The song “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” made famous by the Muppets, is originally from a saucy 1968 Italian film called “Sweden: Heaven and Hell’. This softcore documentary covers topics that were controversial at the time, such as teenage contraception, lesbian nightclubs and partner swapping in Sweden. Drug use, alcoholism and suicide are also discussed. The song was later adopted by Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. But how did he come up with this song?
The website Gothamist describes how Brian Jay Jones – the author of Jim Henson’s biography – simply asked puppeteer Frank Oz (the voice of Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear and Yoda) and then put together a timeline.
Jones says the film played at the Avco Embassy East theater in August 1969. In early October, Henson and Oz went to see the screening. As they walked out of the movie and turned the corner, Henson said to Jones, “But, did you hear that song?”
Not much later, in November, the song made its debut on Sesame Street, sung by a shabby, hairy little Muppet and two other Muppets with little girl dresses, high-pitched voices and long hair. That was followed that same month by the version we all know now, which debuted on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“From the time he saw it, to the time he had the puppets built, had the idea in his head, rehearsed it, performed it, got it on TV, it was less than three months,” Jones said.