Frank Richard Oznowicz (b. May 25, 1944), better known as Frank Oz, is one of the foremost Muppet performers and Jim Henson's closest collaborator. Oz and Henson performed some of most famous Muppet comedy teams -- Oz was Bert to Henson's Ernie, and Miss Piggy to Henson's Kermit the Frog. On Sesame Street, Oz also performed Grover and Cookie Monster; on The Muppet Show, he performed Fozzie Bear, Animal and Sam the Eagle.
- 1 Early Years
- 2 Beginnings with Henson
- 3 Sesame Street
- 4 Middle Years
- 5 The Muppet Show
- 6 Frank Oz and Jim Henson
- 7 Branching Out
- 8 Directorial Career
- 9 Current Muppet Status
- 10 Muppeteer Credits
- 11 Directoral Credits
- 12 Additional Credits
- 13 Trivia
- 14 Awards & Honors
- 15 See also
- 16 Sources
- 17 External links
Frank Richard Oznowicz was born in England, spent parts of his childhood in Belgium, and moved to America when he was five. The son of puppeteers Isadore "Mike" Oznowicz and his wife Frances, with two other siblings, young Frank was performing as part of the Oznowicz Family Marionettes troupe by age 12. 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 and please my parents. It was also safe to hide behind puppets because at that point I was a little shy." 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."
Beginnings with Henson
At the age of 17, Oz first met Jim Henson at the Puppeteers of America festival in California. His first impression of Henson was as "this very quiet, shy guy who did these absolutely ******* amazing puppets that were totally brand new and fresh, that had never been done before." At age 19, in 1963, he joined the burgeoning Muppets, Inc. as a right hand for Rowlf the Dog in variety appearances and later on The Jimmy Dean Show. It was here that Jimmy Dean introduced him as "Frank Oz...," mumbling the last part of his name. Thus, Oz began using the shortened form of his name that he's known by today.
He also worked on commercials, replacing Jane Henson as key assistant. While Henson provided all of the voices, he and Oz would alternate when performing such buddy duos as Scoop and Skip, and the new puppeteer assisted on such characters as the Southern Colonel and Nutty Bird. His most notable commercial role was as Delbert the La Choy Dragon. This was Oz's first, and one of his very few, experiences as a full-bodied puppet performer, and one which he did not relish:
On Sesame Street, Frank Oz originated the characters of Bert, Grover, and Cookie Monster, and performed them exclusively for nearly 30 years. During this time, he performed a great number of minor characters, including Lefty the Salesman. He was also offered the role of Big Bird, but because of his experience as the La Choy Dragon, he turned down the role.
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 four days a year, performing nearly fifteen sketches with his characters in those four days. Despite this, to help keep Oz's characters visible, Eric Jacobson was cast as the principal performer of Bert and Grover, and David Rudman the principal performer of Cookie Monster. As late as April 2012, during production of Season 43, Oz was still performing in new segments, taped on a limited schedule of one day a year.
Between the beginning of Sesame Street and the start of The Muppet Show, Frank Oz performed in nearly every major Henson production, including The Great Santa Claus Switch, The Frog Prince, and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. One of his most significant characters during this time was The Mighty Favog on Saturday Night Live.
The Muppet Show
Frank Oz was one of the main performers on The Muppet Show, performing several of the show's stars. Oz performed Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal, as well as secondary characters Sam the Eagle, George the Janitor and Marvin Suggs.
Fozzie Bear was originally intended to be his main character, and Miss Piggy was originally meant to be a supporting character. In fact, during the first few episodes of the show's first season, Frank Oz shared the role of Miss Piggy with Richard Hunt. Once the writers and producers realized that Miss Piggy was more than just a one-joke character, and had more star potential than Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy became a major part of the Muppet cast, and Frank Oz performed her full-time.
In addition to performing these main characters, Oz also normally performed the hands of The Swedish Chef while Jim Henson performed the body and voice. During these sketches, Oz would often do someting unexpected with the hands, without telling Jim Henson beforehand. The Muppet Morsels quote Oz as saying that the best Swedish Chef sketches were unrehearsed.
In addition to performing on The Muppet Show, Oz also wrote the songs "The Rhyming Song" and "Jamboree," and was credited as a creative consultant. Oz also wrote a pair of poems, titled "A Thought Went Up My Mind" and "Leisure," intended to be performed on the show that went ultimately unused.
Frank Oz and Jim Henson
And so it was with the many characters on which the two collaborated. Together, Jim Henson and Frank Oz made such memorable pairings as Ernie and Bert, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, and the aforementioned Swedish Chef. Two other characters that Oz performed, Fozzie Bear and Grover, would play off Henson's Kermit the Frog on numerous occasions, and The Salesman was always trying to pull one over on poor Ernie. Other pairings of the team's characters include Rowlf and Fozzie. As in the case of Kermit and Miss Piggy, Henson's characters often became the victim of one of Oz's characters, and vice versa. For example, Kermit would become victim to Marvin Suggs in episode 506 of The Muppet Show, as well as Oz's character of Animal. The first time this occurred was in episode 110, when Animal beat on Kermit like a drum. The two also worked together during the early 1980s while co-directing and performing in The Dark Crystal.
Michael K. Frith says that Henson and Oz's work was inspiring:
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 preoccupied, Oz was assigned as chief puppeteer and as creative consultant, while other Henson alumni worked on the fabrication. Oz had a great deal of creative input on the character, and was himself responsible for creating the character's trademark style of reversed grammar. Originally, Oz was only supposed to puppeteer the character, with another actor dubbing the voice, but at the last minute, Lucas decided to use Oz's voice. Oz would go on to perform Yoda in all of the sequels and prequels (the latter of which feature a CGI version of Yoda), and in select ancillary appearances such as the updated Star Tours attraction and in an episode of Star Wars: Rebels.
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 and extended to The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Innocent Blood, and Blues Brothers 2000. As a voice actor outside of the Muppets and Yoda, he was heard in Pixar films Monsters, Inc. (as Fungus), Inside Out (as Subconcious Guard Dave, opposite fellow Muppet performer Dave Goelz as Subconcious Guard Frank), and in Columbia Pictures' Zathura (as the robot).
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,
A few years later, Oz directed The Muppets Take Manhattan. According to Oz,
After this, he directed his first 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:
Following the film's success, Oz became an in-demand director, primarily of live action comedies such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, and The Stepford Wives. In 2001, he directed his first drama, The Score, and in 2007, he directed his first independent film, Death at a Funeral.
Because of his career as a director, he became too busy to perform as often as he had previously. He would still perform a few days on Sesame Street every season, and would often find time to perform in major (and sometimes minor) Muppet productions, though the producers often had to work around his schedule (and in some instances, other puppeteers performed his characters on set and he looped the dialogue later; such was the case during many of the filming days for Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets from Space).
Current Muppet Status
Starting in the mid-1990s, after more than thirty years of Muppet performing, Oz began to transition himself away from his Muppet duties to focus on directing. He occasionally performed his characters on Sesame Street until 2012, but following Muppets from Space, his classic Muppet Show characters have been turned over to Eric Jacobson. In 2002, for logistics reasons, he puppeteered Miss Piggy to Jacobson's pre-recorded vocals for the "We Are Family" music video.
In a 2007 interview, Oz explained why he distanced himself from the Muppets:
In a 2000 interview, Oz said,
In addition to not posing for pictures with his characters, Frank Oz also refuses to talk in his character voices on request. 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, and 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 made a rare in-person appearance on October 23, 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 Muppet performer and director.
From 2011-2017, Oz developed Muppet Guys Talking, a documentary film where he and fellow Muppet performers Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, and Bill Barretta discuss their time working with the Muppets.
for a complete character gallery, see Frank Oz characters
- The Muppet Show characters: Animal, Fozzie Bear, George the Janitor, Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle, and others...
- Sesame Street characters: Bert, Cookie Monster, Grover, Harvey Kneeslapper, Lefty the Salesman, and others...
- The Jimmy Dean Show: Rowlf (assistant)
- Commercials: Delbert the La Choy Dragon (body), Southern Colonel (assistant)
- The Ed Sullivan Show: Gleep, Prancer, Grump, Octopus, Giant Clam, Splurge, The Glutton (assistant)
- Sesame Street Pitch Reel: Rowlf (puppetry only), Scoop, Beautiful Day Monster
- Hey Cinderella!: Rufus, Stepsister #1, Splurge
- The Great Santa Claus Switch: Boppity, Hoppity, Skippity, Snerf #1, Thig
- The Frog Prince: Robin the Frog (puppetry only), Gawain
- The Muppet Musicians of Bremen: Leroy (puppetry only)
- The Muppets Valentine Show: George the Janitor, Rufus, Male Koozebanian Creature, Frogs
- Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: Beautiful Day Monster (puppetry only)
- One to One: Marvin
- Saturday Night Live: The Mighty Favog, Food, Glig
- The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence: Sam the Eagle, Animal, Clyde, Pig, Purple Heap, Ruler, Theodore Roosevelt
- Muppet Meeting Films: Grump, Kent
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: Chuck Stoat, Alice Otter (puppetry only)
- The Muppets Go Hollywood: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle
- The Muppet Movie: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle
- The Great Muppet Caper: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle
- The Dark Crystal: Aughra (puppetry only), Skeksis Chamberlain (puppetry only)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle, Cookie Monster, Bert
- Follow That Bird: Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover
- Country Music with the Muppets: Lyle, Baskerville the Hound, Cows, Sheep, Rufus
- Labyrinth: The Wiseman (puppetry only)
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal
- A Muppet Family Christmas: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, Sam the Eagle
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear
- Muppet*Vision 3D: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle, Construction Worker (pre-show)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol: Miss Piggy (as Emily Cratchit), Fozzie Bear (Fozziwig), Sam the Eagle, Animal, Vegetable Seller, Mr. Bitte
- Muppet Classic Theater: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear
- Muppet Treasure Island: Miss Piggy (as Benjamina Gunn), Fozzie Bear (Squire Trelawney), Sam the Eagle (Samuel Arrow), Animal
- Muppets Tonight: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle, and others...
- The Animal Show: Sam the Eagle (Episode 318, voice only)
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster
- Muppets from Space: Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Sam the Eagle
- Elmo's Potty Time: Grover
- The Dark Crystal (co-director with Jim Henson) (1982)
- The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show (1982)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
- What About Bob? (1991)
- HouseSitter (1992)
- The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
- In & Out (1997)
- Bowfinger (1999)
- The Score (2001)
- The Stepford Wives (2004)
- Death at a Funeral (2007)
- The Muppet Show (1976) (creative consultant)
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981) (producer)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) (writer)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) (executive producer)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996) (executive producer)
- Muppets Tonight (1996) (executive consultant)
Awards & Honors
- Daytime Emmy for Individual Achievement in Children's Programming for Sesame Street.
- Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming for Sesame Street.
- Daytime Emmy for Individual Achievement in Children's Programming for Sesame Street.
- Frank Oz films
- Frank Oz cameos
- Frank Oz's acting roles
- Why doesn't Frank Oz perform with the Muppets anymore?
- Return performances by Frank Oz on Sesame Street
- a 2002 questionnaire with Oz on IGN claimed Oz's full name as Richard Frank Oznowicz — "10 Questions: Frank Oz" IGN FilmForce by Kenneth Plume, January 23, 2002 — however, in January 2018, Oz stated in a Reddit AMA that his full name is Frank Richard Oznowicz
- Reddy, Muriel. "The Wizardry of Oz." The Advertiser, March 19, 1987.
- Borgenicht, David Sesame Street Unpaved, 1998.
- Plume, Ken. FilmForce Interview, part 1. February 10, 2000.
- Interview, The Merv Griffin Show, 1983.
- Borgenicht, David Sesame Street Unpaved, page 33
- panel at Brooklyn Public Library event, November 21, 2009
- Entertainment Weekly "Frank Oz: Muppets maestro discusses 'Little Shop of Horrors' and the remaking of his classics" May 15, 2012. (archived link)
- Tyler Bunch on Twitter. April 22, 2012.
- Archival document displayed in The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image
- Jim Henson: The Works
- A Company of Players.
- Big Shiny Robot "A 'Star Wars: Rebels' Interview with Frank Oz." by Bryan Young, December 29, 2014
- Plume, Ken. Film Force Interview, part 2. Febuary 10, 2000.
- Puppet Tears, ep 062 — Eric Jacobson (00:58:22)
- Oz, Frank August 7, 2007 interview
- Plume, Ken. Film Force Interview, part 3. Febuary 10, 2000.
- Oz, Frank. Sesame Street at 40: A Night of Celebration with the Legendary Cast
- Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street, page 31