Michael Earl (puppeteer)

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Michael Earl
Born Michael Earl Davis
(1959-09-10)September 10, 1959
Oakland, California
Died December 23, 2015(2015-12-23) (aged 56)
Cause of death Colon cancer
Occupation Puppeteer, actor, singer, songwriter
Years active 1968–2004

Michael Earl (September 10, 1959 – December 23, 2015) was an American puppeteer, actor, writer, singer and songwriter. A four-time Emmy Award-winner whose credits include Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street (1978–81) and Dr. Ticktock in Ticktock Minutes, a musical series of PSA's on PBS he also co-created, scripted and wrote lyrics for that garnered 11 Southern Regional Emmys, a 1998 National Emmy for Best Public Service Announcements, a Gabriel Award, 2 Parents' Choice Awards and numerous other honors. Earl performed the original Shrek character in a motion-capture development test film for DreamWorks and puppeteered lead characters in Paramount Pictures' Team America: World Police.[1]


Michael Earl (Davis) was born in Oakland, California and 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, which ran for three years. He performed original puppet shows from ages 10–17, and on weekends during his high school years, Earl was an apprentice at Children's Fairyland Puppet Theater in Oakland, CA, which Frank Oz's father (Mike Oznowicz) sometimes visited[citation needed].

At 17 he attended a puppetry festival where he met Kermit Love, who spoke to Jim Henson (as did Oznowicz) about the young puppeteer. 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, Earl was hired sight-unseen by Jim Henson for The Muppet Movie and subsequently won the role of Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street (replacing Jerry Nelson, the originator), also creating the roles of Forgetful Jones, Oscar the Grouch's pet worm Slimey, Poco Loco, Polly Darton and the Honkers. His other Muppet credits include The Muppets Take Manhattan, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, Little Muppet Monsters, The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, The Jim Henson Hour, Sesame Street's 20th Anniversary Special and Dinosaurs. Earl also appeared (as a puppet Alien) opposite Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black II[citation needed].

Earl mentored and/or coached many TV and film puppeteers, including Drew Massey, Kevin Carlson, Camille Bonora, Russell Nauman and James Murray. He served as a puppetry consultant to entertainment companies such as MCA/Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and Disney, working one-on-one with the Vice President of Disneyland Entertainment to conceive, develop and write puppet- and non-puppet live events, including Haunted Passages on the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. In 1989 he co-wrote and directed 7 puppeteers operating 80 puppets in The Snow Queen at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in Los Angeles[citation needed].

Earl toured the U.S. giving concerts for children and their families, combining his talents as a singer, songwriter and puppeteer. He worked one-on-one with children and adults, teaching them puppet making and performance through such organizations as the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Mark Taper Forum/Music Center, California Youth Theatre, L.A.'s Best, Puppeteers of America, L.A. Inner City Arts, Beverly Hills Parks & Recreation, Kaiser Permanente, The Sycamores, L.A. Unified School District, Art Share L.A, Hollywood Arts Council and the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. In 2002, Michael created the "Puppet Power!" program through California Youth Theatre,[2] where he taught, designed, co-built, directed and produced the first and second annual Ivar Puppet Festival, involving 150 L.A. Unified School District teens from two different high schools building dozens of giant 15-foot puppets they performed at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood[3]'.

In 2008 Earl made a brief appearance on the Sky One observational documentary series UK Border Force when he was filmed being refused entry into the UK at Heathrow Airport, as his employer had not obtained a work visa for him. He briefly gave a demonstration of some of his puppetry skills in a lighter moment whilst he waited for his deportation.

In 2010, he opened Puppet School. In December of that year, the school premiered a new original musical, called "It's a Monster World," where Earl performed on stage alongside his advanced students. Michael Earl continued teaching television puppetry at his Los Angeles studio while writing and developing shows that would "encourage, instruct and strengthen children of all ages through the imaginative use of music and puppetry."

In May 2011, Puppet School premiered a sold-out run of another live stage show called "Puppet Jukebox" in Hollywood. The same year Earl returned for "Puppet Jukebox 2" and announced his plan to launch "TV Puppets Unplugged!" - a touring lecture/demonstration that featured stories and film clips from his 30-year career. Earl joined one final performance with his Puppet School students in August 2012 entitled "I'm a Broadway Puppet." Shortly after the show ended, he publicly revealed his cancer diagnosis. Due to his failing health, he retired from teaching at his school. Puppet School eventually shuttered in July 2015.

Personal life and death[edit]

Earl lived in Los Angeles, California. On December 23, 2015, he died at the age of 56 from colon cancer, which he had for three years.[4]


Anime roles[edit]

Non-anime roles[edit]

Live action roles[edit]


Movie roles[edit]


  1. ^ "Puppetmaster Michael Earl on his roles in Sesame Street and The Muppets". Liverpool Daily Post. 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  2. ^ Carpenter, Susan (2004-02-12). "Handy man". L.A. Times. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  3. ^ "Fantasy Figures". Los Angeles Daily News. 2003-01-04. 
  4. ^ http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/the-muppets-sesame-street-veteran-muppeteer-michael-earl-dies/

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jerry Nelson
Performer of Mr. Snuffleupagus
1978 – 1981
Succeeded by
Martin P. Robinson
Preceded by
Performer of Forgetful Jones
1979 – 1981
Succeeded by
Richard Hunt