I had posted this on my blog but I thought I would post it here too....enjoy.
Muppet fans are mourning the loss of another dear and talented friend this week. Monday afternoon writer, Muppet collaborator and all around great guy Jerry Juhl passed away. Jerry was one of the key influences on the Muppet humor and served as head writer for both the "Muppet Show" and "Fraggle Rock". Jerry was credited for writing five of the six Muppet feature fiilms and countless tv specials and shows featuring Kermit and friends. He had begun his work as a puppeteer at a young age before finally teaming up with Jim Henson in the mid-1960's. Jerry had been one of Jim's first collaborators and consequently one of the most influential. He also remained one of the closest. Writing for the Muppets for more than 30 years on countless projects, commercials, tv shows, specials, appearances and films.
On a personal note, Jerry was an inspiration. People who have worked with me know that my favorite part of the creative process is in the writing stage. I love polishing and working on a script. I love good characters who are motivated and strong. I love ensemble comedy forcing you to balance which characters are being used and how they're being used. And I love the process of realizing a weak idea and reaplcing it witha strong one. I credit this heavily to Jerry's influence. Just as Jim had made puppetry accessible to the American culture Jerry made writing and development accessible to Muppet fans. Those jokes had to come from..somewhere. And those characters had to come from someone. Jerry had a firm grasp over the characters and could put them into situations that they would react or not react well too. He knew how to mix characters like a chemist creating a volatile composition that usually ended with humorous or heartwarming results. He was a skilled craftsman and talented writer and creator.
I had the honor of meeting Jerry last year at a Henson Film festival in Brooklyn. He was generous with his time and his fans. Stopping occaisionally to tell stories, answer questions, and sign autographs. The first thing that struck me about him when I met him was his joviality and I couldn't help but wonder if his good spirit came from having worked with the Muppets for so long or if the Muppets good spirit came from having him work on them for so long. At a screening of classic Muppet sketches and songs he spoke of the two ways in which Jim would often work. He said sometimes Jim would walk into his office and announce "We're going to do the war protest song "For What It's Worth" only we're going to do it as a wildlife piece." Jim would then sketch out the whole thing in detail and in two weeks time they would shoot it EXACTLY as Jim had planned. Other times, Jim would come in and announce "Musical Number: I get Around. Detail to follow" then at a following writing session Jerry would remind Jim about this piece and Jim would go make a sandwich. he would spend agood portion of time making sure there was the right amount of lettuce and mayonnaise on it. Make sure he had the right pices of cheese and meat and then having completed his masterpiece, Jim would sit down and say calmly..."Pigs on motorcycles" which would then lead the writing team to develop it further.
He spoke of the creation of Lew Zealand "That came from Chris Langham." And of his two favorite characeters one the show, The Swedish Chef and Rowlf the Dog "I love Rowlf. Rowlf always seemed to me to be a real guy. You know, the kind of person you'd want to have as a neighbor. He was always just laid bak and easy going. And I love the Swedish Chef for the opposite reason. I don't understand him at all. Whatever we were doing in the writer's room it would always come to halt and we would go down onto the set whenever Jim was doing the Chef cause it was usually hilarious."
At a screening of 'The Great Muppet Caper", I had the thrill of being able to watch Jerry watch that movie and enjoy it somewhat throug his eyes. Seeing which bits made him laugh and seeeing him enjoy the film. Aftwerwards, he spoke of the development the film citing that after the Muppets had completed the first movie they sat down and made a list of possible films styles they could parody and for some reason a heist movie just had the most potential. He also spoke of the late Richard Hunt, speaking of him as "the heart of the Muppets." He said that Richard was always entertaining visitors and would do everything he could to make them feel welcome. Following the screening of Caper, I had the chance to chat with him and thank him for his influence. We talked a little about puppetry and the movie that we had both just seen and agreed on it being "one of the best". He politley signed a photo of the "Pigs In Space" for me. And we parted ways.
I value this moment in my life very greatly now. I'm glad I had the chance to meet him and to thank him. I'm glad I had the opportunity to be touched by him and his genius. And I'm glad to feel that I'm a better person because of his influence in the world. I hope we can all be a bit better off from Jerry's work and I hope that somewhere he, Jim, Richard and Don Sahlin are working on something truely extraordinary together.
Thank you, Jerry. We'll miss you and your warm spirit.