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How sometimes being in the wrong place is the right thing to do

Jim Hill

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How sometimes being in the wrong place is the right thing to do

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BoagaloonsFanNo1 writes in to say:

I just found this great set of clips from Wally Boag's appearance on the Muppets Show over on YouTube. And since you're such a huge Disney / Muppets fan, I was wondering if you knew anything about how Wally got hired to appear on that show.

You're in luck, BoagaloonsFanNo1. A few years back, I was lucky enough to spend an evening with this Disney Legend and his lovely wife, Ellen. (A special tip of the hat here to DW for helping to make that meeting happen. I still owe you big-time, guy) And as we all shared a Mexican dinner, Wally explained the truly roundabout way that he wound up landing his gig with the Muppets.

Our story starts in the late Summer of 1978. When Steve Martin -- following the release of his "A Wild and Crazy Guy" album as well as his numerous appearances on "Saturday Night Live" -- is in the process of becoming this very high profile celebrity.

At that time, Martin had just begun dating Bernadette Peters. And at this point in their courtship, Steve wanted to introduce Bernadette to all of his favorite things. Which is why Martin took Peters out to Disneyland one day to see his favorite performer in all the world, Wally Boag.

Wally Boag and his Muppetized bagpipe

So the two of them drive on out to Anaheim. Where Disneyland's staff then treats this couple like visiting royalty. Even arranging for Steve & Bernadette to sit in Walt's old box at the Golden Horseshoe.

The only problem is -- as the Golden Horseshoe Revue gets underway -- the audience isn't really watching Wally or the other performers. Their eyes are glued on the two celebrities who are seated Stage Left. Seeing how Martin & Peters are reacting to Boag's antics. As a direct result, that performance doesn't go all that well. Its pacing is off. The laughs come in all the wrong places.

After the show, Steve & Bernadette make their way backstage to meet with Wally. And once they get back to Boag's dressing room, Martin immediately apologizes for unintentionally distracting the audience.

Wally graciously accepts Steve's apology. But Martin still wants to try & make it up to his mentor. Which is why Steve insists that Wally & his wife, Ellen come out to Universal Studios the following Friday night. When Martin will be kicking off a week-long engagement at the Universal Amphitheater. So that these two can then be Steve's special guests at his opening night.

Steve Martin doing his stand-up act circa 1978

And even though this really isn't the Boags' sort of scene, Martin is so insistent that -- the following Friday night -- they make their way to the Universal Amphitheater. And Steve's gone out of his way to make sure that Wally & Ellen are treated well. He has them escorted to these really great seats right down front. And even before Martin comes out onstage, it's a pretty spectacular evening of entertainment. Given that Steve's opening act is John Belushi & Dan Ackroyd performing live as Jake & Elwood Blues AKA the Blues Brothers.

After the show, Martin makes arrangements to bring the Boags backstage. Which is how Wally & Ellen find themselves crammed into this rather small dressing room surrounded by the 1970s equivalent of Hollywood royalty. Steven Spielberg was there. Jack Nicholson to. The list goes on and on. And given that Steve is trying to be the gracious host, he keeps dragging Wally & Ellen around the room, trying to make introductions.

But -- as I mentioned earlier -- this isn't really the Boags' scene. The room's a little too crowded. The music is a little too loud. People are laughing too hard at jokes that aren't really all that funny. In short, it's a Hollywood party. And as an old vaudevillian, Wally isn't all that comfortable working this room.

So -- after thanking Martin profusely for his hospitality -- the Boags start heading for the door. And just before they exit that dressing room, Wally & Ellen pass this bearded young fellow seated on a couch.

Copyright The Jim Henson Company
All Rights Reserved

Seconds later, this same man is right at Wally's elbow. "You're Wally Boag !," he shouts over the party's din.

Boag (who doesn't know this guy from Adam) says "Yes, yes I am."

This young bearded guy then grabs Wally's hand and starts shaking it vigorously. "Well, I'm Jim Henson. And I'm a huge fan of yours. I just love your stuff. How'd you like to come do 'The Muppet Show' ?"

Six weeks later, Wally & Ellen are flying first class to London. Where they're then put up in one of the city's very best hotels. So that Boag can then work with Henson and his team on a show for the fifth season of "The Muppets Show."

Wally Boag performs his trademark
"Pecos Bill" number on "The Muppet Show"

So the moral of this story is ... To be honest, I'm not sure what exactly the morale of this story is. Woody Allen once said that "80% of success is showing up." And if Wally had gone with his first inclination (Which was to just blow off going backstage because -- though he really liked Steve -- Boag wasn't all that big a fan of the Hollywood crowd), he'd have missed out on meeting Jim Henson. Which means that Wally would have never gotten the chance to perform with the Muppets.

So I guess -- when you get right down to it -- the moral of today's story is ... Sometimes you have to go outside of your comfort zone. Do something new. Walk through a door that you've never been through before. Just to see what might happen once you get to the other side.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? A huge opportunity dropping right in your lap because you were somewhere that you really weren't supposed to be?

Your thoughts?

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  • My wife and I are making our way through the Muppet Show Season 2 DVDs.  Steve Martin is the guest star on one of those episodes.  Unfortunately, not the greatest of episodes, Steve seems to be trying a bit too hard.

    Having never had the pleasure at Disneyland, I'm very much looking forward to Season 5 and seeing Mr. Boag in action with the Muppets.

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