Earl joined the Muppets in 1978 at the age of 19. After three years under contract, he freelanced with the Muppets for the next twelve years on several projects. After leaving the Muppets, Earl went on to become a four-time Emmy Award-winning puppeteer and writer/lyricist.
Michael Earl (Davis) grew up in San Leandro and Livermore, CA. He began his professional career at age five acting in a Curad bandage TV commercial. Two years later he was tapped to be the original "Is It Soup Yet?" kid for Lipton. He performed original puppet shows from ages 10-17 and once a year attended Puppeteers of America festivals. On weekends during his high school years, Earl was an apprentice at Children's Fairyland Puppet Theater in Oakland, CA, where Frank Oz once worked and his father, Mike Oznowicz, sometimes visited. At 17, Earl attended a puppetry festival where he met Kermit Love, who talked to Jim Henson about the earnest young puppeteer (as did Oznowicz). At 18, he moved to New York City and acted in some TV commercials, as well as landing a puppeteering job working for his childhood idol, Bil Baird.
At 19, Michael was hired sight-unseen by Jim Henson for The Muppet Movie and subsequently won the role of Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, replacing the original performer, Jerry Nelson. During the 1978 season, Earl lip-synced as Nelson sat in the director's booth and read the lines live. CTW producers later awarded Michael the voice part of the job as well, and Snuffy was officially his character for the next two seasons. Bringing up the "rear" during those years were Brian Muehl, Frank Kane and Bryant Young.
20-year-old Karen Prell came on board as Deena Monster, as did a new 19-year-old puppeteer Kermit Love met from Maryland named Kevin Clash, who debuted as Forgetful Jones' horse, Buster. During the 1978-79 seasons of Sesame Street, Earl, Brian Muehl and Caroll Spinney performed most of the day-to-day puppetry while the other Henson Muppeteers were working in London on The Muppet Show. Olga Felgemacher was another puppeteer who occasionally performed on Sesame Street at that time. Earl met Felgemacher and Bruce Schwartz on the set of The Muppet Movie.
During his time on Sesame Street, Earl was an understudy for Caroll Spinney as Big Bird, but never actually performed the character on Sesame Street. However, he did puppeteer Big Bird in the finale of The Muppet Movie but did not perform Big Bird's voice.
Earl took over the roles of Slimey (his personal favorite), Poco Loco and Snuffy from Jerry Nelson, and created the roles of Forgetful Jones, Polly Darton, Leslie Mostly and dozens of incidental Anything Muppets.
In 1979, Earl and Brian Muehl were invited by Jim Henson to workshop body combinations (along with two dancers) for The Dark Crystal, with Brian Froud observing their many workshop sessions and sketching "skins" over the dancer/puppeteer movements and forms as part of the development process for the film.
Earl's other Muppet credits include The Muppets Take Manhattan, John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together, Little Muppet Monsters, The Jim Henson Hour, The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, the National Wildlife Federation PSA's and Dinosaurs.
Originally Michael Earl Davis, he dropped the "Davis" from his name when AFTRA and SAG informed him they already had a "Mike Davis" on file and only one was allowed in the union.
A New York-trained actor/singer/dancer, Earl has appeared in and/or sung on numerous television commercials, movies, stage and TV shows. He has acted with Whoopi Goldberg, danced with Gregory Hines, and clowned with Victor Borge. For the stage, Michael created the role of Noel Petard in Sid and Marty Krofft's critically acclaimed "A Broadway Baby." His other stage work includes Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors and his 1998 biographical musical one-man show Pure Imagination!, which he wrote and performed in Los Angeles and New York.
Earl is a seven-time Emmy nominee and in 1995, won his first Emmy Award for his performance as Dr. Ticktock in Ticktock Minutes, produced by Mississippi Educational Television. In subsequent years he was awarded three more Southern Regional Emmys for his lyric writing (in collaboration with composer Randy Klein) on a series of PBS interstitials.
Earl met Drew Massey (a fellow Livermore native) when Massey was seven years old, teaching him puppet making at his school. Years later, after reconnecting through Massey's mother in a local supermarket, Earl recognized Massey's innate talent and mentored him while Massey was in college, giving him his first few puppeteering jobs and introducing him to the Muppets.
Michael Earl lived in Los Angeles, California, where he founded "Puppet School" with Roberto Ferreira. There he taught TV puppetry to actors and others interested in adding to their skill set.
Earl passed away on December 23, 2015, after a three-year battle with colon cancer.
- Sesame Street - Puppeteer and voice of Mr. Snuffleupagus, Forgetful Jones, Poco Loco, Leslie Mostly, Polly Darton, Irvine, Sullivan, Lefty (At the Bus Stop Sign), Frog Guitarist, Cowboy X, Sally Sanchez, Lavender AM boy in "Big Kids Cry" and many other Anything Muppets. Also puppeteered Slimey the Worm and Honkers, for three seasons (1978-81, Seasons 10, 11 & 12) credited as Mike Davis.
- The Muppet Movie - Additional Muppet Performer, operating Fozzie Bear in the "High Noon" ghost town scene, Dr. Teeth in the 2-D moving bus set piece during "The Magic Store" song, Scooter on the Muppet bus at the beginning of the ghost town scene, Animal and Zoot during "The Magic Store", Janice, Beaker and others when a lead Muppeteer was performing another one of their characters in the same scene, or as assigned by Frank Oz or Jim Henson. Perfomed Big Bird in the Finale.
- John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together - Muppet Performer
- The Dark Crystal - Additional Muppet Performer (Puppet Test and development puppeteer)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan - Additional Muppet Performer, puppeteered Cookie Monster in the finale
- Little Muppet Monsters - Muppet Penguin
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years - Muppet Performer
- National Wildlife Federation PSAs - Muppet Penguin
- The Jim Henson Hour - (Pilot) Additional Muppet Performer
- Dinosaurs - "Family Challenge", "When Food Goes Bad"
- Sesame Street: Sing Yourself Silly - Various Muppets
- Sesame Songs: Rock & Roll - Various Muppets
- Target commercial - Additional Muppet Performer
- Eaton's Santa Claus Parade - Sesame Street Muppets Float, Toronto, Canada
- Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - Sesame Street Muppets Float, NYC
- Kermit: A Frog's Life - Muppet Performer
Other Puppetry Credits
- Team America: World Police - Various Lead Characters
- Men in Black II - Puppet Alien
- The Adventures of Timmy the Tooth - Ms. Flossy, and others
- Ticktock Minutes - Dr. Ticktock
- Little Shop of Horrors - Audrey II
- Michael Earl & Friends - Ivar Theatre, Hollywood
- An Evening With Michael Earl - Singer/Songwriter/Puppeteer, Steve MacGraw's, NYC
- Bob Baker Marionette Theater - Director, Lead Puppeteer
- Bil Baird's Marionettes - Various Characters
- Sid & Marty Kroftt's A Broadway Baby - Norma Terris Theatre at Goodspeed Opera House, CT - Noel Petard, Lead
- Shrek - Motion capture Shrek body suit
- Simon - Actor, Commune Member, opposite Alan Arkin
- The Phantom Toll Booth - Actor, Milo's Friend, Day Player, Warner Bros.
- Fame - Actor, Rocky Horror Picture Show fan, MGM
Voice Over Credits
- Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? - Guest Star as Ira Gation, and 4 other voices, DIC Entertainment
- Digimon Tamers - Mr. Akiyama - Voice
- M&M TV Commercial - singing voice of animated M&M. Martin P. Robinson played one of the other 4 singing candies. Spot ran for 3 years in the late 80s.
- LA Times article on Michael Earl (archived)
- Tough Pigs interview with Michael Earl
- San Francisco Chronicle - Muppeteer teaches art of making puppets
- Downtown Express - Earl explores mind of Muppets maker (archived)
- Michael Earl - Live at the Ivar
- Michael Earl - Live at The Gardenia, LA
- Ticktock Minutes