Tough Pig Incredible Journey

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cat Hypnotism

By the way, I would like to point out that it is apparently possible to hypnotize me through the cunning use of cats.
Danny 3107.8

 Isha, I like your hat. It goes especially well with your third arm.
Michal 3109.25

Fire escape grating?
You and your fetishes.
Scott to Quinn 3110.59

You mean this isn't the Tough Estelle Getty forum?
Ryan R 3110.80

There's no way I'm discussing the weather on a Muppet fan message
board. I simply refuse. What's the cliché about weather and conversation?
I can not, and will not post about how it snowed lastnight, and we got
about a foot or so. And that it warmed up today, but is quite cold now,
and windy.
And I certainly will not mention anything about how the
dumbfuck-hired-help-snow-shovelor did a crappy job clearing a 3 car
occupancy drive-way, by only removing enough snow for one car.
I can't believe it's come to this. On Tough Pigs, of all places, we're discussing the weather!?! Sheesh.
Patrick 3119.23

Best weird call I ever got was when I lived in a house run by an organization called "St. Paul's Outreach."
I picked up the phone and the man said, "Hello! Is St. Paul there?"
And, thinking it was a prank call from the guys' house I laughed. The man says "May I speak to St. Paul please?" and I stopped laughing. The guy said "Is this the house of St. Paul Outreach?" I said "Yes!"
He said "My name is such and such from such and such bank. May I speak to St. Paul?"
I said "Uhhhhhhm..."
and he says "Wait. ... ... Is this a church?" and I said "Yes." and he hung up.
Isha 3119.42


Also, you win a thread all to your very own, which you can enjoy for about three posts, then watch in horror as it gets hijacked and is yanked further and further off topic, until it consists of nothing but the words "goat," "monkey," and "Quinn's penis."
Kynan 3125.2

Of Bug-Eating and Johny Fiama

If you'd think anything would be obvious, it'd be Italian Johnny Fiama products.
Anthony 3084.2

Eating bugs just isn't cutting it anymore. People need to be prepared.
Guest 3085.9

And that post just magically changed before my eyes. You're an amazing man.
But we've covered that.
Quinn to Danny 3086.5

I think the pantless bear is being abused.
Quinn 3087.3

My idea is this: A collection of funny forum lines from 2003, which I can post around New Year's for the amusement and nostalgia of all. We're witty people and we say many funny things, so I thought it would be neat to grab all the funny stuff out of context and put it on display
Danny 3089.1

Some thoughts for you all as you look back over the TP year:
John is the funniest human who ever lived.
Ryan is the funniest STRAIGHT human who ever lived.
Danny is not human, so he's in a different category.
 Kynan, obviously, is me. So, you know. Extra points.
Michal is a Funny Little Thing. (This could be more important than you realize.)
Let's not forget -- Isha is (or, at some point, was) a really nice girl. Her innocence (or lack thereof) must be worth something.
Warrick has the body of Fabio, the heart of a newborn 10-year-old boy, and a weird thing for Dionne Warwick. He either deserves our respect, or our pity. Possibly both.
Joggy manages to be weird and obtuse in many languages simultaneously. As for Julia, ditto, but for "weird and obtuse," substitute "hot and sexy."
Ditto Thijs, but for "hot and sexy," substitute, "unpronounceable." Also "lucky."
Alaina went away to learn how to be a better hippie, and came back with tales of animal mutilation. Heart of gold, sure, but her words tell a different story.
Anthony, bless his soul, has read every TP thread ever conceived. He is not yet, as far as we know, criminally insane. He's gotta deserve SOME kind of reward.
 Emmy is Emmy. I think you know what I'm trying to say.
But above all -- Jess is my girlfriend. So she gets EXTRA special treatment. Not everyone is mentioned here. That's because I'm drunk...Also lazy.
Kynan 3089.30

Since you're offering, I'll take a platypus. Or a wallaby, if that's more convenient.
Anthony 3089.33

Exploding heads are a learning experience. I've survived two of them, and one by one my friends have decided it's trendy and followed suit.
Michal 3096.16

I'm at work right now (obviously, since I'm at TP) and just got a call from Melissa--evidently Miles has been standing two feet from the TV for the last 30 minutes watching VMX. She said he breaks away at commercials and comes over to her and says "ELMOCOOKIEKRRKRRGOHELLOBEAR!" and points at the screen, and then the Muppets come back and he goes back into his trance.
We're such good parents.
Quinn 3103.38

YAY! The Little People will have their own goat to ...appreciate!
Quinn 3106.19
Oh, quinn. May thy lust for the goat never slacken.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Frank Oz Interview

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/33610

Frank Oz: Your tape recorder reminds me of these big clunky tape machines we used to have on "Sesame Street." It's so nice to see that.
Capone: Are you talking about machines to tape your voices as you shot the show?
FO: No, we had songs to do, and the tapes had the piano tracks on them so we could rehearse the songs.
C: Very few people have commented on my machine before, but I had a feeling for some reason that you might. You seem like a craftsman.
FO: Well, it's so solid. It's nice to see the thing turning; you don't know what the hell is happening with the digital recorders. It's more of a mensch. It's not slick; it's a nice mensch thing.
C: Well, thank you. Completely unconnected to interviewing you here today, I've been going through the first season DVDs of "Saturday Night Live."
FO: I've been told about that, but I haven't seen it.
C: I'm just a little too young to remember that season when it was new, and I probably only caught select sketches in later years, but it's been so much fun to see the routines that "Jim Henson's Muppets" did on that show.
FO: I did an interview yesterday, and someone mentioned that. We did all the shows during the first year except the first one.
C: Were the Muppets segments actually live?
FO: Oh yeah. All live. It was fun.
C: How did that come together?
FO: Bernie Brillstein was Jim's agent and manager. He was also Lorne Michael's manager and Danny's [Aykroyd] and John's [Belushi] and I think even Chevy's [Chase] at that time.
C: Okay. The other thing I'm noticing about that season is the very throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks attitude about each episode. To have tThe Muppets in the middle of that season, I wouldn't call it a natural fit…
FO: No it wasn't a natural fit. Part of the problem was that it wasn't a natural fit. It really stuck out like a sore thumb after a while, and they didn't know how to write for the Muppets. And as much as we were on very friendly terms with everybody--we were very friendly with John and Danny--professionally, it was very tense. And eventually, fortunately, they did great, and we got an offer to do "The Muppet Show," so it worked out great for both of us.
C: Strange that you should mention that, because "The Muppet Show" DVDs are also just now starting to come out on DVD.
FO: Is it?
C: The first season is out, and the second season is set to come out later this summer.
FO: I didn't know that.
C: It's got to be kind of exciting to consider that more than one generation of viewers are getting to discover some of this great early work.
FO: It is, it's really nice. That's one nice thing about the new technology is that shows are brought back
C: My wife's maiden name is Grover, I kid you not. So the fact that I'm sitting here right now with you is making her very happy.
FO: I adore Grover.
C: And she's got a collection of Grover memorabilia that would shock even you. I'm sure you've been asked this before, but what is Grover?
FO: That's interesting. I used to do a lot of characters. I haven't done them for about four or five years, and a lot of the characters you work on hard, and Grover just sort of evolved; he just kind of organically came into being. He wants to help; he wants to do everything right. That's why he doesn't use contractions, that's why he talks that way.
You always have to have a reason why a character does things, and there's a reason that Yoda talks the way he does, there's a reason Grover talks the way he does. And Grover does that because he is trying his very best to do the right thing, and the right thing is to use the proper words. And he will try and help people, but don't cross him because he's kind of wiry. He's not a wimp.
C: And where did the Super-Grover identity come from?
FO: That came from the writers' minds. One of the writers, Jon Stone, who's one of the fathers of "Sesame Street," or Jeff Moss wrote it, both of them are two great friends who have passed away.
C: In having seen the first season of "The Muppet Show" recently, and looking at the host lineup for the second season, that must have been a really great time. The people that are hosting that show are show business elite, probably some of your heroes. I see that Peter Sellers is the host of one of the second-season shows. My God!
FO: Oh yeah, Peter was there. All those shows, it was the worst of times, it was the best of times. The only "worst" time there was is if you do 24 half-hour episodes every year, it's a tough grind. You don't have a lot of social time; anybody who does series TV knows that. But the other part, working with these talented people and Jim Henson, who was so brilliant, I always enjoyed working with.
We worked like hell, but we had a lot of fun. That part was absolutely amazing. And the people involved, Peter Sellers, Rudy Nureyev. In the first few months, we weren't on the air yet, so nobody knew who we were. We couldn't get any guests; once we were on, we got a lot of guests.
C: The second season is definitely…
FO: Yeah, that's when it hit hard. So many things. We had fun with Elton John. I remember we were singing "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," and he was wearing one of those wild feather outfits with the glasses. [laughs]
C: Was there a particular host you really remember being fun? Or really getting it?
FO: No. Well, Harry Belafonte's show. Harry really worked hard with Jim to put his signature on his show. So I have a lot of respect for Harry. But people like Johnny Cleese, Bob Hope's show is funny. Peter's show. Can't forget Rudy's show, that was pretty good. We had 120 guest stars, 120 shows in five years.
C: I remember around that same time that Muppet characters used to make appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.
FO: That's what we were known for at first. We were an act in the beginning. We'd go from the Perry Como show to the Bob Hope show to the Johnny Caron to Jack Parr to "The Today Show" to awards show. We did the Emmys and the Oscars, the Grammys, we did it all. Yeah, that's what we were in the beginning.
C: What was it about the relationship between Kermit and Ms. Piggy that people seemed to cling to and identify with?
FO: There's some sort of recognizable affectionate tension in any relationship. I think the complexity of the pushes and pulls in any relationship, in part, is what people saw. But the truth is, I don't know. People saw themselves in them.
C: Did you have much to do with the physical look of the Muppet characters?
FO: When they were made, I'd give my two cents, but basically Jim designed them and they were made by the workshop people. I just performed them.
C: It makes sense then that your first few films--THE DARK CRYSTAL, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS--were puppet-based works.
FO: DARK CRYSTAL was not my film. Jim asked me to direct, but it was his vision. He just asked me to help him direct and help fill certain voids. Then I did MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and after that I started on DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS and moved away from the puppets.
C: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS was a successful musical at a time when musicals were essentially dead on screen.
FO: I know. And it did fine. David Geffen [the film's producer] was the guy there. And Howard Ashman [the musical's writer] is a genius. It was very unusual to put money in a movie like that, but David did it. It was quite an endeavor for everybody.
C: I'd probably be banned from writing if I didn't ask a couple of Yoda questions. Have you ever been to a STAR WARS convention?
FO: Never. I don't do them. I won't do them. That's not my job. I create a character. I don't like to exploit characters, I like to create them. I just tend to do that. I don't do personal appearances or any of that. I've been asked to so many times, and I always say no.
C: That doesn't surprise me. I know that when you've been asked to do a particular voice during an interview or on a talk show, especially Yoda, you always decline.
FO: There are a lot of reasons. Certainly when I'm promoting a movie like this or any R-rated movie, I won't do it because I don't want people to think it's a kids' movie. And I don't want to be a trained monkey. It's like talking to a plumber and saying, "Hey, while you're here can you fix my sink?" I love the characters, but also I don't want to treat them cavalierly and just kind of toss them off when anyone asks me.
C: I noticed that your name has been attached to the new "Clone Wars" animated TV series as Yoda's voice. Are you, in fact, a part of that, because I remember you weren't a part of the original series.
FO: I know nothing about that. I haven't seen George for about a year. I could call him and find out, but I know nothing about it. Don't believe the internet. [laughs]
C: Believe me, I don't. I know you've talked about this before and I promise not to dwell on it, but what was your initial reaction when George Lucas told you Yoda was going digital?
FO: I thought it was great, because I'd done two, three movies with him as a puppet character, which is very hellish and very tough to do, for me and three other people. But George wanted the big fight with Dooku, and there is no way you could do that with a puppet. There's just no way; it's impossible, too many limitations. So George had no choice. And they were very respectful, Rob [Coleman, animation director at ILM] and all those guys.
There are actually a couple dozen people that work on Yoda now as CGI, and I'm the one that gets all the credit. Before, the voice was nothing compared to all the hard work I used to do; now I get the credit but don't do the hard work. They do the hard work. Yoda had to change. George wanted to do more things with the character, so he had to change.
C: Was there ever time when there would just be CGI for the fight scenes and everything else would be puppet work?
FO: No, never. But at the same time, George and Rob were very respectful, as I said. And whenever they did Yoda as CGI, they always referenced my performance in EMPIRE. They used that as the touchstone.
C: I think a lot of the fans who were appalled by the decision when they first heard it changed their tune once they saw that fight scene.
FO: Yeah, you can't stay still in one place; you've got to change. And it would just limit George's storytelling doing it the old way. He just couldn't do all the stuff he wanted to do.
C: He doesn't seem to cling to nostalgia in terms of technology.
FO: He just wants it to work.
C: This may seem like a completely bizarre question…
FO: And the others haven't been? [laughs]
C: Not compared to this one. Are you aware of the style of hardcore rock singing that is called "Cookie Monster"?
FO: I've heard about it! Somebody told me about it about six months ago, and I just cracked up. I haven't heard it, but those people must hurt their voice as much as I hurt mine.
C: Well, I'm glad that someone is keeping you up to date on these major world issues. In terms of the entire Jim Henson company, going from "Sesame Street" to "The Muppet Show" to THE DARK CRYSTAL, it seems as if the organization was growing up with his original audience.
FO: But don't forget, he also did--and I had nothing to do with it--five years of "Fraggle Rock." We never saw it as, you do this, then you do that. With Jim, you never stopped working. Whenever you did something, you did something else at the same time. I don't know if the progression was something that was planned by Jim. I just know that when Jim got excited about something, that was what mattered. I never got a sense of planning, except that Jim always tried to do the impossible and push the envelope. Always. DARK CRYSTAL may have had its problems, but it's an amazing vision. He wanted to make it like the old real Grimm's fairy tales that kids were actually frightened of.
C: I have this beautiful old coffee table book with all the sketches and drawings from that film.
FO: That's right, of the drawings. Those are beautiful.
C: With you being in the city of Chicago today, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about your pivotal role in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Did that come out of knowing the "Saturday Night Live" guys, or did you know John Landis.
FO: I knew John. He was a fan, and when we did THE MUPPET MOVIE, I didn't know John, but he invited Jim and I to dinner. And John was always a fan, and as a matter of fact, there's that big scene at the end of THE MUPPET MOVIE where there are about 250 puppets, and John is actually handling Grover. And there's another director holding a puppet that I didn't even know about until later: Tim Burton. He was more of a fan, and we got to know John, and whenever he needed a prick in a movie, he's say, "Get Frank Oz."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dark Crystal interview

Staying power is true magic of Henson's 'Dark Crystal'
Peter Hartlaub, Chronicle Pop Culture Critic
Monday, June 25, 2007

Dave Goelz vividly remembers the first day filming Jim Henson's "The Dark Crystal," mostly because it was such a disaster.
It took six performers to control each of the animatronic Skeksis creatures, with two jammed in the bird-like body and four more shuffling in near darkness on a platform underneath the scene. On the film's very first shot, Goelz teetered off the raised landing, pulling one of his colleagues with him.
"I stepped off the riser. I just felt us start to tilt and go. Luckily a stagehand or somebody caught me before we took a horrible fall," remembered the puppeteer, who also performed Gonzo on "The Muppet Show," and is now settled in rural Marin County. "After that, I thought, 'Jim has really bitten off more than he can chew this time. We're never going to get this done. His optimism is going to do him in.' "
It was one of many setbacks for the groundbreaking 1982 production, the first live action movie that included no human actors. The thrill of finishing the all-puppet movie was eclipsed by the mostly negative or indifferent response from critics. Henson's 1986 follow-up, "Labyrinth," was an even bigger disappointment, garnering slightly better reviews but bombing at the box office.
Considered failures at the time, the productions have been vindicated over the years, falling somewhere between cult favorites and classics. Sony Pictures Home Video in August will release new DVDs of both movies, stocked with extras including a George Lucas interview.
And Henson's children are working with a San Francisco company on "Power of the Dark Crystal," a big-screen sequel that features much of the creative team from the original.
Brian Henson, Jim's eldest son, worked as a young puppeteer on "Labyrinth." Henson said his dad was upset at the time that the movies weren't received enthusiastically.
"Obviously, he was a very proud artist," Henson said during a phone interview last week. "He was used to being loved (and) I think it knocked him a little, because he knew he had done something extraordinary."
In "The Dark Crystal," two elf-like Gelflings must restore a broken crystal to prevent the evil Skeksis from ruling forever. The world was created from scratch by Henson, artist Brian Froud and the puppetmakers in Henson's Creature Shop, who also created the plant life, terrain and backgrounds.
"Labyrinth," which had a few human characters (including David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly), features a girl whose baby brother is stolen by a goblin.
The reasons for the movies' enduring popularity are debatable and complicated.
Along with some campy qualities -- Bowie starred as a singing goblin king -- the films featured complex themes that touched on genocide and tyranny. At a time when Disney's animation was in a rut, and a live-action kid movie might feature Don Knotts, Tim Conway and a field-goal-kicking mule, "The Dark Crystal" didn't talk down to kids.
Frank Oz, who co-directed "The Dark Crystal," says Henson was looking for something more thematically challenging than his earlier work on "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Movie."
"What Jim wanted to do, and it was totally his vision, was to get back to the darkness of the original Grimm fairy tales," Oz said in an interview earlier this month. "He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn't think it was healthy for children to always feel safe."
While neither movie played to huge audiences in the theaters, they received a second life in the home video market.
In recent years, musical acts including the Crystal Method and rapper Xzibit have sampled the films' dialogue or Trevor Jones' memorable scores. Television's "South Park" has referenced "The Dark Crystal" several times.
Screenings of "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" bookend the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' "Muppets, Music and Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy" retrospective, which continues this week. Film curator Joel Shepard said "The Dark Crystal," which was sold out Saturday night, had strong advance sales. The Chronicle's parenting blog is presenting three matinee screenings of "The Dark Crystal" at the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater this weekend.
Brian Henson said that when his father died in 1990, both movies had already started to enjoy a cult following. "He was able to see all that and know that it was appreciated," he said.
The Jim Henson Co., now run by Henson's children, announced in 2005 an upcoming sequel to "The Dark Crystal," directed by "Samarai Jack" creator Genndy Tartakovsky. San Francisco's the Orphanage is reportedly producing "Power of the Dark Crystal" at its Los Angeles animation studios. Designer Froud and composer Jones are attached to the production, along with original writer, Dave Odell.
Brian Henson said the new "Crystal" will mix a lot of styles, including puppetry and a new 3-D animation technique that is being developed by the studio. The earliest release date, he said, is late 2008.
While audiences seem to love "The Dark Crystal," some of the movies' creators consider it a flawed piece of work. Jim Henson wanted the Skeksis to speak their own language, but dialogue was dubbed in English at the studio's insistence, which worked poorly. The plot was criticized for its similarities to the "Lord of the Rings" mythology. And Gelflings Jen and Kira, who will return in the sequel, had an unnerving resemblance to Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.
When asked his feelings about a "Crystal" sequel, Oz had a one-word answer: "Why?"
"I think the story was weak. The story could be a lot more complex," Oz said. "There was always a problem with the two characters. But as a piece of filmmaking, I thought it was absolutely extraordinary."
Goelz says the first days on the set of "The Dark Crystal" were tough, but it wasn't long before they had scrapped rehearsals and were performing on the fly.
"Within two weeks we were all ad-libbing in the characters, and six performers could perform a single character in an almost fluid fashion," Goelz recalled. "It was amazing."
And despite Goelz's feelings that "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" are imperfect, he's also become a pretty big fan.
"I have issues with the whole storylines and certain aspects of the character work, but especially now that I have kids, it means so much to me," Goelz said of his work on "Labyrinth." "I look at it and I think it wasn't quite successful as a picture, but it hit all these emotional chords along the way."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

POOP chat: May 30, 2007

"YOU'RE sexual, like Karen Prell."
Shawn, cat, May 30, 2007

"Beth is heartless."
Ryan R

"I hope to read some academic give a blissful analysis of class hatred among the Frackles."
Andrew Leal

"One night only: Jog IS Emma in 'The Emma Story!"
Ryan R

"Here, quote this: BOOGERS"
Shawn

" I am also naked under Beth and Jackie's clothes."
Ryan R

And the big topic of the night is: POOP

"Does the the elephant and poop statue still exist in Central Park?"
Jogchem

"This thing went down the toilet in a hurry, like POOP"
Shawn

"All these beans are giving me gas and POOP"
Carolyn

"I'd like a neopolitan hose"
Ryan R

"Was I funny?"
Shawn
....
"POOP"
Carolyn
....
"I was funny once."
Ryan R

"I ought to go home. Beth will be the only girl. Besides Shawn."
Carolyn

Monday, March 26, 2007

FYI

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Milady the Right Reverend Beth the Elegant of Molton St Anywhere
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Sunday, March 18, 2007

James Frawley interview

The Poop: Here's the most important question. How did you get Kermit the Frog to ride a bike?
James Frawley: Every time I show the film -- whether it's to film students at USC or UCLA or I'm going to a festival -- that's always the first question: How did Kermit ride the bicycle? And my stock answer is: I put him on a three-wheeler until he got his balance, and then I put him on the two-wheeler.
TP: I'm looking at your IMDB entry. You started out as an actor, and then all of a sudden you're directing "The Monkees."
JF: I was an actor in New York, and I had studied with Lee Strasberg and The Actors Studio and I did Broadway and off-Broadway, but at the same time I was very interested in photography. ... I picked up a 16mm camera and I shot two short films and edited them myself. They won a lot of awards and attracted the attention of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, two young producers in Hollywood at that time. Because I had been an improvisational actor and done a lot of comedy, they thought I'd be a perfect combination to direct "The Monkees."
TP: How did you get "The Muppet Movie" job?JF: Jim Henson had seen "The Monkees" and liked my work on that, and seen some other television that I had done. He knew that I had been an actor, and thought that I was the right combination for The Muppets. He flew me to London where they made "The Muppet Show." We met, and we had an immediate connection.
TP: Why didn't they direct it themselves?
JF: Up until that time they had never shot film. They had only shot tape, and they had never shot outside the studio. So (Henson) knew that he needed somebody who was a filmmaker and knew what to do with the camera. And he felt pretty good about my sense of humor. It seemed like a good combinations of talents for his Muppets. I had a very childlike approach to my work, and the Muppets fit in well with that.
TP: You also directed the pilot episode of "Ally McBeal." It seems like you specialize in blending fantasy and reality.
JF: You're absolutely right. I'm very comfortable with things that are of another world, or are not real. I've always enjoyed things that were quirky and off the beaten path.
TP: How did you approach directing "The Muppet Movie"?
JF: I had seen the show on the air, but I had no idea how they did it. So I learned the technique of Muppet performers -- they use cameras to watch themselves perform, and sets had to be built six feet off the ground, so the floor could be taken up and they could work from underneath.
TP: How was "The Muppet Movie" different than "The Muppet Show"?
JF: They had never been shot outdoors, or in car or real locations, and we pretty much had to invent it as we went along. Every shot had never been done before, because nobody had taken Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy and Kermit and put them in a Studebaker. It's the same thing that Peter Jackson had to do on his ("Lord of the Rings") films. None of that had ever been done before in the style that he did it.
TP: It doesn't sound like it was fun all the time.
JF: We just had to approach it like an adventure, and have the confidence and humor and good will to know that you can't make a mistake. And there was such a sense of comraderie and love and community that Jim Henson and his people brought to the work. I had no choice but to embrace it and let it carry me along.
TP: Was there one scene that was the most challenging?
JF: You have to figure that you had four grown men under the dashboard of that Studebaker. Fozzie Bear was operated by two people, Kermit was operated by somebody else and then Miss Piggy by somebody else. They had to have video imaging of what they were doing, so they could watch their own performance as it happened. And then we had a little person in the back of the car, steering and driving. We had a video camera on the nose of the car so he could see where he was going.
TP: Jesus.
JF: (Laughs) That was the most challenging. And all it looks like when you see the movie is a pig, a frog and a bear driving down the road.
TP: What was it like working with all the guest stars. You were a pretty young director, and you're on a set with Bob Hope and Milton Berle and all these other legends?
JF: They were all a pleasure to work with. We agreed to have them one day and one day only. They agreed to do it because they loved the Muppets. Some had more belief in the Muppets than others, but they were just a joy. Richard Pryor had a great deal of fun. And Jim Coburn was a friend of ours.
TP: What about Orson Welles?
JF: Orson Welles was just a joy. He had a history of magic and he knew that the Muppets were a form of magic and he knew every character's name. He even knew we had changed the color of somebody's hat.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Featherhood

By JAMES SULLIVAN January 21, 2007
If the voice of Big Bird, as welcoming as the nicest kid on your first day of kindergarten, is instantly familiar to generations of Sesame Street viewers, it was not always so. Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer from Massachusetts who has spent almost four decades inside the towering yellow costume, says the character’s original voice was not gentle and curious but laughably dopey, like an overgrown yokel, a big galoot. It was, Spinney notes with amusement, alarmingly like the voice of a certain purple dinosaur whose name shall be mentioned under no circumstances on the show’s set.
Big Bird’s dum-dum voice didn’t last long. During the show’s inaugural season in 1969, Spinney persuaded Jim Henson, the late Muppets creator, that the bird should think and act more like its young audience. Spinney has imagined his fine-feathered alter ego as an eager-to-learn 6-year-old ever since.
Even out of costume, Spinney, still spry at 73, exudes a sense of youthfulness. He recently wrapped the show’s 38th season and says he has no immediate plans to step aside as Big Bird. But he admits the ungainly, claustrophobic costume is physically taxing, and he has quietly begun scaling back on his Bird duties, preparing for an inevitable replacement. Versatile puppeteer Matt Vogel, Spinney’s understudy, now stands in during the taping of selected segments and for some public appearances.
Spinney – whose silvery Vandyke adds to his air of refinement and whose voice has a hint of the nasality that makes Big Bird’s so distinctive – says Vogel is a natural: Besides the fact that he moves well in the tricky costume, his surname is the German word for bird. Still, he adds, “I’d like to do it as long as I can hold the bird’s head up.” It’s not an easy task. The head weighs 6 pounds and is controlled by Spinney’s right arm from inside the suit. The creature stands 8 foot 2 overall and is rigged with a tiny monitor inside so the puppeteer can see how the character appears on camera.
On a recent afternoon at the Sesame Street studio in Queens, Spinney is inhabiting his other alter ego: Oscar the Grouch. During a break in taping, two wide-eyed schoolgirls visiting the set ask to have their picture taken with the mangy green puppet. “What are you doing after the show?” teases Oscar in his sandpaper gargle. The gruff character, patterned after a flinty New York cabbie Spinney flagged down before a meeting with Henson, lets Spinney blow off some of the steam that inevitably builds up by playing the relentlessly good-natured Big Bird.
It’s also a little more reflective of Spinney’s own childhood. His father, Spinney recalls, could be an irascible, sometimes frightening figure, and the puppeteer vowed at an early age to keep his own composure. “My father was a lovely old man, but when he was younger, it was terrible,” he says, taking lunch in his hotellike dressing room, where Big Bird’s ribbed leggings and floppy orange feet hang out of a bureau drawer.
When Spinney was 6, the family moved from Waltham to Acton. At a rummage sale, he bought a monkey puppet for a nickel. Money was scarce during wartime, he recalls. The resourceful youngster made a sign promoting a puppet show in the family barn. He charged 2 cents, and 16 people came. “It was 9 cents to go to the movies in Maynard,” he says. “I said, ‘Boy, I’m in the big time.’ ” (Today, Spinney and his wife, Debra, live on a sprawling estate in northern Connecticut and keep a tiny apartment in New York when Sesame Street is in production.)
He produced amateur puppet shows throughout his teen years, in part to raise money for tuition to art school. That dream was cut short by military service during the Korean War. Stationed in Las Vegas, where he made drawings of bombs for training manuals and trained pilots on how to attack, Spinney worked his way onto local TV with a show of his own called Rascal Rabbit. Back in Boston, he appeared on a summer replacement series called Judy and Goggle. The show wasn’t picked up for the fall, but Spinney would join the local version of Bozo’s Big Top, featuring Frank Avruch as the famous clown. Throughout the 1960s, Spinney created a menagerie of popular characters, including Mr. Lion, Picklepuss, and Kookie, the boxing kangaroo. “He was extremely talented,” recalls Avruch, talking about both Spinney’s puppetry and his artwork. “I still have some of his drawings. . . . I tell people, ‘Big Bird did this.’ ”
As Spinney honed his craft at various puppetry festivals, he became smitten with Henson’s Muppets, which by the mid-1960s were already making regular appearances on network variety shows. When Henson asked Spinney to join his new venture with the Children’s Television Workshop – the two had talked years earlier about working together – he jumped at the chance.
Back on the present-day Sesame Street set, Spinney, wearing jeans, black suede shoes, and a brightly striped Oxford shirt, crowds behind Oscar’s trash can with puppeteer Jim Martin, who will handle the Grouch’s right hand. (Spinney animates the left hand, mouth, eyebrows, and voice.) Biding time, Spinney grooms the 36-year-old puppet with his fingers, pulling off a little snarl of green yarn.
For episode 4,143, Oscar is narrating a fairy tale called “Sleeping Grouchy,” featuring Grungetta as the title character and Elmo as a wizard trying to wake her. Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash, is having difficulty pronouncing a word, and the cast is amused by his comic frustration.
“Elmo does a lot of very funny things,” says Spinney, chuckling as he watches takes on a monitor. He should know: Elmo actually originated in the early 1970s as Baby Monster – played by Spinney. In that incarnation, the character didn’t last long. But the ones that did became two of the most famous characters in all of make-believe. “It’s marvelous to know that hundreds of millions of children know Big Bird and Oscar,” Spinney says. “It feels like that’s what my life work was intended to be.”