Ryan Dosier – For the past two weeks I’ve been haphazardly tossing out my thoughts on one of Jim Henson’s greatest projects: Fraggle Rock. Two weeks ago I discussed the amazing characters and last week I focused on the powerful and toe-tapping music of the series. This week I struggled with what I wanted to talk about–mostly because there are so many wonderful aspects of the show to discuss. I decided to combine a few elements of the series here under one heading: Silly Creatures. No, I’m not talking about Doc and Ned Shimmelfinny and the folks Traveling Matt encounters in Outer Space… I’m talking about the Muppeteers, writers, and other talented people who brought Fraggle Rock to life.
The most obvious place to start this week is with the co-creators of Fraggle Rock. Alongside Jim Henson, the show was brought about due to the combined efforts of Jerry Juhl, Jocelyn Stevenson, and Michael Frith. Jerry Juhl was often credited as the soul of Fraggle Rock. As head writer for The Muppet Show and scribe of the first two Muppet movies, Jerry was the natural choice of Jim Henson’s to create and write Fraggle Rock. Jerry’s contributions to the show can never be understated. He was on set daily to watch the proceedings, he wrote many of the greatest episodes (including “The Secret Society of Poohbahs” and the finale episode), and he had a crucial, wonderful relationship with the Muppet performers. It was because of this relationship that Jerry and the performers were able to develop the characters so fully and so brilliantly. Jerry’s insights into writing, characterization, and dedication to a project have never been more apparent than on Fraggle Rock. It was his favorite project, and it truly shows.
Jocelyn Stevenson was another of the show’s co-creators and one of the most prolific writers on the staff. She worked closely with Jerry Juhl to make the show something more than regular children’s fodder. If you have never seen who Jocelyn is, you need to watch some of the bonus features included on the Fraggle Rock season set DVDs. She is absolutely brilliant and if New Regency doesn’t get her to at least consult on the Fraggle Rock film script, they’re making a huge mistake. No one alive today knows Fraggle Rock as well as Jocelyn Stevenson. Her insight is tantamount and one need only look at her slate of episodes to understand that: “Scared Silly,” “I Want to Be You,” “The Minstrels,” “The Honk of Honks,” just to name a few. No one wrote Cantus the Minstrel like Jocelyn (and hardly anyone wrote him besides Jocelyn) and Red, Mokey, and Boober were always fantastic in Jocelyn Stevenson scripts.
When it comes to working with the Muppets, it’s difficult to find someone as instrumental as Michael Frith. As head designer for many, many years, Frith was crucial in the look and feel of countless Muppet characters–including virtually every main character on Fraggle Rock. His designs also helped shape the set design for the series. Frith’s drawings are always incredibly detailed but beautifully simplistic. Take a look at just one of his early concept drawings for the Fraggle Five…
Beautiful, isn’t it? Of course the characters would evolve in design from there, but even on this rough notebook paper sketch, the feel of the characters is already there. (Just look at Boober!) Michael Frith also came up with the idea for the Trash Heap as an oracle to the Fraggles. Michael Frith is another person I would love to see somehow associated with the Fraggle Rock movie project–after all, he’s married to Kathryn Mullen, performer of Mokey, so if she’s around hopefully he will be too.
Lawrence “Larry” Mirkin was the producer extraordinaire on Fraggle Rock. He was a part of the production team from day one of conceptual work to the final day of filming. He worked as a producer on many other Henson shows as well, but Fraggle Rock was probably his favorite project. He and his production company are responsible for the incredible special features on the Fraggle Rock DVDs (special features which have never been matched by any other Henson related release). Larry Mirkin is still associated with The Jim Henson Company and will hopefully be involved in any future plans they have for Fraggle Rock stuff.
Of course I can’t talk about Silly Creatures without mentioning the Muppet performers. I already discussed the incredible work of Jerry Nelson, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Karen Prell, Kathy Mullen, and Richard Hunt in a previous installment of the series–and I could talk about them for a week’s worth of posts–but today I’d like to focus on some performers who never get enough credit: the body performers of the Gorgs. Gordon Robertson (Pa Gorg), Trish Leeper (Ma Gorg), and Rob Mills (Junior Gorg) started as a trio of mimes before becoming the Gorgs. It’s hard to imagine the three bumbling giants without their incredible body movements. The slapstick, dancing, and dexterity of these giant suits would not have been possible without these body performers. They were just as important as the voice and face performers.
Fraggle Rock was the work of many, many Silly Creatures dedicated to bringing to life a brand new, incredible world. This post spotlights just a few of the many talents who worked on the show. Of course I missed so many people… Faz Fazakas, Susan Juhl, the other writers, the tertiary puppeteers, Don Gillis, and so many others. Watch the special features on the DVDs for more information on all of these people and more. I can’t do it justice as well as they can.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, email@example.com