Were there any ideas that never got followed up on in Fraggle Rock?
ANGUS: There was a lot of discussion about a lot of things background-wise that never got explained, like where do Fraggles come from, and how are they born. At first they showed some of the Fraggles holding baby Fraggles, but somehow for some reason after awhile they didn't allow any of the puppets to hold baby Fraggles anymore because they didn't want to get into the issue of birth. One of the ideas was that they were going to have an egg with a Fraggle pop out of it, so the Fraggles where hatched, but it was never used.
There's always the question, "Well, what age is Gobo, Wembley, Mokey, Red, and Boober?" My guess is they were in their adolescence, because they acted like that way, at least to me anyway. Your only real adults were the Storyteller (Me), World's Oldest Fraggle, and Traveling Matt. They were the elders, more or less.
What Fraggles were most like their performers?
ANGUS: Let's see. Certainly not Karen, because Karen was never a tomboy, like Red is. None of them! I can't see any of them being exactly like their characters, because they do so many characters. They've done so many different facets of themselves. Boober is very neurotic, and Dave is not neurotic! Dave is self-assured and is a prankster, and Steve is nothing like Wembley.
I've always heard Steve described as terribly shy off-camera.
ANGUS: Yeah That's why I said he was a mystery to me, basically, because he never socialized like the other puppeteers did. I mean, Dave didn't to a certain point, either. The ones that socialized the most were Richard, Jerry, and Karen. That was about it. The rest of them kept to themselves or had other lives. Kathy was going out with Michael Frith at the time, and I think they eventually got married. I don't know if they're still married now. Every weekend Richard would fly down to New York to play around his stomping grounds, and Jim was always off on a new project.
ANGUS: We'd have a few off-set conversations. Mainly he was back on the plane to another project. To me, Jim was a bit of a workaholic, but he knew how to have fun too. I was very surprised that he died because he was the healthiest guy I could ever think of. The guy was a vegetarian. He kept himself very well. To die of pneumonia because he neglected to go to the doctor because he was way too busy or he didn't want to be a bother was a sad waste, but that was Jim. I found out that if they had given Jim a shot 48 hours before that he would not have died.
Was he approachable on set?
ANGUS: Oh, very approachable. If he was busy you would hesitate, because you didn't want to disturb him if he was making a decision on how a shot should be laid out. You don't bug a person when they're trying to set something up or direct. I toyed with Cantus a lot of times as Brio the Minstrel. He was the only Fraggle in the Minstrel group with glasses. Actually, all of my characters have glasses. Storyteller has glasses, Morris has glasses, and Brio has glasses.
Are they trying to pigeonhole you?
ANGUS: Actually I pigeonholed me. With Morris, anyway, I did that on purpose so I could see where I was in any given shot.
So we know that Fraggles have optometrists
ANGUS: We know four of them do, anyway! There's Storyteller, Morris, Brio, and Phil Fraggle, which was actually Phil Balsam singing "Easy Is The Only Way To Go" (from: "New Trash Heap In Town") and Steve did the puppet for it. Phil Fraggle's glasses are Brio's glasses. They took them off Brio and put them on Phil for that shot alone.
How often would Brian Henson visit the set?
ANGUS: My memory of Brian is very little. I remember him working on the radio controlled Doozers and Fraggles with Faz Fazakas and the others. I remember him smoking a lot, very quiet. Although he did joke around a lot with the other radio control workers. Faz Fazakas was a real nice guy and showed me how the rat controlled Doozers worked. They were called rat controlled because the rods that worked them where used on The Muppet Show rats. Later they built several radio controlled Doozers.
After Fraggle Rock, were you working freelance on Muppet specials while doing "Blizzard Island?"
ANGUS: Yes. Coincidentally, while I was doing "Blizzard Island," at the very same time they were doing "The Jim Henson Hour," so I couldn't get involved in that.
What was the premise of "Blizzard Island?"
ANGUS: "Blizzard Island" was about these two kids who had inherited a necklace from their mother. When you turned the center of this necklace you would disappear from our world and you would appear in the world of Blizzard Island, where everybody was after this necklace because of its magic powers. They find out that they've got to return this necklace to a giant named Argon. Now the world of Blizzard Island is dying, and it's affecting our world too, so this was a very small statement, not really touched on too much about the environment. They had to return the necklace in order for the giant to start healing the world and make everything well again. So with the help of this half dinosaur, half-furry monster named Rog, they try to seek out Argon to return the necklace.
Meanwhile, a villainous witch named Sidney and her uncle Eggbert, who's now a head on the wall of her lighthouse, is after the necklace on account of its powers. She figures that the necklace, if combined with her own powers, will make her the ultimate witch. Meanwhile, at the same time, another faction is after the necklace, Sir Python, who wants to get this necklace so he can return to his ancestral home. The witch whisked him from there because one of her spells kind of flopped and brought him to the island. He wants to get back, and he knows the necklace is a transportation device. So he has this hench-cat, Molcaster, and they try to get the necklace as well. I played both Sir Python and Sidney the Witch in the show.
My best friend Stoney Ripley and I created Blizzard Island. We took a home video camera and shot a 45-minute sample of it. It was very much Muppet-type humor, talking to the audience or the prop department, and all kinds of stuff like that. We put in all kinds of sight gags and line gags and foolishness. The series and two pilots ended up being a bit different. The premise was very much the same, but the way it was approached was a bit different and not as silly as Stoney and I originally planned.
ANGUS: Oh yeah, very much an adventure series. Good vs. evil stuff.
And how many episodes were produced?
ANGUS: Well, 12 episodes but if you count the two pilots, then 14 And I was able to get video copies of all of them.
Was this produced for the CBC?
ANGUS: Yes. CBC-Studio East Limited, which is now called Andrew Cochran Associates. And yes, I lost all the rights.
I assume the CBC has the rights to them?
ANGUS: No, Andrew Cochran Productions.
And plans to do nothing with them, I'm sure.
ANGUS: Well there's not much you can do with 12 episodes. It got canceled. There were a bunch of budget cuts going on at that time, and our show fell under the axe. Maybe with any luck they'll be put out on video, but I really don't think that will happen.
How was the transition made to do specials for The Jim Henson Company after Fraggle Rock?
ANGUS: Well only one of the specials I didn't really take to, The Christmas Toy, because I sat around a lot. I didn't get to do anyone. I was bored. It's very hard, once you've started doing principal characters like Sidney the Witch and Sir Python for "Blizzard Island," to go back to being a background puppeteer. Which is just that. You're in the background holding up extra characters. However the story and show itself was great and sentimental.
So the Muppets 30th Anniversary and specials like those, with large amounts of characters, were basically sitting in the background.
ANGUS: Well I had more to do in the other specials so I enjoyed those. I didn't have as much fun on The Christmas Toy because Karen wasn't there. I thought to myself at the time of The Christmas Toy, "You can't go back home. I can't get the same feeling here that I had with Fraggle Rock." Fortunately, the Muppet Family Christmas turned out wonderful. That was a lot of fun. It had real heart. I felt like we were just going through the numbers with The Christmas Toy. The Fantastic Miss Piggy Special was a lot of fun too.
Was that the first time you met Frank Oz?
Is Frank as serious and as solemn as he's made out to be?
ANGUS: A bit! He takes it much more seriously than anybody else. Although once he has someone like Fozzie on, then he's a big clown like the rest of us. Once Frank had Fozzie pick his own nose then fling it off camera for the Muppets 30th Anniversary.
How often did Frank visit the Fraggle Rock set?
ANGUS: Only the one time that I can remember.
And he never picked up a puppet?
ANGUS: No, he never got involved in Fraggle. He came in during the read-throughs, and he hugged everybody. They were just catching up on how they were all doing. So the only time I got to see Frank on the Fraggle Rock set was that day, maybe halfway through the series. I think he was sort of semi-retired at that point from puppetry and more into directing.
What was the Very Special Arts Festival?
ANGUS: That had to do with kids, who had different handicaps, that had special talents. Now, not many people know this, but I have Cerebral Palsy. It's not a severe thing. I can walk and all that with no problem, just a small limp. That show showcased a lot of kids who had disabilities and special talents and were able to make it in the world, and somehow this producer heard from Jim one time about my audition, how I had a Kermit there and said, "Hi daddy."
It was suggested that Jim and I show up and do a little routine. Jim brought Kermit, and they wanted me to bring my old puppet that I did the audition with. However, that puppet was left down in my mother's basement and, well how do I say this, it met with an untimely demise. Moisture, fabric and foam do not mix. It sort of deteriorated. I had to make a new puppet and pretend it was the old puppet. The problem at that point was my abilities to make one were too good. I had a hard time trying to make it seem like it was a cheap little thing that a kid would throw together. It ended up looking like a light version of Robin the Frog.
In the script my frog puppet was called Kerm-2. We sang "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." Jim had come out and made a speech about how I met up with him, and then I came up and made some comments, cute little jokes, and stuff, and then Kermit would come up behind me and say, "What are you doing here?" kind of thing. All of a sudden the band would begin to play an instrumental to "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." Kermit would turn to me and say, "Err, you're not going to sing, are you?" And then I would say, "Err, well Kermit, I was kind of hoping we'd be able to do this number together." And we went on and sang it. It'll always have a very special place in my heart.
Did Jim notice it wasn't the same puppet?
ANGUS: Oh yeah, well I told him on the phone. I said, "Well, Jim, that puppet's gone. It's dead. It's dead Jim." And he said, "Well, can you kind of make one that looks like it?" And I said, "Well, I don't have the same material. I originally made that out of upholstery for chairs, and it was very tough stuff to work with." I didn't even have that material around. I decided I'd make him two versions, and I'll give him a choice of the two. I took the one and beat it, smashed it, dragged it through the mud and did everything I could to distress it, and Jim picked the other Robin-like one I'd done nothing to. He looks at them and goes, "Hmm, let's go with this one." After all I did to that poor puppet and he picks the clean puppet!
So in the end the special worked out well.
ANGUS: It was very lovely. It was very nice. I got a copy of it on tape too.
Well that was 1989, so within a year, Jim had passed away. Where had you heard the news?
ANGUS: I was cleaning out my workshop and my phone rang. It was my wife. She was out doing errands, and she calls me up and tells me that somebody told her in the store that Jim had passed away. I said, "Come on... I'm sorry Cheryl, but someone I think is pulling your leg." Basically, this is the healthiest man I know, so it can't be. "Look, I'll turn on the news and if it's there then we'll believe it, otherwise we'll dismiss it as someone just trying to be mean."
So I put everything down in the shop immediately, and turned the TV on, turned to different stations, and obviously the news hadn't quite begun at that point. Then, all of a sudden on the teleprompter, there it was "Muppet creator Jim Henson dead at 53." Then you're sort of like, "Oh no! No, that can't be. " You're sort of in denial at that point. "No way. It can't be. It just can't be." After it sank in, it was quite hard to take.
Did you attend his funeral?
ANGUS: I couldn't, no. I didn't have the money at that point to make it into New York. At that point, I was very much unemployed, had been for quite awhile, and didn't have much money. So I couldn't attend. I wanted to, but I couldn't.
How did you hear of Richard's death?
ANGUS: Karen told me about that one, although I had heard rumors that he had contracted AIDS, but Karen confirmed it with a phone call one night telling me that Richard had passed away. She thought I should know. That was around 8 o'clock one night.
Did that come as an equal surprise as Jim's death?
ANGUS: Yeah, yeah it did, I had heard of a rumor that Richard had AIDS but I dismissed it as just that, a rumor. Unless I heard it from Karen or some source I can rely on, I dismiss it completely. I mean, rumors can get around like crazy. Like the rumor that they were going to make Ernie and Bert gay and such. Which is just nonsense and is totally not true.
A lot of those got started after Jim's death.
ANGUS: Yeah. And this guy is going to die or this monster. Take it from me, no one will kick off for a very long time. Although a few months after Jim passed away it was debated weather or not Kermit or Ernie would continue. They played old clips of Jim's Ernie and Kermit for a year or so, until they and Steve grew comfortable doing Ernie. And I think Steve does a wonderful Ernie. In fact, I mistook it for Jim one day.
His Kermit is a bit higher pitched.
ANGUS: Yes, it doesn't have the same authority that Jim's Kermit had, but hey, Steve is not Jim, and I am not Jim. We can impersonate Jim, but we really can't be Jim.
And most of his characters have not come back, like Rowlf and Dr. Teeth.
ANGUS: Well, Rowlf did appear in Muppets Tonight during the Garth Brooks episode. I don't know if that was someone doing his voice or if they where pulling previous Jim audio.
From what I heard, that was Bill Barretta doing the voice.
ANGUS: So he did that, did he? I thought, wait a minute, are they pulling audio from another source that Jim did. (In Rowlfs voice), "Oh yeah."
I did notice that it must be difficult to sync up the hands with the piano playing.
ANGUS: Well, that's why Jim usually just did the head, and he would have Steve or whoever was available do the hands for the piano playing. That way Steve could control, fully, the piano, and Jim would have Rowlf's head moving and talking. Usually when you have to have something coordinate like that, then you usually have the other puppeteer do both arms. It was the same thing with the Swedish Chef. Frank did both hands.
Would you consider in the future, if the opportunity came up, working with the Henson Company again?
ANGUS: I would, yes. Or at least I think I would.
On your web page you have a puppet character called Butch G. Cat. Who is that?
ANGUS: Oh Butch, yes. He's a character I created for "The Miracle Network Telethon." The IWK is a hospital for sick children, which I went to for all my operations as a kid. So the way I give back to them is by doing Butch for the telethon for two full days. This airs only in the Atlantic Provinces here in Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. So every year Butch G. Cat appears there to help raise money for the hospital.
What new projects are you working on these days?
ANGUS: Ok. I have been developing two or three different ideas for puppet TV projects. One is for my Butch G. Cat character called "Butch the Cat Show." Butch is a bumbling reporter in this show. The other is called "Tooth and Claw," and it's about those who want to be in a rock band. The third is "Sara's Friends," and that show is about how people with disabilities should be treated like everyone else. Lately, I've had a dog puppet advertising the cartoons on a local TV station, ASN.
I've also been working with a production company in Manhattan, Kansas called "Four Fish Fly Free." This show teaches music in all its forms. It's about a school of fish attending Atlantis Elementary. The main characters are four flying fish: Red (a male, not to be confused with Red Fraggle), Blue, Copper and Neon. I play the part of Neon and Coach Grunion. I also made all the puppets on the show.
The thing that's really going to sell this show is the music written by the two creators of the program, Chuck and Mary Lynn McMichael. So far, five direct to video episodes have been done that should hopefully be out before Christmas, with more direct to videos to be made later in the new year, and hopes that it will be on TV soon.