Frank Oz (born Richard Frank Oznowicz; May 25, 1944) is a British-born American film director, actor and puppeteer who is known for creating the characters Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear in The Muppet Show and for directing films including Little Shop Of Horrors and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He is also the operator and voice of Yoda.
Oz was born in Hereford, England, the son of Frances and Isidore Oznowicz, both of whom were puppeteers. His parents were refugees from the Holocaust who moved to England after fighting the Nazis with the Dutch Brigades. Oz's Dutch/Polish father was Jewish and his Flemish mother was a lapsed Catholic. Oz moved to Oakland, California, United States with his parents when he was five years old. He attended Oakland Technical High School and Oakland City College.
As a puppeteer
Oz is known for his work as a puppeteer, performing with Jim Henson's Muppets. His characters have included Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam the Eagle on The Muppet Show, and Grover, Cookie Monster and Bert on Sesame Street, among many others. The Muppet character Fozzie Bear is not named after Frank Oz, as is believed by some.
In addition to performing a variety of characters, Oz has been one of the primary collaborators responsible for the development of the Muppets over the last 30 years. Oz has performed as a Muppeteer in over 75 movies, video releases, and television specials, as well as countless other public appearances, episodes of Sesame Street, and other Jim Henson series. His puppetry work spans from 1963 to the present, though he has retired from the Muppets. His Muppets were taken over by Eric Jacobson, though Oz still performs his characters on occasion. He also worked with the puppets on the movie Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.
Oz is also well known as the performer of Jedi Master Yoda from George Lucas' Star Wars series. Oz performed the voice and puppet for Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, and provided the voice of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) Yoda in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The conversion to CGI was met with some criticism among fans but Oz himself said that was "exactly what [Lucas] should have done." Oz had a great deal of creative input on the character and was himself responsible for creating the character's trademark syntax (whose nature some professional syntacticians discuss in their spare time. George Lucas was so impressed by Oz's performance as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back that he tried to get him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
As a director
Oz began his behind-the-camera work when he co-directed the fantasy film The Dark Crystal with long-time collaborator Jim Henson. The film featured the most advanced puppets ever created for a movie. Oz further employed those skills in directing 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan , as well as sharing a screenwriting credit.
In 1986 he directed his first movie that did not involve Henson, Little Shop Of Horrors. The musical film starred Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, as well as Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, and a 15-foot-tall talking plant (voiced by Levi Stubbs) which at times required up to 40 puppeteers to operate. The film allowed Oz to show his ability to work with live actors, and led to opportunities to direct films that did not include puppetry.
Usually helming comedies, Oz went on to direct Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 1988, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, What About Bob? in 1991, starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, and HouseSitter in 1992 (all of which were scored by Miles Goodman). Later films include The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), The Score (2001), the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, and Death at a Funeral (2007).
As an actor
As an actor, Oz appeared in a bit part as Prison Storeroom Keeper in The Blues Brothers (1980) movie, directed by John Landis. He also appeared in later Landis movies An American Werewolf in London, Spies Like Us, Trading Places and Innocent Blood. In 1998, Oz portrayed a warden in Blues Brothers 2000. In 2001 he had a minor part in the Pixar film Monsters, Inc. as Randall's scare assistant, Fungus.
Other cameos have included playing a surgeon in scenes cut from the theatrical release of Superman III, The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan and several other Jim Henson-related films that did not involve just his puppeteering.
With John Landis
Landis has cast Oz in small roles in several of his movies. Oz played a corrections officer in Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. He also had roles in An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, and Innocent Blood. Even if he's not appeared in a Landis movie, his name is often spoken in the background. During airport scenes in Into the Night and Coming to America, there are announcements on the PA system requesting a 'Mr. Frank Oznowicz' to pick up the white courtesy phone. John Landis made a cameo in Oz's film The Muppets Take Manhattan.
With Jim Henson
Oz worked as a puppeteer, performing with Jim Henson's Muppets. They co-directed a film together, The Dark Crystal. Oz wrote and directed the Muppet film The Muppets Take Manhattan. He also worked with the puppets on several of Henson's films (both produced and directed by Henson), including Labyrinth, starring David Bowie.
With Steve Martin
Martin played Orin Scrivello, DDS in Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Two years later he was a star (along with Michael Caine) in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He also starred in HouseSitter (with Goldie Hawn) and Bowfinger (in title role). This was Martin's last role in a film directed by Oz to date.
With Miles Goodman
Goodman scored four films directed by Oz: Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob? and HouseSitter.
Directed by Oz:
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
- What About Bob? (1991)
- HouseSitter (1992)
- The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
- In & Out (1997)
- Bowfinger (1999)
- The Score (2001)
- The Stepford Wives (2004)
- Death at a Funeral (2007)
Co-directed by Oz:
- The Dark Crystal (1982)
- The Muppet Show (1975-1981)
- Sesame Street (1969-2001, still works occasionally)
- Learning About Numbers (1986)
- The Funkhousers (2002)
- IGN: Interview with Frank Oz (Part 1 of 4)
- Frank Oz Biography - Yahoo! Movies
- Oz L.A. Times Score article- Edward Norton Information Page
- seattlepi.com "Director Frank Oz takes a new tack with low-budget dark comedy, 'Death at a Funeral'" William Arnold, 6/8/07
- Exclusive: A Chat with Frank Oz, comingsoon.net
- Geoffrey K. Pullum (May 18th, 2005). "Yoda's syntax the Tribune analyzes; supply more details I will!". Language Log. Retrieved 2010-09-30. Check date values in:
- Frank Oz