Muppetology 101: Intro to Muppet Performers, Part 2

Muppetology

Ryan Dosier – Welcome back, class! Muppetology 101 is in session once again and we’ve got six more Muppet performers to educate you on in the next session in our new lecture series: Intro to Muppet Performers! Let’s get started, shall we? Take out your notebooks…

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  • CAROLL SPINNEY
    • Born December 26, 1933
      • First Muppet Production: Sesame Street Season 1 Episode 0001 (1969)
      • Most Recent Muppet Production: Sesame Street Season 45 (2014-2015)
      • Characters: Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Bruno the Trashman, Granny Bird, Shivers the Penguin
    • Caroll Spinney has been an active puppeteer since 1955 and was the first puppeteer hired to perform on Sesame Street in 1969. Caroll first met Jim Henson at the Puppeteers of America Festival in 1969, where his big performance went almost wholly wrong, but Jim, who saw the show, told Caroll, “I liked what you were trying to do.” Based simply on this show, Jim hired Caroll for Sesame Street. Caroll has been performing both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the first episode of Sesame Street and continues to today, 45 years later. Over the 45 years he has been performing, Caroll has travelled to both China and Japan as Big Bird, been awarded with four Emmys, two Grammys, and two Gold Records, honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as Big Bird), the Library of Congress Living Legend Award, and the Daytime Emmys Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Caroll wrote an autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers. In 2014, Caroll was the subject of the documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, which will see a wide release in 2015. Although Caroll has been performing the physically demanding work of being both Big Bird and Oscar for 45 years, he does not plan on stopping anytime soon. As he said in 2008, “I can’t imagine willingly walking away from Big Bird and Oscar.”

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  • FRAN BRILL
    • Born September 30, 1946
      • First Muppet Production: The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)
      • Final Muppet Production: Sesame Street Season 45 (2014-2015)
      • Characters: Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, Baa Baa Walters, Countess Dahling von Dahling, Countess von Backwards, Polly Darton, Roxie Marie
    • Fran Brill was the first female Muppet performer hired by Jim Henson (excluding his wife, Jane). Fran Brill was brought into the Muppet family in 1970 as part of a puppeteer training workshop for the special The Great Santa Claus Switch. Her work in the special landed her a permanent puppeteer role on Sesame Street the same year, where she began performing her signature character: Prairie Dawn. Fran would perform other minor, one-off characters throughout the years, but it wasn’t until 1993 that she began performing Zoe, her other major character. Fran also worked on many other Muppet projects outside of Sesame Street, including early episodes of The Muppet Show, as well as Saturday Night Live and Dog City. Fran is also an accomplished onscreen actress, whose non-puppetry credits include appearances in Law and Order, All My Children, As the World Turns, Being ThereMidnight Run, and What About Bob? She also provided voice acting roles for Doug and Courage the Cowardly Dog. Fran officially retired from performing on Sesame Street after filming wrapped on Season 45 in 2014. She retired with a legacy of incredible work and wonderful performances over 44 years.

Bill rowlf

  • BILL BARRETTA
    • Born June 19, 1964
      • First Muppet Production: Dinosaurs (1991)
      • Most Recent Muppet Production: Muppets Most Wanted (2014), various appearances in 2014
      • Characters: Pepe the King Prawn, Rowlf the Dog (1996-present), Dr. Teeth (2005-present), Bobo the Bear, Johnny Fiama, The Swedish Chef (1996-present), Clueless Morgan, Mahna Mahna (2001-present), Big Mean Carl, Bubba the Rat, Angel Marie, Croaker
    • Bill Barretta is one of the most prominent of the “new-age” Muppet performers, originating many popular post-Muppet Show characters and taking on some characters originated by Jim Henson. Bill’s first connection to the Muppets was as an employee at the Sesame Place theme park, where he became fast friends with Brian Henson. While working at Sesame Place, Bill also met Jim Henson, who visited the park looking for the animatronic characters, which Bill led him to. In 1991, Bill started performing with the Jim Henson Company as the body of Earl Sinclair on Dinosaurs. He began actively puppeteering on The Animal Show in 1994 and became a featured performer in Muppet Treasure Island in 1996, performing Clueless Morgan and many other one-shot characters. When Muppets Tonight came along, Bill originated the new characters Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear, Johnny Fiama, and Big Mean Carl. Bill brought these characters into the limelight, with increased roles for all of them, especially Pepe, who became Bill’s signature character and a major entertainment force in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Also in that period, Bill took on Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef, and Mahna Mahna–all characters originally performed by Jim Henson. Bill also went on to write, direct, and produce many Muppet projects and appearances. For over 20 years, Bill has been a major part of the Muppet family and shows no evidence of slowing down.

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  • KEVIN CLASH
    • Born September 17, 1960
      • First Muppet Production: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Sesame Street Float (1979); officially hired on Sesame Street in 1983
      • Final Muppet Production: Sesame Street Season 44 (2013)
      • Characters: Elmo, Hoots the Owl, Clifford, Baby Sinclair, Baby Natasha, Benny Rabbit, Dr. Nobel Price, Clementine, Kingston Livingston III, Wolfgang the Seal, Leon, Ace Yu, Polly Lobster
    • Kevin Clash was one of the most accomplished puppeteers ever put out by Sesame Street. Kevin began his obsession with puppets at a very young age, building his own puppets from household objects and becoming a very talented puppet builder. He performed puppet shows for kids in his neighborhood and was voted “Most Likely to Be a Millionaire” in his high school. In the early 1980s, Kevin began puppetry work on Wake Up with the Captain, a spin-off of the popular show Captain Kangaroo. From 1981 to 1986 Kevin was also a featured performer on The Great Space Coaster. In the 1970s, Kevin first met his mentor Kermit Love, who gave Kevin a few tours of the Muppet Workshop in New York and later arranged for Kevin to perform Cookie Monster on the Sesame Street float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1979. It was at the party for performers in the parade that Kevin first met Jim Henson. In 1983, Kevin was officially hired as a puppeteer on Sesame Street for 10 episodes, and brought on as a full-time performer in 1984. Kevin’s early characters that he developed on the show included Hoots the Owl, Dr. Nobel Price, Baby Natasha, Benny Rabbit, and Kingston Livingston III. But it wasn’t until Kevin was (literally) handed Elmo from performer Richard Hunt that the puppeteer became a performance force to be reckoned with. Kevin turned Elmo into one of the most popular television characters ever, and one of the most adored Muppets ever. Kevin appeared in countless TV appearances, videos, albums, and a variety of other things. In the 1990s, Kevin was a big part of the Muppet team as well as the Sesame Street team. Keivn performed Clifford starting in The Jim Henson Hour in 1989 before he became the host of Muppets Tonight in 1996. Kevin also performed Polly Lobster in Muppet Treasure Island, Ace Yu in Dog City, and Baby Sinclair in Dinosaurs. For Sesame Street, Kevin was a writer, director, producer, Muppet Captain, and senior creative advisor. In 2006, Kevin released his autobiography My Life as a Furry Red Monster and in 2011 he was the subject of the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. In November 2012, Kevin resigned from Sesame Street completely after allegations of sexual misconduct. The charges have all since been dismissed and Kevin’s work is still seen in almost every episode of Sesame Street.

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  • DAVID RUDMAN
    • Born 1963
      • First Muppet Production: Hired as Muppet Workshop intern in 1981
      • Most Recent Muppet Production: Muppets Most Wanted (2014); Sesame Street Season 45 (2014-2015)
      • Characters: Baby Bear, Cookie Monster (2001-present), Scooter (2008-present), Janice (2008-present), Miss Poogy, Humphrey, Davey Monkey, Chicago the Lion, Two-Headed Monster (1992-present), Wayne (2011-present), Bobby Benson (2011-present)
    • David Rudman is one of the core performers for both Sesame Workshop and the Muppets Studio. David began work with the Muppets in 1981 when he was hired as an intern at the Muppet Workshop. Later, David’s friend Richard Hunt helped him to get a job as a puppeteer on Sesame Street. On Sesame Street, David performs his original characters Baby Bear, Humphrey, and Chicago the Lion. After Richard Hunt’s passing in 1992, David also performed his characters Sully, Sonny Friendly, and half of the Two-Headed Monster. In 2001, after Frank Oz started puppeteering less and less, David took on the role of Cookie Monster, who has been his main character for almost 15 years. In 2008, David became the permanent performer of Richard Hunt’s unassigned Muppet Show characters, including Scooter and Janice, and later Wayne and Bobby Benson. David is one of the seven main Muppet performers for Disney’s Muppets Studio, being featured in both The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). David and his brother Adam Rudman have developed two non-Henson shows: Jack’s Big Music Show and Bunnytown. David also boasts writing and directing credits on Sesame Street and shows on MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. He has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 2004 and 2014. David continues to perform for both Sesame Street and Muppets Studio projects.

Eric Leslie ComicCon

  • ERIC JACOBSON
    • Unknown Birthday
      • First Muppet Production: Sesame Street Season 25 (1994)
      • Most Recent Muppet Production: Muppets Most Wanted (2014); Sesame Street Season 45 (2014-2015)
      • Characters: Miss Piggy (2001-present), Grover (1998-present), Fozzie Bear (2002-present), Bert (1997-present), Animal (2002-present), Sam the Eagle (2005-present), Guy Smiley (2005-present), Marvin Suggs (2011-present)
    • Eric Jacobson is one of the few Muppet performers whose characters include only those originated by other puppeteers. Eric started working with the Muppets in 1994 as a puppeteer on Sesame Street and he quickly became one of the primary performers when he took over Frank Oz’s roles of Grover and Bert after Frank began focusing more on directing pursuits. Eric is currently the primary performer of both Grover and Bert, appearing as both characters in nearly every appearance they make. Eric continued taking on Frank’s roles in 2001-2002, when he became the official performer of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal. Eric first performed Miss Piggy at The Muppet Show LIVE! at the MuppetFest fan convention in 2001. His performance was so convincing and perfect that most fans in the audience assumed it was Frank Oz performing, not Eric. In It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Carol, Eric started performing Fozzie and animal, and in The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz he took on Sam Eagle as well. Eric’s performances of Frank’s characters have been some of the best Muppet recasts. Eric is one of the most prominent of the Muppet performers, appearing all over the place as Miss Piggy or Grover. Eric has recently reached his 20 year mark of Muppet performing, and shows no signs of stopping.

Thanks for coming to class! We’ll be back next week with spotlights on six more of the men and women who bring the Muppets to life!

AMC12 0726 Muppets

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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