Muppet writer Jerry Juhl dies at 67
was due to complications from pancreatic cancer, diagnosed five
weeks earlier, said his wife, Susan Juhl.
of News Wire Reports
Juhl, July 27, 1938 - September 27, 2005
Juhl, the Emmy Award-winning former head writer for the Muppets
who provided much of the heart and soul to Jim Henson's iconic troupe
of fleece and foam puppets, has died. He was 67.
Juhl, who also
co-wrote most of the Muppet feature films and wrote for "Sesame
Street" during its early years, died of cancer Sept. 27 in
a hospital in San Francisco, said Arthur Novell, executive director
of the Jim Henson Legacy. Juhl, who was semiretired, lived in the
Northern California town of Caspar.
"The Muppet Movie," which marked the Muppets' move to
the big screen in 1979. He later wrote the screenplay for "The
Muppet Christmas Carol" and co-wrote "The Great Muppet
Caper," "Muppet Treasure Island" and "Muppets
also served as head writer and creative producer on the award-winning
"Fraggle Rock," Henson's 1983-87 TV series about a race
of small creatures that live underground.
of the humor, irreverence, caring and heart that has been central
to our work for 50 years began with Jerry Juhl," Henson's daughter
Lisa, co-chief executive of the Jim Henson Co., said in a statement.
"He was — in many ways — the real voice of the
Muppets and of every project from the Jim Henson Co."
Frank Oz, the
director and veteran Muppet performer whose characters include Miss
Piggy, said Juhl "brought tremendous soul" to the Muppets.
was the person responsible really for the heart of the Muppets,"
Oz told The Times on Wednesday. "He just knew the characters
better than anybody else. He was brilliant because he could be funny
but not nasty. He always saw the affection between the characters.
else could do that kind of writing…. He was the Muppet writer."
in St. Paul, Minn., in 1938, Juhl fell in love with puppetry at
age 9. His passion, which included building his own puppets, creating
puppet plays and performing them, continued after his family moved
to Menlo Park, Calif., when he was 14.
a theater arts major at San Jose State University, he was a puppeteer
on a local children's TV show. He also served as director of the
Vagabond Puppet Theater, a traveling three-person puppet theater
sponsored by the Oakland parks department. There, he was joined
by the teenage Oz, a budding puppeteer.
looked up to him because I was just a kid and this guy was actually
doing the real work," said Oz, adding that Juhl did not so
much have a passion for puppetry "as a sense of fun" for
it. "That's what we had with the Muppets, too."
In 1961, after
he and Oz met Muppet creator Henson and his wife, Jane, at a puppeteer
convention in Monterey, Juhl joined the Hensons as a puppeteer and
writer on their local TV show in Washington, D.C., "Sam and
As the Muppets
gained increasing national television exposure, he worked closely
with Henson in developing the sketches that were performed on "The
Jimmy Dean Show" and other television variety shows. Eventually,
Juhl made the transition to writing exclusively.
it for self-protection," he joked. "I never rated much
[as a puppeteer], so I figured I'd better save my job by doing something
With the 1969
launch of "Sesame Street," Juhl spent six seasons as a
writer on the classic children's show, during which he received
two Emmy Awards.
1977 to 1981, he served as head writer of "The Muppet Show,"
the syndicated variety show featuring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy
and dozens of other characters.
During his years
on "The Muppet Show," Juhl received awards from the Writers
Guild of America for individual episodes featuring guest stars Marisa
Berenson (1978) and Liza Minnelli (1979). And in 1981, he received
an Emmy for the "Dance Marathon" episode featuring Carol
a Muppet performer whose characters include the Great Gonzo, said
Juhl "was a big part of the warmth of the Muppets."
a philosophy I think Jim [Henson] started out with — that
people are basically good, life is to be enjoyed, take care of other
people, there's enough for everybody — and Jerry was absolutely
in sync with that," Goelz told The Times.
an interview with the Seattle Times in 1996, six years after Henson's
death, Juhl said the appeal of the Muppets "has something to
do with the fact that it crosses over generational lines. It reminds
adults of childhood and innocence. There's a sweetness we get away
with without being sentimental."
And adults were
kept entertained with the sharp, witty writing.
pound on the desk and say, 'We are not doing children's puppetry
here!' " Juhl recalled. "Because in the late 1950s, when
he got in, puppets were for kids. He wanted to make puppetry for
on his career, Juhl said: "Puppets are wonderfully magical
things, but one of the most fiendishly difficult art forms we've
created for ourselves. Good puppetry is amazing, but it's so difficult."
And, he added,
"I don't know if it's different writing for Muppets than humans
because I spent my whole career writing for Muppet characters. But
I always say that with Muppets, you can't write feet."
Juhl is survived
by his wife of 40 years, Susan, and his brother, Phil.
of Juhl's life will be held at noon Nov. 12 at Caspar Community
Center, 15051 Caspar Road, in Caspar, where he and his wife were
active in helping preserve the natural beauty of the area.
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• "Pioneers of Television" special
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