It is 1977.
Myka has been experiencing something of a career renaissance, now in older-woman roles in movies and on television. She is also a very popular guest on talk shows: she is endlessly vivacious, she will happily make fun of herself, and she never runs out of anecdotes concerning Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“I don’t see how you can bring yourself to talk about the past like that,” Helena occasionally complains.
Myka shrugs. “There are parts to talk about, and parts not to talk about.” She doesn’t mind telling stories. That’s all they are.
Everyone knows not to ask about Helena. Merv Griffin, clearly thinking he was being clever, once said, “You and Helena Wells have become very close in later years, haven’t you, after all that feuding in the 1930s.”
Myka responded, “Relationships change over time. I’ve heard yours have too, haven’t they, Merv?”
He pursed his lips and dropped the subject.
Claudia, who now captains the talent agency that she and Steve founded in the late 1950s, is the architect of this nostalgia-fueled resurgence. One day, she calls Myka and says, “I might have just promised somebody you would do something.”
Myka sighs. “Please don’t make me guess.”
“I would never do that. Besides, you wouldn’t ever get it; it’s kind of out of your wheelhouse, but I owed one of the producers a favor, and they want some older names, no offense, for credibility, and they’ve been having trouble getting people to fly over to England to do it, and—”
“Claudia,” Myka interrupts.
“Sorry. It’s The Muppet Show. Oh, and one more thing: you gotta talk H.G. into going with you. Jim Henson’s apparently a fan.”
Helena is over seventy now. She is a bit frail, and she and Myka have moved to a cottage at the Motion Picture & Television Country House (“Rest home!” Claudia always accuses; “Retirement community!” Helena always snaps back) so that she need not be alone when Myka is working.
She does not like to travel, and she particularly does not like to fly. She has not been to England since 1965, when her brother passed away. She had sworn never to go again.
“But wouldn’t it be nice to go together, just once?” Myka asks her.
“Define ‘nice,’” Helena says.
“Maybe you’ll understand what that word means if I use it in a different context: It would be very nice of you to do this for me, Helena, so that I don’t have to go alone.”
Helena spends most of their first day in London at the hotel. She pleads exhaustion and sends Myka off to the studio alone. On the second day, however, Myka convinces Helena to come to the set with her. “It’s actually fascinating,” Myka says. “All the ways they have of hiding the puppeteers. It’s a little unnerving to talk to something made of felt that seems so real.”
So Helena very quietly observes the action while Myka rehearses several comedy bits. She can’t sing, of course, so there is a running joke of the cast bemoaning the episode’s relative lack of music.
Myka is reading over the script for a conversation about Hollywood that she will have with Kermit. Jim Henson has run through it with her once, in character, his puppet in his hands.
She looks up to find him staring at the side of the soundstage, where Helena is standing. He whispers, “That’s her, isn’t it.”
Myka nods. “It’s all right that she’s here today?”
“It’s perfect,” he says.
“Do you want me to introduce you?”
He touches his beard with his free hand, and Myka thinks he might be nervous. She is charmed. “I don’t think so,” he says. “I’d rather… let me try something.”
Myka watches as Henson, holding the puppet, sidles up to Helena.
Helena looks up at him, then down at Kermit. Kermit is almost at her eye level.
Kermit says, “Hello, Miss Wells. I’m a big fan.”
“Really,” Helena says. She glances up at Henson again, then back down to Kermit.
“Mm-hm,” Kermit says. “You were once in a movie with a relative of mine.”
“I beg your pardon?” She doesn’t bother looking at Henson this time, just keeps her eyes on Kermit.
“In 1932. It was called ‘The Frog Prince.’ Do you remember?”
Helena tilts her head. “It flopped. Audiences found it too strange.”
“Because the frog was a puppet,” Kermit says, nodding.
“Ah,” Helena says, “your relative.”
Kermit nods again. “Some guy named Henson saw that movie when they showed it on TV, though. He loved it.”
“Because of your relative.”
“And because of the princess. He thought she did everything right, the way she talked to the frog prince. Some people find it very hard to work with puppets, but you didn’t seem to.”
Helena says, “Thank you.”
Kermit seems to take a moment to think. Then he asks, “Would you consider working with puppets again?”
“I’m afraid not,” Helena says. “I’m retired.”
“Okay, you’re retired,” Kermit says. “You’re retired, but I’m sentimental. Maybe we can work something out.”
Helena looks skeptically at Kermit. Then she turns a raised eyebrow to Henson, who smiles.
Late that night, in bed in their hotel room, Helena says to Myka, “What in the world is that man thinking?”
“What man?” Myka yawns. She had been so close to falling asleep… Helena was the one who had complained of jet lag the first day, but now Myka is feeling it.
“That Mr. Henson. The idea I would appear in any way on his program!”
“I suppose I could lie here and listen to you rail against someone who clearly adores you and your work. Or, and I really think this is the better option, we could both go to sleep, and you could turn him down definitively in the morning.” Myka yawns again, right next to Helena’s ear.
“Fine,” Helena says.
Myka sighs. For decades now, she has been subjected to this tone, and for decades she has tried, without success, to ignore it. “It obviously isn’t fine,” she says. “You’re not fine, so I’m not going to be fine. What would you like me to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about this,” Myka tries. “You clearly like Jim. You like Frank too—you laughed at Miss Piggy, I saw you. I think you actually want to do it, to make them happy, but you don’t want to look like you’re giving in, so I think you want me to be the one who tells you that you have to do it. Am I close?”
Helena is silent for a moment. Then she says, “I still find it annoying when you do that.”
“Do what?” Myka asks, but she is smiling, because she knows what’s coming next.
“Say the right thing.”
“It’s all the practice,” Myka laughs. “I’ll tell you you have to in front of them tomorrow, too.”
“But you will appear to be in charge of me.”
“Don’t kid yourself; I am in charge of you.” At this, Helena sniffs, and Myka places a kiss on her earlobe. “But you can give in indulgently, to make me happy. How’s that?”
“Slightly better,” Helena says. “I will say that the frog is actually quite charming.”
“Don’t you leave me for a frog, Helena.”
“At this late date? Hardly likely.”
“Are you saying we’re old?” Myka mock-demands.
“We are old.”
“Not too old, I hope. Not now that you’ve made sure I’m wide awake in a luxurious room at the Dorchester.”
“Mission accomplished,” Helena says, and kisses her.
The episode’s finale is set up by Fozzie Bear wringing his hat in his hands, desperately explaining to Myka that they just have to have a big musical number to end the show, and that she just has to be a part of it. She tells him that she took dancing lessons years ago but failed miserably at them: she will need the whole cast as backup. The number is incredibly busy, with many quick cuts so that as many Muppet faces as possible can appear.
Those who watch the number very closely will discover that one of the faces is not that of a Muppet at all. Seated in the wings, looking stern and disapproving as usual as he gazes upon the unfolding chaos of the number, is Sam Eagle. And seated next to Sam, barely in the frame, can be discerned an older woman, looking just as stern. Then, suddenly, her face softens into a smile. The shot lasts perhaps two seconds.
It is the last time Helena Wells appears on film.
When Helena and Sam were being filmed, Myka happened to be behind the camera, practicing a turn in her dance routine. She was performing it poorly, but as she spun around, she happened to catch Helena’s eye. And Myka, perhaps prompted by memory or perhaps, simply, by love, winked. And that was the take Henson used.