A puppeteer who performed with Jim Henson’s Muppets, the actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter Frank Oz, is a man of clearly many talents. Although he directed some excellent feature films, such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, In & Out, Bowfinger, and What About Bob, what he is perhaps most famous for is his voice.
Millions of children and adults alike owe this artist a huge thanks for bringing to life some of the most beloved characters in the history of entertainment, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Sam the Eagle in The Muppet Show, and Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert in Sesame Street.
Frank Oz is not just a master of voices, he is also responsible for the evolution and development of the Muppets in the past 30 years. He appeared as a Muppet performer in nearly 80 productions, among other contributions.
Nonetheless, what he is perhaps most famous for is the beloved Jedi Master Yoda from George Lucas’ Star Wars series. Originally Lucas wanted Jim Henson to perform the part of Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, but he was too busy and recommended Oz for it instead. And it was quite a recommendation, for Oz proved to be simply perfect for the role.
Henson was still around, helping Lucas with the puppet technology needed to create Yoda, but it was Oz who actually created the distinctive voice and personality of the character. Most importantly, he was also the man behind the distinct “Yodic” style of reversed grammar.
Although it’s been nearly 40 years since the character of Yoda appeared for the first time on the big screen, fans keep approaching Oz and asking him to do the voice. However, Oz simply won’t do it. “You wouldn’t parade your kids around like that, would you?” he told the LA Times. “They’re part of me. I won’t use them as a party favor to impress people.”
Born Richard Frank Oznowicz on May 25, 1944, in Hereford, England, to Frances and Isidore Oznowicz, who were both puppeteers, Oz expressed interest in the art of puppets early in his life and went on to become one of the most successful in the world, securing himself a place in pop culture history.
He spent his early years in Belgium before his parents decided to immigrate to the United States when Oz was 5 years old. Although he always dreamed of becoming a journalist, Oz launched his puppet career in his teenage days, working at a puppetry theater in Oakland.
His life changed completely upon meeting Jim Henson at a puppet conference and he eventually joined Henson’s Muppets team. A career full of successes followed as he created some of the most iconic characters in the world of puppets.
What truly skyrocketed him to fame was Sesame Street and Oz is credited with the invention of the legendary characters of Bert, Grover, and Cookie Monster. The Muppet Show followed later, in which Oz was one of the key creators, performing Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal.
Oz’s next challenge was the movie industry and after performing Yoda in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, he appeared in several more movies, including John Landis’ The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Innocent Blood, and in the Pixar film Monsters, Inc.
Apart from acting he also became a prolific director. Starting off as a co-director of the fantasy film The Dark Crystal, he went on to direct a great number of movies, including The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop Of Horrors, The Score and Death at a Funeral. The film Bowfinger, starring Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, and Heather Graham, has become a particular favorite on cable TV.
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There is no other Hollywood director with a similar path to the one Oz took to achieve what he did. And what he achieved is truly amazing. From Miss Piggy to 900-year-old Jedi Master Yoda, Oz embodied such diverse creations it is hard to believe that anyone will ever be able to top it.