Frank Oz

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Frank Oz
Frank Oz 2012.jpg
Oz at the 38th Annual Saturn Awards 2012
Born
Frank Richard Oznowicz

(1944-05-25) May 25, 1944 (age 75)
Hereford, England
ResidenceNew York City, New York, U.S.
EducationOakland Technical High School
Alma materOakland City College
OccupationActor, puppeteer, director, producer
Years active1960–present
Spouse(s)
Robin Garsen[1]
(m. 1979; div. 2005)

Victoria Labalme[2] (m. 2011)
Children4[3]

Frank Oz (born Frank Richard Oznowicz;[2] May 25, 1944) is an American actor, puppeteer, director, and producer. He began his career as a puppeteer, performing the Muppet characters of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle in The Muppet Show, and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover in Sesame Street.[4] He is also known for the role of Yoda in the Star Wars series, providing the voice for the character in several films and television series.

His work as a director includes Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), The Score (2001), Death at a Funeral (2007), and an episode of the US TV series Leverage (2011).

Early life[edit]

Oz was born in Hereford, England, United Kingdom; the son of Frances (née Ghevaert; 1910–1989) and Isidore Oznowicz (1916–1998), both of whom were puppeteers.[5][6] His father was also a window trimmer.[1][7] His parents moved to England after fighting the Nazis with the Dutch Brigades. Oz's Dutch-Polish father was Jewish and his Flemish mother was a lapsed Catholic.[2][8][9][10] They left England when he was six months old and lived in Belgium until he was five.[11][12] Oz and his family moved to Montana in 1951.[7] They eventually settled in Oakland, California.[1] Oz attended Oakland Technical High School and Oakland City College. He worked as an apprentice puppeteer at Children's Fairyland as a teenager[13] with the Vagabond Puppets, a production of the Oakland Recreation Department, where Lettie Connell[14] was his mentor.

Career[edit]

Puppeteering[edit]

Oz is known for his work as a puppeteer, performing with Jim Henson's Muppets. His characters have included Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle on The Muppet Show, and Grover, Cookie Monster and Bert on Sesame Street.

In addition to performing a variety of characters, Oz has been one of the primary collaborators responsible for the development of the Muppets over the last 30 years. Oz has performed as a Muppet performer in over 75 productions including Labyrinth, video releases, and television specials, as well as countless other public appearances, episodes of Sesame Street, and other Jim Henson series. His puppetry work spans from 1963 to the present, although he semi-retired from performing his Muppets characters in 2001.[15] In 2001, his characters were taken over primarily by Eric Jacobson (with David Rudman as Cookie Monster).[16]

Oz explained why he decided on leaving the Muppets in a 2007 interview:

"One was that I was a dad, I have four kids. The reason was that I was constantly asked to do stuff. And also, I'd done this for 30 years, and I'd never wanted to be a puppeteer in the first place. I wanted to be a journalist, and really what I wanted to do was direct theatre and direct movies. So it was more a slow progression, working with Jim, but I felt limited. As an actor and a performer, you always feel limited because you're not the source of the creation, and I wanted to be the source. I wanted to be the guy and give my view of the world. And if I screw it up, I screw it up, but at least I tried. And as a director, what you're really showing is you're showing the audience your view of the world...I've always enjoyed, more than anything else in the world, bringing things to life, whether it's characters or actors in a scene or moments in movies. I've done so much with the puppets, that I'd always wanted to work with actors."[17]

Oz is also known as the performer of Jedi Master Yoda from George Lucas' Star Wars series. Jim Henson had originally been contacted by Lucas about possibly performing Yoda. Henson was preoccupied and instead suggested Oz to be assigned as chief puppeteer of the character, as well as a creative consultant. Oz performed the puppet and provided the voice for Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).[18] Oz also provided the voice of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) Yoda in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). The conversion to CGI was met with some criticism among fans, but Oz himself said that was "exactly what [Lucas] should have done."[19] Oz had a great deal of creative input on the character and was himself responsible for creating the character's trademark syntax.[20] Oz returned to voice Yoda in Disney's Star Tours–The Adventures Continue attractions[21] and in the Star Wars Rebels episodes, "Path of the Jedi" and "Shroud of Darkness."

Directing[edit]

Inspiration as a filmmaker came to Oz upon a viewing of the Orson Welles film Touch of Evil (1958), the director told Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life:[22]

"I think it opened up my view of film — that there's so much more that could be done. Actually, by breaking so many rules, he allowed other people to say, 'Hey, I can maybe think of some stuff, too!' He just opened up the possibilities more for me. That's what he did."[23]

Oz in 1984

Oz began his behind-the-camera work when he co-directed the fantasy film The Dark Crystal with long-time collaborator Jim Henson. The film featured the most advanced puppets ever created for a movie.[citation needed] Oz further employed those skills in directing 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan, as well as sharing a screenwriting credit.

In 1986, he directed his first film that did not involve Henson, Little Shop Of Horrors. The musical film starred Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, as well as Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Jim Belushi and a 15-foot-tall talking plant (voiced by Levi Stubbs) which at times required up to 40 puppeteers to operate. The film allowed Oz to show his ability to work with live actors and led to opportunities to direct films that did not include puppetry.

Usually helming comedic productions, Oz went on to direct Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 1988, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine; What About Bob? in 1991, starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss; and Housesitter in 1992, starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn (all of which were scored by Miles Goodman). Later films include The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), The Score (2001), the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, and the original Death at a Funeral (2007).

Oz has frequently experienced on-set tension while directing his films, notably during the productions of What About Bob?, In & Out, The Score and The Stepford Wives.[11][24][25][26]

Unrealized projects[edit]

In the late 1980s, Oz was attached to direct a film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for Universal Pictures, with Martin Short slated to star. Oz dropped out of the project after he could not work out how to make the story work.[27][28]

Oz was also going to direct the 1990 film Mermaids after Lasse Hallström dropped out of the project.[29] However, Oz also left the project due to creative differences and was ultimately replaced by Richard Benjamin.[30] Oz reportedly did not get along with Cher, who starred in the film.[31]

It was reported in 1992 that Oz was slated to direct a film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls for The Geffen Film Company. Oz also planned to direct an unmade film titled Swing Vote before directing Dreamgirls.[32]

In the late 1990s, it was reported that Oz was going to direct either Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis in an unmade film titled Ump for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[33][34][35][36]

Oz claimed in a 2007 interview with The A.V. Club that he turned down the offer to direct Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).[37]

In 2006, Dick Cook hired Oz to write and direct The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made for Walt Disney Pictures. However, Disney passed on the project in favor of Jason Segel’s script following Cook’s departure from the studio.[38][39]

Acting[edit]

As an actor, Oz appeared in one scene as a Prison Storeroom Keeper in The Blues Brothers (1980), directed by John Landis. He appeared in a similar role and scene in Trading Places (1983), also directed by Landis. He had roles in several other Landis films including An American Werewolf in London (1981), Spies Like Us (1985), Innocent Blood (1992) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). In 2001 he had a voice acting role in the Pixar film Monsters, Inc. as Randall's scare assistant, Fungus.[40] In 2005, he had a minor part in the Columbia film Zathura as the voice of the robot.

Other cameos have included playing a surgeon in scenes cut from the theatrical release of Superman III,[41] The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan and several other Jim Henson-related films that did not involve just his puppeteering.

Even if he does not appear in a Landis movie, his name is often spoken in the background. During airport scenes in Into the Night and Coming to America, there are announcements on the PA system for 'Mr. Frank Oznowicz'.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Oz was previously married to Robin Garsen.[1] He is now married to Victoria Labalme.[3] Oz is the father of four sons.[3] He maintained a residence in England for nine years[12] and currently resides in Manhattan (as of 2012).[3]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Film Director Producer Actor Role Notes
1979 The Muppet Movie No No Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Marvin Suggs
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
Also creative consultant
1980 The Blues Brothers No No Yes Corrections officer
The Empire Strikes Back No No Yes Yoda Puppeteer/Voice
1981 The Great Muppet Caper No Yes Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
Also producer
An American Werewolf in London No No Yes Mr. Collins
1982 The Dark Crystal Yes No Yes Aughra Puppeteer
Co-directed with Jim Henson
1983 Superman III No No Yes Surgeon Deleted scene
Return of the Jedi No No Yes Yoda Puppeteer/Voice
Trading Places No No Yes Booking cop
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan Yes No Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Bert
Cookie Monster
Ocean Breeze Board member
Additional characters
Also screenwriter
1985 Spies Like Us No No Yes Test proctor
Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird No No Yes Bert
Grover
Cookie Monster
Puppeteer/Voice
1986 Little Shop of Horrors Yes No No
Labyrinth No No Yes The Wiseman
1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Yes No No
1991 Muppet*Vision 3D No No Yes Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Sam Eagle
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
Theme park attraction
What About Bob? Yes No No
1992 Housesitter Yes No No
Innocent Blood No No Yes Pathologist
The Muppet Christmas Carol No Yes Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
Also executive producer
1995 The Indian in the Cupboard Yes No No
1996 Muppet Treasure Island No Yes Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Additional characters
Voice
Also executive producer
1997 In & Out Yes No No
1998 Blues Brothers 2000 No No Yes Warden
1999 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace No No Yes Yoda Puppeteer/Voice
Muppets from Space No No Yes Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Additional characters
Voice
Bowfinger Yes No No
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland No No Yes Bert
Grover
Cookie Monster
Voice
2001 The Score Yes No No
Monsters, Inc. No No Yes Jeff Fungus Voice
2002 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones No No Yes Yoda
2004 The Stepford Wives Yes No No
2005 Zathura No No Yes Robot Voice
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith No No Yes Yoda
2007 Death at a Funeral Yes No No
2011 Star Tours–The Adventures Continue No No Yes Yoda Voice
Theme park attraction
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey No No Yes Himself Documentary
2014 I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story No No Yes Himself Documentary
2015 Inside Out No No Yes Subconscious Guard Dave[42] Voice
Star Wars: The Force Awakens No No Yes Yoda[43] Voice (archive recording)
2017 Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched[44] Yes Yes Yes Himself[45] Documentary
Also producer
Star Wars: The Last Jedi No No Yes Yoda Puppeteer/Voice
2019 Knives Out No No Yes Post-production

Television[edit]

Year Title Actor Director Role Notes
1969–2012 Sesame Street Yes No Bert
Grover
Cookie Monster
Lefty the Salesman
Harvey Kneeslapper
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice; semi-retired from the show in 2001, now performs his characters a few episodes per year, until 2012.
1975–1976 Saturday Night Live Yes No The Mighty Favog Puppeteer/Voice The Land of Gorch segments
1976–1981 The Muppet Show Yes No Fozzie Bear
Miss Piggy
Sam Eagle
Animal
Marvin Suggs
George the Janitor
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
1977 Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas Yes No Alice Otter (puppetry)
Chuck Stoat (puppetry and voice)
Puppeteer/Voice
Television film
1989–1990 The Jim Henson Hour Yes No Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Puppeteer/Voice
1990 The Muppets at Walt Disney World Yes No Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Animal
Puppeteer/Voice
1994 Jim Henson's Animal Show Yes No Sam Eagle Puppeteer/Voice
Episode: "Bald Eagle"
1996–1998 Muppets Tonight Yes No Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Sam Eagle
Animal
Additional characters
Puppeteer/Voice
1999 CinderElmo Yes No Bert
Grover
Cookie Monster
Voice
Television film
2002 The Funkhousers No Yes Television film
2011 Leverage No Yes Episode: "The Carnival Job"
2015–2016 Star Wars Rebels Yes No Yoda Voice
2 episodes

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1996 Muppet Treasure Island Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Voice
The Muppet CDROM: Muppets Inside Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Animal
2000 Muppet Monster Adventure Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Muppet RaceMania Miss Piggy
Fozzie Bear
Sam Eagle
Animal

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Program Result[46]
1974 News & Documentary Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming
Shared with Fran Brill, Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson & Caroll Spinney
Sesame Street Won
1976 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Children's Programming
Shared with Gerri Brioso, Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson & Caroll Spinney
Won
1977 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series
Shared with Jack Burns, Dave Goelz, Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, David Lazer, John Lovelady, Jerry Nelson, Eren Ozker & Caroll Spinney
The Muppet Show Nominated
1978 Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series
Shared with Jim Henson, David Lazer, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt & Dave Goelz
Won
1979 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children's Programming
Shared with Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson & Caroll Spinney
Won
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series
Shared with Jim Henson, David Lazer, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt & Dave Goelz
Nominated

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Peterson, Karen; Hauptfuhrer, Fred (9 June 1980). "Yoda Mania". People. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "A Conversation with Frank Oz at the Museum of the Moving Image". Jimhensonlegacy.org. October 25, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d Paquette, Danielle (July 26, 2012). "Frank Oz speaks — but not as Yoda or Miss Piggy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  4. ^ "Frank Oz". AllMusic.
  5. ^ "Frank Oz Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on 2011-06-28. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
  6. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). web.archive.org. February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Plume, Kenneth (18 February 2000). "Interview with Frank Oz (Part 1 of 4)". IGN. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Oz L.A. Times Score article- Edward Norton Information Page". Workprint.powweb.com. 2001-07-09. Archived from the original on 2011-09-02. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  9. ^ "JewishJournal.com". JewishJournal.com. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  10. ^ Arnold, William (2007-06-08). "''seattlepi.com'' "Director Frank Oz takes a new tack with low-budget dark comedy, 'Death at a Funeral'" William Arnold, 6/8/07". Seattlepi.com. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  11. ^ a b Clark, John (12 August 2007). "Frank Oz and that little voice inside". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  12. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (16 August 2007). "Frank Oz". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  13. ^ "Children's Fairyland". The New York Times. February 5, 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  14. ^ "International Puppet Museum: Lettie Connell Schuburt". Puppetrymuseum.org. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  15. ^ Setoodeh, Ramin (11 March 2014). "How Kermit and the Muppets Got Their Mojo Back". Variety. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  16. ^ Lloyd, Robert (May 16, 2015). "If Harry Shearer leaves 'The Simpsons,' what will happen? Just ask Bugs Bunny". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  17. ^ merrick. "Capone With Frank Oz About DEATH AT A FUNERAL, What Went Wrong On STEPFORD, And (Of Course)..." Aint It Cool News. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  18. ^ Gray, Tim (January 15, 2018). "Rian Johnson Answers All Your Spoilery 'Star Wars' Questions About Luke And That Surprise Cameo". Variety. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  19. ^ Exclusive: A Chat with Frank Oz, comingsoon.net
  20. ^ Geoffrey K. Pullum (May 18, 2005). "Yoda's syntax the Tribune analyzes; supply more details I will!". Language Log. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  21. ^ "Countdown to an All-New Star Tours | Fans Insider | Disney". Disney.go.com. 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  22. ^ Rabin, Nathan. "The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark (9781556528255): Robert K. Elder: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  23. ^ Oz, Frank. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p. 272. Print.
  24. ^ "Capone With Frank Oz About Death at a Funeral, What Went Wrong On Stepford, And (Of Course) Yoda!!". Ain't It Cool News. 7 August 2007. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  25. ^ Plume, Kenneth (10 February 2000). "Interview with Frank Oz". IGN. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  26. ^ "Nicole Kidman-Frank Oz's Tense Remake". contactmusic.com. 2003-02-10.
  27. ^ Chitwood, Adam (3 January 2019). "The Curious Development History of 'Benjamin Button'". Collider (website). Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  28. ^ Cheney, Jen (29 May 2009). "The story behind 'Benjamin Button'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  29. ^ Yglesias, Linda (17 December 1990). "GETTING ALONG SWIMMINGLY". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  30. ^ Hinson, Hal (14 December 1990). "'Mermaids' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  31. ^ Clark, John (12 August 2007). "Frank Oz and that little voice inside". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  32. ^ Murphy, Ryan (15 November 1992). "A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : DEVELOPMENT HELL : 'Interview With a Vampire' and 'Dreamgirls' Looking Good to Ascend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  33. ^ Fleming, Michael (6 January 1997). "Stallone pumped about 'Ump'". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  34. ^ Carver, Benedict; Fleming, Michael (25 June 1998). "Willis may swing at 'Ump'". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  35. ^ "BRUCE WILLIS MAY BE OUT, BUT MOVIE 'UMP' STILL ON". Orlando Sentinel. 24 December 1999. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  36. ^ Campbell, Ramsey (23 August 2001). "MGM STUDIO STILL PITCHING IDEA OF FILMING 'UMP'". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  37. ^ Rabin, Nathan (16 August 2007). "Frank Oz". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 July 2019. I was asked to direct, like, the second Harry Potter and things like that, but I have no interest.
  38. ^ Masters, Kim (20 October 2011). "Kermit as Mogul, Farting Fozzie Bear: How Disney's Muppets Movie Has Purists Rattled". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  39. ^ Ihla, Andrew. "The untold truth of Frank Oz". Looper.com. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  40. ^ Paquette, Danielle (12 July 2012). "Frank Oz speaks — but not as Yoda or Miss Piggy". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  41. ^ "Frank Oz". supermancinema.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-13.[dead link]
  42. ^ "Pixar's 'Inside Out' Cast Includes Some Awesome Voice Cameos (Spoilers)". Stitch Kingdom. May 20, 2015. Archived from the original on May 22, 2015. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  43. ^ "J.J. Abrams reveals Obi-Wan and Yoda are secretly in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' - EW.com".
  44. ^ "A Frank Oz-Directed Muppet Show Documentary Is Coming - Muppet Fans Who Grew Up - Tough Pigs". 31 January 2017.
  45. ^ "Muppet Guys Talking - Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched".
  46. ^ "Frank Oz – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 2013-06-14.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None
Performer of Cookie Monster
November 10, 1969 (1969-11-10) – January 1, 2001 (2001-01-01)
Succeeded by
David Rudman
Preceded by
None
Performer of Bert and Performer of Grover
November 10, 1969 (1969-11-10) – January 1, 1998 (1998-01-01)
Succeeded by
Eric Jacobson
Preceded by
None
Performer of Marvin Suggs
1976-1981
Succeeded by
Eric Jacobson
Preceded by
None
Performer of Miss Piggy
1976 – 2002
Succeeded by
Eric Jacobson
Preceded by
None
Performer of Animal
1975 – 2000
Succeeded by
Eric Jacobson
Preceded by
None
Performer of Sam the Eagle
1975 – 2000
Succeeded by
Kevin Clash
Preceded by
None
Performer of Fozzie Bear
1976 – 2000
Succeeded by
Eric Jacobson