We have another installment of Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays on The Muppet Mindset today, once again written by Tom Stroud. As always, if you would like to contribute to either Weekly Muppet Wednesdays or Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays, send me an email at email@example.com!
Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster, Sam the Eagle, Marvin Suggs
Born Richard Frank Oznowicz into a family of British puppeteers, by age 12 Frank Oz was performing with the Oznowicz Family Marionettes troupe with the rest of his family.
Frank met Jim Henson at 17 at the Puppeteers of America festival. He was amazed at Jim’s Muppet characters, and two years later joined Muppets, Inc. He started out performing Rowlf’s right hand in variety appearances. He also began to use the shortened form of his name, after an appearance on The Jimmy Dean Show in which Jimmy dean introduced him as “Frank Oz…,” mumbling the rest of the name. He also worked on commercials, assisting on characters such as the Southern Colonel, Nutty Bird, and, most notably, The La Choy Dragon. The La Choy Dragon was one of Frank’s only full-bodied Muppets, as he hated performing them.
When Jim Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop created Sesame Street, Frank was there too, originating characters such as Bert, Grover, and Cookie Monster. During those early years, Frank was in almost every sketch. Unfortunately, he now appears much less due to his busy schedule.
Frank also played a major role in The Muppet Show, performing many popular characters, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam the Eagle. He also preformed the hands of The Swedish Chef, often doing unrehearsed and unexpected things with the hands without telling Jim Henson, who preformed the rest of the Muppet.
In 1980, George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars films, asked Henson about a puppet character he wanted for his second film, The Empire Strikes Back. As Henson was too busy, he sent Lucas to Frank, who was assigned as chief puppeteer and creative consultant. Frank had a big part in the design of the character Yoda, and is credited with Yoda’s trademark reversed speech.
Frank soon began to direct films, co-directing The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, and directing The Muppets Take Manhattan on his own, while still performing his own Muppets. He then began to branch out more, directing Little Shop of Horrors, his first non-Henson movie. He still continues to direct, causing his unofficial retirement from performing in Muppet productions, as directing takes up much of his time.
Beginning in the mid-1990’s, he began to distance himself from Muppet productions. He still occasionally performs his Sesame Street characters, but after Muppets from Space, his main Muppet characters were recast to Eric Jacobson. He explained in interviews that this is because of many reasons, such as his kids and the fact that he never really wanted to be a puppeteer, but rather a journalist or director. He continues to direct, and in recent years has directed films such as The Stepford Wives and 2007’s original Death at a Funeral.
Special thanks to Tom Stroud for the article and to Frank Oz for… well, what’s not to thank for (well, besides The Stepford Wives).
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier