Sgt. Floyd Pepper, include Mahna-Mahna's hipster style and design elements. Page 78 of Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles introduces us to Jim's original design sketches, which were constructed as a puppet by Don Sahlin, as were Mahna-Mahna's back-up singers, the Snowths.

Being an integral part of the Mahna-Mahna history we cannot skip discussing the Snowths, without whom we would ever have had Mahna-Mahna's "do-doos." They are identical twins, both being pink, cow-like creatures. They made their debut with Mahna-Mahna on 1969 Sullivan show, and appeared for the first time on The Muppet Show to sing the back-up vocals to Mahna-Mahna's "Mah-Na Mah-Na" on April 25, 2977, which guest starred Juliet Prowse. They have also had a stint on Sesame Street, all the while generally performed by Frank Oz.

The question was raised and posed to the Jim Henson Company about the different Mahna-Mahna styles, designs, and why he sometimes wore shades on Sesame Street. Karen Falk, Jim Henson Company archivist, explained: "There has always been a real effort to differentiate between the Sesame Street characters (educational, not-for-profit) and the rest of the Muppet characters (used for commercial projects)--except for Kermit. Jim used the empty-eyed Mahna-Mahna on Sullivan, The Muppet Show, etc. and used the other versions of the character for Sesame Street (that would be why the Sesame version also had a different name. Jim felt that he did not want his Sesame puppets used for commercial purposes as that would be irresponsible to the kids who watched the show--also, it was important to keep the copyrights separate). The puppets get rebuilt from time to time, with improved mechanisms, etc., so the look changed a bit over the years."

Sesame Street performed the song with two female back-up singers in 1969 with a scary-looking brown-bearded Muppet with 'grouchy' eyes which was also credited as being Mahna-Mahna. The "Mah-Na Mah-Na" song appeared again in a rainstorm episode of Sesame Street in 1972. 

This same brown-bearded character appeared again in Sesame Street episode #536 to perform the 'Fat Cat Scat,' and again as The Genie (of the Toothpaste Tube) at least twice, though the same Genie character appeared in books with a long red beard, not brown. On the 1979 album "Everybody's Record," he performed "Everybody's Song" with the Ambrooze Sisters singing back-up, the same song was performed by him in 1984 with back-up by the Oinker Sisters. Once dropping the brown hair and donning shades with an all-too-familiar look of Mahna-Mahna, Bip Bipadotta (sometimes with 'grouchy' eyes) appeared on the Street in the mid-late 1980's to sing the song "Opposites" against a black background, runnin gup and down a staircase shouting "LOUD!" or whispering "Soft," and talking about near and far. In the late 1980's or early 1990's, Bip performed "Give me Lots of Air" and appeared again in the 1987 season of Sesame Street to sing "Scratch My Back" to two monsters who tried to scratch each others' backs, and he ended up scratching both their backs. Other Bip songs covered are "The Name Game" and "Some of Us Are Here," the latter of which included cameos by Herry Monster, Prairie Dawn, Cookie Monster, Guy Smiley, and Frazzle.

So, now you can identify the differences between a Mahna-Mahna and a Bip Bipadotta. Unfortunately, there isn't much information on the internet or in books regarding Bip, so I've had to rely on members of the Muppet Central fansite. By the way, after reading this article, how many times did you sing in your mind “Do doo do doo doo?”

Article Credits:
Edited by Kevin L. Williams, 2008 Input byKaren Falk, JHC ArchivesInformation gathered from:Phillip Chapman, Muppet CentralDanny Horn, Tough PigsChilly DownMikeB97SsetaHaysAnathemaBarry LeeMikealanJoggyPhilip KippelBoober_Gorg Index and Bibliography INDEX A--APPEARANCESThe following list of Mahna-Mahna appearances is from the Forum (as instigated by Philip Kippel):#1 Juliet Prowse: he sings “Mahna Mahna” with the 2 Snowths in the opening number, dances with Wanda in “At the Dance” and appears in Statler and Waldorf’s theater box at the end of the closing credits Connie Stevens: he dances with Miss Mousey in “At the Dance” (Dances with Wanda in another episode) and plays a musical triangle bell, bangs on Zoot’s saxophone, punches Zoot in the face and gets blown away by an explosion in “Sax and Violence”#19 Vincent Price: he appears in the audience during the “Talk Spot”#22 Ethel Merman: he’s the last audience member to exit the theater during Fozzie’s monologue#32 Steve Martin: he appears throughout the episode, sitting in the audience among his fellow cast members#37 Rudolf Nureyev: he sings in Rudolf’s closing number “Top Hat” and appears in the goodnights#60 James Coco: he plays in the band in James’ closing number “Short People”#65 Spike Milligan: he appears throughout the episode as a Hawaiian; the Snowths appear during the “It’s A Small World” finaleThe Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (in the background, year?)The Snowths make appearances also in:#111 Carol Burnett: they dance together#120 Roger Moore: one Snowth appears in the goodnightsParent's Magazine and Better Homemaking on the cover with a child, Kermit, and Ernie and Bert, (p. 145 Jim Henson: The Works) INDEX’ Featured Creature:-Mahna-Mahna 7 of The Muppet Show Live! Script Sullivan Appearances (From Warrick Brownlow’s website) Shemin’s description of “Mah-Na Mah-Na” Movie Data Base information about “Sweden, Heaven and Hell” to Fat Cat Scat Links “Mahna” related, although not necessarily “Mahna-Mahna” (clothing rental shop in Japan) INDEX C-DOWNLOADABLE AUDIO INDEX D-WHERE TO GET YOUR MAHNA MAHNA HOOK-UPBest of the Muppet Show, Volume 15, Juliet Prowse episode, Time-Life Video"Songs from Sesame Street" (1972) Peter Pan Records (Out of print)"Jim Henson: A Sesame Street Celebration" (1992) Golden“Sesame Street Platinum Too" (1997) Sony Wonder“The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem And More: The 25th Anniversary” (2002) Rhino“Mahna Mahna” by Mucho Macho (2000) Waako Records