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Frank Oz

FRANK OZ

Frank Oz Cookie Monster

OZ w/ Cookie Monster.

Frank Oz Miss Piggy 1

OZ' w/ Miss Piggy.

Frank Oz The Muppets Take Manhattan

FRANK OZ on the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan

Frank Oz 2006 Waiter Grover new

Oz in 2006 doing a Waiter Grover sketch

FRANK OZ (born on May 25th, 1944 as Richard Frank Oznowicz), is 1 of the foremost Muppeteers in the whole Muppet business. He is JIM HENSONs closest collaborator as well as his best friend. OZ & HENSON, together, performed some of the Muppetsmost famous teams -- Oz was the neat Bert to HENSONs UNtidy Ernie, & Miss Piggy to Henson's Kermit the Frog; probably the most famous pairing. Oz, on SESAME STREET, also performed Cookie Monster, Grover, & Lefty the Salesman; & on The Muppet Show, he performed some major characters like Fozzie Bear, Animal & Sam the Eagle, & also some minor characters, like George the Janitor & Marvin Suggs. Oz also performed Uncle Hank, the uncle of OSCAR THE GROUCH in SESAME STREET Stays Up Late, the SESAME STREET special from 1993, celebrating New Year's Eve around the world, which was also the 1st known occasion where OZ performed Bert to STEVE WHITMIREs Ernie, with WHITMIRE taking JIM HENSONs place in the unbreakable partnership that HENSON & OZ had shared for 27 years.

Early YearsEdit

Richard "Frank" Oznowicz was born in England, spent parts of his childhood in Belgium, & moved to America when he was 5. The son of puppeteers Isadore "Mike" Oznowicz & his wife Frances, with 2 siblings, young Frank was performing as part of the Oznowicz Family Marionettes troupe by age 12. Although, despite this background, "I don't have a love of puppets," Oz explained in a 1987 interview "I did it as a means of expression. I was able to express myself & please my parents. It was also safe to hide behind puppets because at that point I was a little shy."[1] He had no desire to go into puppeteering professionally: "I just did it as a hobby to get some money--I really wanted to be a journalist."[2]

Beginning w/ HensonEdit

Frank Oz 1st met Jim Henson when he was 17, while attending the Puppeteers of America festival in California. His 1st impression of Henson was as "this very quiet, shy guy who did these absolutely ****** amazing puppets that were totally brand new & fresh, that had never been done before."[3] At age 19, in 1963, he joined the burgeoning Muppets, Inc. as a right hand for Rowlf the Dog in variety appearances & later on the Jimmy Dean Show. It was here that Jimmy Dean actually introduced him as "Frank Oz...," mumbling the last part of his name. Thus, Oz began using the shortened form of his name he's known by today.[4]

Oz also worked on commercials, replacing JIMs wife, JANE HENSON as key assistant. HENSON dubbed all the voices, & he & Oz would alternate when performing such buddy duos as Scoop & Skip, & the new puppeteer assisted on such characters as the Southern Colonel & Nutty Bird. His most notable commercial role was as Delbert the La Choy Dragon. This was his 1st, & 1 of his very few, experiences, as a full-bodied puppet performer, & 1 which he really didn't relish: "I hated it. I hated doing it totally. Jim knew I hated it. I think he relished it. The Delbert the La Choy Dragon was a ******. I was totally blind in there.I always hated being inside characters, but I was the main performer & that was my job."[3]

SESAME STREETEdit

Frank Oz Super Grover

Frank Oz performing Super Grover

Eventually, on SESAME STREET, FRANK OZ had originated the characters Cookie Monster, Grover, & Bert, & he performed them exclusively for almost 30 years. Oz, during this time, performed a great number of minor characters, including Prince Charming, Lefty the Salesman, & Harvey Kneeslapper. He was offered the role of BIG BIRD also, but because of his experience as the La Choy Dragon, FRANK immediately turned the role down.[5]

FRAN BRILL, commenting on his performing habits, also noted that Oz would often put his hand on top of whoever was doing right hands so they couldn't gesture too much.[6]

According to the book SESAME STREET Unpaved, during the show's early years OZ was in almost every sketch, but by 1998 he only appeared on the SESAME STREET set, apparently, 4 days a year, performing nearly 15 sketches with his characters during those mere four days. As of 2011, he is still taping appearances during a limited schedule for new segments, 1 day a year.[7] Even despite this, to help keep OZs main characters visible ERIC JACOBSON is currently the principal performer of Grover & Bert, & DAVID RUDMAN is the new principal performer of Cookie Monster. Oz is confirmed to have performed in segments for Season 43.[8] Oz will also be heard as Grover in a brand new sketch with Mr. Johnson in SESAME STREET episode 4302, along with a new Grover song, I Am Special for SESAME STREET episode 4312, & finally, Oz will be heard in the Downtown Abbey parody called Upside Downton Abbey, a sketch scheduled to appear on the show in 2013.

Middle YearsEdit

Between the beginning of SESAME STREET & the start of The Muppet Show, FRANK OZ performed in nearly every major Henson production, including The Great Santa Claus Switch, The Frog Prince, & The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. 1 of his most significant characters during this time was The Mighty Favog on SNL.

The Muppet ShowEdit

Frank Oz Miss Piggy Fozzie Bear 1977

Frank Oz poses with Fozzie Bear & Miss Piggy.

Frank Oz was also 1 of the main Muppeteers on The Muppet Show, performing several of the show's stars. He performed Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, & Sam the Eagle, & 2ndary characters George the Janitor, & Marvin Suggs.

Fozzie Bear was originally intended to be his main character, & Miss Piggy was originally meant to only be a supporting character. In fact, during the 1st few episodes of season 1, Oz actually shared the role of Miss Piggy w/ fellow Muppeteer & a very good friend of his, Richard Hunt. Once the writers & producers realized Piggy was more than just a 1-joke character, & had more star potential than Fozzie, she became a major part of the Muppet cast, & Frank OZ performed her full-time.

Oz, in addition to performing these main characters, also performed the hands of the Swedish Chef while Jim Henson performed the body & voice together. Oz, during these sketches, would often do something unexpected with the hands, normally without telling Jim beforehand. The Muppet Morsels quote Oz as saying that the best Swedish Chef sketches were those that had gone unrehearsed.

In addition to performing, Frank Oz also wrote the songs "The Rhyming Song" & "Jamboree". He was also credited on The Muppet Show as a creative consultant.

Frank Oz & Jim HensonEdit

Jim Henson Frank Oz 1

Oz & his very best friend, the late (but great) Jim Henson.

Jim Henson Frank Oz 2

Frank Oz & Jim Henson dressed up for the premiere party for the The Dark Crystal in New York.

"Watching Jims Ernie teasing Frank Ozs Bert & driving him to distraction was to witness unadulterated glee!"

- Caroly Wilcox[9]

It was w/ many characters on which the 2 collaborated. Together Jim Henson & Frank Oz made such memorable pairings as Ernie & Bert, as well as Kermit the Frog & Miss Piggy, & the Swedish Chef. 3 other characters that Oz performed, Fozzie Bear, Grover & Cookie Monster, would play off of Kermit the Frog on numerous occasions, & there was also Lefty the Salesman, who tried to fool poor Ernie on several occasions. Ernie & Cookie Monster were also paired up multiple times. Other pairings of the team's characters include Rowlf the Dog & Fozzie Bear, along with Rowlf sometimes paired with Miss Piggy. Kermit also had to listen to another of Franks characters, Sam the Eagle endlessly complain about the weirdness of what was shown normally on The Muppet Show. Also, when it came time for Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem to perform a song on a Muppet Show episode, Hensons Dr. Teeth & Oz's Animal were always positioned right next to each other on the bandstand, even after Jim died. Also, in episode 302, when guest star Leo Sayer had asked to meet Animal, Dr. Teeth brought Animal into Leo's dressing room so Leo & Animal could then meet. Also, in at least 2 clips of the At the Dance segment on The Muppet Show, Dr. Teeth is shown dancing w/ Mildred Huxtetter, a character Oz only performed in that segment. Also, as in the case of Kermit & Piggy, on several occasions, Hensons characters usually became victim to Ozs characters, &, occasionally, vice versa. For example, Kermit became Marvin Suggs' victim in episode 506 of The Muppet Show, as well as Animal. The 1st time this occurred was in episode 110, when Animal beat Kermit like a drum in order to get him to completely forget about replacing Animal as the shows drummer. They also worked together in the early 1980s while co-directing/performing in The Dark Crystal. They also played the parents in the Twiddlebug family with Henson performing the father, Thomas Twiddlebug, & with Oz performing the mother, Tessie Twiddlebug. It can be seen clearly that Jim & Frank had been even closer than brothers, like their primary characters on SESAME STREET, Ernie & Bert, respectively, are today. At Hensons Memorial Service, 5 short days after his death, Frank speaks of a Christmas gift Jim gave him, which he called "Bert in Self-Contemplation". He starts to cry but manages to say "That's when I knew, he loved me & I loved him."

Michael K. Frith says that Henson & Oz's work was inspiring:

"I've always said, & I still believe, that we all basically rode on the coat tails of Jim Henson & Frank Oz. They were a comedy duo that is up there with Laurel & Hardy. I mean, they had that sense of timing, they had that sense of play between themselves, they had the ability to understand each others' characters & play off them with their characters.[10]"

Kenneth Plume: How big a blow was Jim's passing to you?
Frank Oz-You just cant express it in words. Id known him since I was 17. It was a mortal blow to a part of me, & always will be.[11]

JIM HENSON/FRANK OZ Muppet PairingsEdit

Jim & Frank voicing Ernie & Bert

FRANK & JIM HENSON working together on an Ernie & Bert sketch, w/ some assistance from Muppeteer veteran RICHARD HUNT.

Jim Frank Kermit Piggy


Muppeteer veteran STEVE WHITMIRE can be seen & heard taking HENSONs place in these 8 pairings he originally shared with OZ before his death:

Branching OutEdit

In 1980, George Lucas contacted Henson about a puppet character he wanted for his next Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, a creature known as Yoda. Since Henson was pre-occupied, Oz was assigned as chief puppeteer & as creative consultant, while other Henson alumni worked on the fabrication. Oz had a great deal of creative input on the character, & was himself responsible for creating the character's trademark style of reversed grammar.

Oz has also been a frequent cameo player in the films of John Landis, in which he was often cast as a grizzled or surly official. This began with An American Werewolf in London & extended to The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Innocent Blood & most recently, Blues Brothers 2000. As a voice actor outside of the Muppets & Yoda, he was heard as Fungus in the Disney/Pixar film Monsters, Inc. & the robot in Columbia Pictures' Zathura.

Directorial CareerEdit

Frank Oz Miss Piggy Muppet Treasure Island

Frank Oz workin with Miss Piggy on the set of Muppet Treasure Island.

Frank Oz made his [directorial] debut on SESAME STREET when he directed the Number Three Ball Film segment. When production began on The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson decided to let Frank Oz co-[direct] the movie with him. According to an interview with Oz, "(Jim) said, 'Do you want to direct Dark Crystal with me?', & I said, 'Why?, I don't know how to direct. You could do it yourself. Why would you want me to direct with you?' He said, 'Because it would be better'. & that's all that mattered. He didn't care about the credit. He knew that he had some weaknesses & he knew that I had some strengths, & so we worked together that way. [14]"

A few years later, Oz The Muppets Take Manhattan. According to Oz, "There was a script written by 2 other writers, & I said to Jim that I didn't think this was in the right direction. I may have been wrong about this, but the point is that Jim allowed me to rewrite it & I rewrote the script. [Then] he asked me to direct it. I was very grateful, & that was the 1st directing job I had really done on my own.[14]"

After this, he directed his 1st non-Henson movie, Little Shop of Horrors, adapted from the Broadway play. In the 1987 interview with The Advertiser, OZ explained the empowering aspects of directing: "Five years ago I would have hemmed & hawed while talking to you... But you get raw, naked, savage power as a director & all of a sudden you talk a lot."

Following the film's success, Oz became an in-demand director, primarily of live action comedies such as DIRTY ROTTEN Scoundrels, What About Bob?, & The Stepford Wives. In 2001, he directed his 1st drama, The Score, & in 2007, he directed his 1st independent film, Death at a Funeral.

Due to his career as a director, Oz became too busy to perform as often as he had previously. He would still perform a few days on SESAME STREET every season, & would often find time to perform in major (& sometimes minor) Muppet productions, though the producers often had to work around his schedule (& in some cases, other performers performed his characters & he looped the dialogue later. Such was the case during many of the filming days for Muppet Treasure Island & Muppets from Space.)

Current Muppet StatusEdit

Frank Oz 2007
Frank Oz perofrming Miss Piggy

Starting in the mid-1990s, after 3+ long decades of Muppet performing, OZ began to transition himself away from his Muppet duties to focus on directing. Immediately following Muppets from Space, all his main Muppet Show characters have been handed over to ERIC JACOBSON, who has also mostly taken over Bert & Grover, while DAVID RUDMAN has become the new performer for Cookie Monster. Although, as DAVID & ERIC have once said, Oz usually comes in 4 or 5 times a year & will do a "Bert Day", "Grover Day", "Cookie Day", etc.

In a 2007 interview, Oz explained why he distanced himself from the Muppets: There were a lot of reasons. 1 was that I was a dad, I have 4 kids. The reason was that I was constantly asked to do stuff. & also, I had done this for 30 years, & I had never wanted to be a puppeteer in the 1st place. I wanted to be a journalist, & really what I wanted to do was direct theatre & direct movies.

So it was a slow progression, working with JIM, but I felt limited. As an actor & a performer, you feel limited because you're not the source for the creation, & I wanted to be the source. I wanted to be the guy & show my view of the world. & if I screw it up, then I screw it up, but at least I tried.

& as a director, what you're really showing is you're showing the audience your view of the world. I don't know why, but I thought I say things a certain way, & I wanted to express myself. I've always enjoyed, more than anything else, bringing things to life, whether it be characters or actors in a scene or moments in movies. Ive done so much with puppets,that I've wanted to work with actors.[15]"

In a 2000 interview, OZ said, "I've made a policy over the last 15 years of not having any pictures with my characters & I, at all, in the same shot. That is because, as a director, I can walk on a film for 18 hours a day for a year -- work my ass off -- & people will see it & say "Ah, yeah, that's nice. That was a good film", Then they see 1 picture of me & 1 of my characters, & they go ape****. They'll freak out & say, "You do that character!" The power of the Muppets, & the popularity of these characters, is so iconic in people's lives, that I've had to distance myself from it publicly.[16]"

In addition to not posing for pictures with his characters, 'Frank Oz also refuses to talk in his character voices on request.[17] His reasoning for this is that the characters are too special to him. For him, to do a voice on command is akin to performing a parlor trick, & that the character exists as much more than just a voice. Oz goes more into depth on this subject in The World of Jim Henson.

Oz recently did a rare in-person appearance on October 23rd, 2011 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, across the street from the Kaufman Astoria Studios where SESAME STREET is currently taped. Interviewed by Craig Shemin,the seminar focused on his career both as a Muppeteer & director.

Evidently, FRANK OZ was offered the chance to perform in The Muppets, despite the fact that as noted, he had retired from Muppet performing. In Fall 2011, when speaking of the early script of the then recent film, Oz was quoted in a UK article as saying:

"I turned it down, I wasn't happy with the script. I don't think they respected the characters. But I don't want to go on about it like a sourpuss & hurt the movie.[18]"

Oz stated in the same interview that:

"Working with Jim & the Muppets was very exciting... I feel so deeply privileged to be part of it. But when you work for 30 years on something, you wanna do something else.[18]"

Ozs quote about being dissatisfied with the movies script was soon publicized, picked up by several U.S. websites & bloggers, combined with unsourced claims that some of the film's Muppeteers were also unhappy with the movie.[19][20] Since OZs Muppet retirement in 2000 was relatively quiet, some of these authors were under the impression that his dislike of the early script was the reason for his departure from the Muppets, even though his true departure from performing with the Muppets was almost 10 years prior.

In a July 2012 interview, OZ stated;

"I felt the movie was really sweet & fun , a little too safe, a little retro; I prefer more cutting edge with The Muppets. But the main thing is everybody got back to appreciating The Muppets, & what I wish they'd appreciate is the performance underneath The Muppets; those are the key people...the main thing is it brought people back to The Muppets. Although they never really left, it's always been a kind of sub[[w:c:muppet:Category:Muppet Characters|culture, it's always been there in our popular culture a little bit. So I'm happy that people are happy."[21]"

Muppeteer CreditsEdit

Predecessors/SuccessorsEdit

TriviaEdit

Directoral CreditsEdit

Henson ProjectsEdit

Non-HENSON FilmsEdit

Additional CreditsEdit

Awards & HonorsEdit

1974

1976

1979

1999

ProofEdit

  1. Reddy, Muriel. "The Wizardry of OZ." The Advertiser, March 19th, 1987.
  2. Borgenicht, David SESAME STREET Unpaved, 1998.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Plume, Ken. FilmForce Interview, part 1. February 10th, 2000.
  4. Interview, The Merv Griffin Show, 1983.
  5. Borgenicht, David SESAME STREET Unpaved, page 33
  6. Panel at (exhibit)|Brooklyn Public Library event, November 21st, 2009
  7. OZ, FRANK EW interview
  8. Tyler Bunch on Twitter. APRIL 22nd, 2012.
  9. Jim Henson: The Works
  10. A Company of Players.
  11. Plume, Ken. Film Force Interview, part 3. February 10th, 2000.
  12. The Muppets at Walt Disney World : Part 06 (1990)
  13. The Swedish Chef's Casting history
  14. 14.0 14.1 Plume, Ken. Film Force Interview, part 2. February 10th, 2000.
  15. Oz, Frank August 7th, 2007 interview
  16. Plume, Ken. Film Force Interview, part 3. February 10th, 2000.
  17. OZ, FRANK. SESAME STREET at 40: A Night of Celebration with the Legendary Cast
  18. 18.0 18.1 Metro
  19. The Muppets review
  20. The Hollywood Reporter
  21. Collider.com

Special extra picturesEdit

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

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