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Frank Richard Oznowicz
May 25, 1944
Hereford, Herefordshire, England
|Alma mater||Oakland City College|
(m. 1979; div. 2005)
Frank Oz (born Frank Richard Oznowicz; May 25, 1944) is an American actor, retired puppeteer, and filmmaker. He is best known for his involvement with Jim Henson and the Muppets, Star Wars, as well as his directorial work in feature films and theater.
During his adolescence, Oz worked as an apprentice puppeteer in Oakland, California. Despite his interest in journalism, Oz continued his career as a puppeteer when he was hired by Jim Henson in 1963 to work for The Jim Henson Company where he went on to perform several characters in multiple television series and specials. Oz performed the Muppet characters of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle on The Muppet Show (1976–1981), and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover on Sesame Street (1969–2013). He also performed the character of Yoda in the Star Wars series, beginning with The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and reprising the role in six subsequent films and various media over the course of the next forty years.
His work as a director includes The Dark Crystal (1982), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991), In & Out (1997), Death at a Funeral (2007), and an episode of the US television series Leverage (2011).
Oz was born on May 25, 1944, in Hereford, Herefordshire, England; the son of Frances (née Ghevaert; 1910–1989) and Isadore Oznowicz (1916–1998), both of whom were puppeteers. Some of their puppets survived the war and were presented at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. His father was also a window trimmer. His parents moved to England where the father joined the Dutch Brigades. Oz's Dutch-Polish father was Jewish, and his Flemish mother was a Catholic. They left England when he was six months old and lived in Belgium until he was five. Oz and his family moved to Montana in 1951. They eventually settled in Oakland, California. Oz attended Oakland Technical High School and Oakland City College. He worked as an apprentice puppeteer at Children's Fairyland as a teenager with the Vagabond Puppets, a production of the Oakland Recreation Department, where Lettie Connell was his mentor.
Oz performed as a puppeteer with Jim Henson’s Muppets. As a teenager, he worked with the Vagabond Puppets at the Children's Fairyland of Oakland, which is how he first met Henson. He was 19 when he joined Henson in New York to work on the Muppets in 1963. His characters have included Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle on The Muppet Show, and Cookie Monster, Bert and Grover on Sesame Street.
In addition to performing a variety of characters, Oz was one of the primary collaborators responsible for the development of the Muppets, known most notably for his chemistry with Jim Henson himself, performing in such pairings as: Ernie and Bert; Cookie Monster and Kermit the Frog; Kermit and Miss Piggy; Kermit and Fozzie Bear; Kermit and Grover; Ernie and Cookie Monster; Rowlf the Dog and Fozzie Bear; Rowlf and Miss Piggy, and The Swedish Chef (Henson performed the head and voice, with Oz normally operating the hands). Oz performed as a puppeteer in over 75 productions, including Labyrinth (as the Wiseman), 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 (continuing to perform on Sesame Street on a yearly basis through 2012). In 2001, his characters were taken over primarily by Eric Jacobson (with David Rudman as Cookie Monster).
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."
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 be assigned as the 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). Director Rian Johnson decided to return to using a puppet instead of using CGI in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), even using the original mold, because he felt CGI would not have worked as it was not true to the Yoda Luke knew in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). 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." Oz had a great deal of creative input on the character and was himself responsible for creating the character's trademark syntax. Oz returned to voice Yoda in several Disney theme park attractions, Star Tours–The Adventures Continue and within Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge as well as in the Star Wars Rebels episodes, "Path of the Jedi" and "Shroud of Darkness".
He directed the 2017 documentary Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched in which he and other Muppet performers discuss working behind the scenes with Jim Henson and the Muppets.
"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."
Oz began his behind-the-camera work when he co-directed the fantasy film The Dark Crystal with long-time collaborator Jim Henson (Oz also puppeteered Aughra and the Skeksis Chamberlain in the film). The film featured the most advanced puppets ever created for a movie. 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 its ultimate size, required up to 60 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).
In 2016, Oz directed a one-man stage show titled In & Of Itself starring Derek DelGaudio, which had its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse on May 16. In April 2017, with the financial backing by Neil Patrick Harris among others, the play began its Off-Broadway theatrical run, which was initially slated for 10 weeks, but ended up extending its run for 72 weeks. In October 2020, the streaming service Hulu purchased the rights to a live recording of the play, which debuted on January 22, 2021.
In the late 1980s, Oz was attached to direct a film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 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 figure out how to make the story work.
Oz was also going to direct the 1990 film Mermaids after Lasse Hallström dropped out of the project. However, Oz also left the project due to creative differences and was ultimately replaced by Richard Benjamin. Oz reportedly did not get along with Cher, who starred in the film.
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.
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). However, Oz later retracted his statement about turning down the project in a 2021 interview: "No, they didn't offer it to me. They asked me if I was interested. So it wasn't really an offer."
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.
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. In 2005, he had a minor part in the Columbia film Zathura as the voice of the robot. He played a lawyer in the critically acclaimed 2019 film Knives Out.
Oz played a surgeon in scenes cut from the theatrical release of Superman III. Other cameos have included 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.
When Oz does not appear in a Landis film, 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".
Oz was married to Robin Garsen from 1979 to 2005. He married his second wife Victoria Labalme, daughter of historian Patricia Hochschild Labalme, in 2011. Oz has four children. He maintained a residence in England for nine years and, as of 2012, lives in Manhattan.
|1981||The Great Muppet Caper||No||Yes|
|1982||The Dark Crystal||Yes||No||Co-directed with Jim Henson|
|1984||The Muppets Take Manhattan||Yes||No||Also writer|
|1986||Little Shop of Horrors||Yes||No||ADR Voice|
|1988||Dirty Rotten Scoundrels||Yes||No|
|1991||What About Bob?||Yes||No|
|1992||The Muppet Christmas Carol||No||Executive|
|1995||The Indian in the Cupboard||Yes||No|
|1996||Muppet Treasure Island||No||Executive|
|1997||In & Out||Yes||No|
|2004||The Stepford Wives||Yes||No|
|2007||Death at a Funeral||Yes||No|
|2017||Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind |
the Show the Whole World Watched
|2021||Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself||Yes||No|
|1969–2013||Sesame Street||Bert |
Lefty the Salesman
Regularly until 2001; however, he continued to perform his
characters a few times a year until 2013.
|1975–1976||Saturday Night Live||The Mighty Favog||Puppeteer/Voice The Land of Gorch segments|
|1976–1981||The Muppet Show||Fozzie Bear |
George the Janitor
|1977||Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas||Alice Otter (puppetry) |
Chuck Stoat (puppetry and voice)
|1989||The Jim Henson Hour||Miss Piggy |
|1990||The Muppets at Walt Disney World||Miss Piggy|
|1994||Jim Henson's Animal Show||Sam Eagle||Voice;|
Episode: "Bald Eagle"
|1996–1998||Muppets Tonight||Miss Piggy |
|2015–2016||Star Wars Rebels||Yoda||Voice;|
|2002||The Funkhousers||Television film|
|2011||Leverage||Episode: "The Carnival Job"|
|1996||Muppet Treasure Island||Miss Piggy |
|The Muppet CDROM: Muppets Inside||Miss Piggy|
|2000||Muppet Monster Adventure||Miss Piggy|
|Muppet RaceMania||Miss Piggy|
|2020||Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge||Yoda|
|2021||Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge – Last Call|
Awards and nominations
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- "The Jim Henson Legacy - A Conversation with Frank Oz at the Museum of the Moving Image". May 16, 2021. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved August 21, 2023.
- "Frank Oz". AllMusic.
- "Frank Oz Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- A Hitler puppet stashed in Frank Oz’s Oakland attic tells his family’s Holocaust story
- Peterson, Karen; Hauptfuhrer, Fred (June 9, 1980). "Yoda Mania". People. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
- Plume, Kenneth (February 18, 2000). "Interview with Frank Oz (Part 1 of 4)". IGN. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
- "A Conversation with Frank Oz at the Museum of the Moving Image". Jimhensonlegacy.org. October 25, 2011. Archived from the original on December 24, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
- "Oz L.A. Times Score article – Edward Norton Information Page". Workprint.powweb.com. July 9, 2001. Archived from the original on September 2, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- "JewishJournal.com". JewishJournal.com. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- Arnold, William (June 8, 2007). "seattlepi.com "Director Frank Oz takes a new tack with low-budget dark comedy, 'Death at a Funeral'" William Arnold, 6/8/07". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- Clark, John (August 12, 2007). "Frank Oz and that little voice inside". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- Rabin, Nathan (August 16, 2007). "Frank Oz". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- "Children's Fairyland". The New York Times. February 5, 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
- "International Puppet Museum: Lettie Connell Schuburt". Puppetrymuseum.org. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- "Frank Oz on life as Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Yoda: 'I'd love to do the Muppets again but Disney doesn't want me'". the Guardian. August 30, 2021. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
- Mailman, Erika (September 16, 2010). "Looking Back: Muppet man Oz got the start at Children's Fairyland in Oakland". East Bay Times. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Sauer, Patrick (August 13, 2018). "A Theory About Muppet Master Frank Oz". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- "The Jim Henson Company | Our Founders". www.henson.com. Archived from the original on February 18, 2021. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Kamp, David (March 14, 2018). "Frank Oz on His New Muppet Documentary, Miss Piggy's Troubled Past, and More". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
- Setoodeh, Ramin (March 11, 2014). "How Kermit and the Muppets Got Their Mojo Back". Variety. Retrieved March 12, 2014.
- 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.
- "Capone With Frank Oz About Death at a Funeral, What Went Wrong On Stepford, And (Of Course)..." Aint It Cool News. August 7, 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Jones, Brian Jay (2016). Jim Henson: The Biography. Random House. p. 308. ISBN 9780345526120.
- 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.
- Wonke, Anthony (director) (2018). The Director and The Jedi (Documentary).
- Exclusive: A Chat with Frank Oz, coming soon.net
- "Countdown to an All-New Star Tours | Fans Insider | Disney". Disney.go.com. May 10, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- Breznican, Anthony (April 13, 2019). "Frank Oz will voice Yoda in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge theme park". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
- Frank Oz to Voice Yoda in ‘Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, Oculus.com
- "The Muppet Guys Talking". muppetguystalking.com. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Rabin, Nathan (2011). The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. Robert K. Elder: Books. ISBN 978-1556528255. Retrieved September 26, 2011 – via Amazon.com.
- Elder, Robert K. (2011). "Frank Oz on Touch of Evil". The Film That Changed My Life. Chicago Review Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-556-52825-5.
- "How the new Dark Crystal used modern tech on Henson's old-school puppetry". SYFY Official Site. August 26, 2019. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
- "Capone With Frank Oz About Death at a Funeral, What Went Wrong On Stepford, And (Of Course) Yoda!!". Ain't It Cool News. August 7, 2007. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
- Plume, Kenneth (February 10, 2000). "Interview with Frank Oz". IGN. Retrieved April 27, 2015.
- "Nicole Kidman-Frank Oz's Tense Remake". Contactmusic.com. October 2, 2003.
- "Frank Oz To Helm World Premiere of Derek DelGaudio's: In & Of Itself". Geffen Playhouse (Press release). March 16, 2016. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
- Cox, Gordon (February 13, 2017). "Magic Show Produced by Neil Patrick Harris and Directed by Frank Oz to Open Off Broadway". Variety. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
- Rubin, Rebecca (October 22, 2020). "Hulu Buys Derek DelGaudio's 'In & Of Itself' Movie Directed by Frank Oz". Variety. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
- Chitwood, Adam (January 3, 2019). "The Curious Development History of 'Benjamin Button'". Collider. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Cheney, Jen (May 29, 2009). "The story behind 'Benjamin Button'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Yglesias, Linda (December 17, 1990). "Getting Along Swimmingly". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Hinson, Hal (December 14, 1990). "'Mermaids' (PG-13)". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Clark, John (August 12, 2007). "Frank Oz and that little voice inside". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Murphy, Ryan (November 15, 1992). "A look inside Hollywood and the movies: Development Hell : 'Interview With a Vampire' and 'Dreamgirls' Looking Good to Ascend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Fleming, Michael (January 6, 1997). "Stallone pumped about 'Ump'". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Carver, Benedict; Fleming, Michael (June 25, 1998). "Willis may swing at 'Ump'". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- "Bruce Willis May Be Out, But Movie 'Ump' Still On". Orlando Sentinel. December 24, 1999. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Campbell, Ramsey (August 23, 2001). "MGM Studio Still Pitching Idea of Filming 'Ump'". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Rabin, Nathan (August 16, 2007). "Frank Oz". The A.V. Club. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
I was asked to direct, like, the second Harry Potter and things like that, but I have no interest.
- Hiatt, Brian (January 28, 2021). "A Conversation With Frank Oz: 'In & Of Itself,' His Greatest Film Moments, Baby Yoda, and More". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
- Masters, Kim (October 20, 2011). "Kermit as Mogul, Farting Fozzie Bear: How Disney's Muppets Movie Has Purists Rattled". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Ihla, Andrew (April 4, 2018). "The untold truth of Frank Oz". Looper.com. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Paquette, Danielle (July 12, 2012). "Frank Oz speaks – but not as Yoda or Miss Piggy". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
- "Frank Oz". supermancinema.co.uk. Retrieved December 13, 2011.[dead link]
- de Semlyen, Nick (2019). Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the '80s Changed Hollywood Forever. New York: Broadway Books. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-9848-2666-4.
- Paquette, Danielle (July 26, 2012). "Frank Oz speaks – but not as Yoda or Miss Piggy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
- "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.
- Breznican, Anthony (December 20, 2015). "J.J. Abrams reveals Obi-Wan and Yoda are secretly in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' - EW.com". Entertainment Weekly.
- McHenry, Jackson (December 20, 2015). "Obi-Wan and Yoda make a brief appearance in The Force Awakens…". Vulture.
- "A Frank Oz-Directed Muppet Show Documentary Is Coming – Muppet Fans Who Grew Up – Tough Pigs". January 31, 2017.
- "Muppet Guys Talking - Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched".
- "Frank Oz – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved June 14, 2013.