Here is one from The Times yesterday. The photo of Kemirt and Jerry and a Mupet-Vision 3D photo were also printed.
The Times October 14, 2005
July 27, 1938 - September 27, 2005
Scriptwriter who, with bad gags and adult references, breathed life and warmth into his Muppet characters
JERRY JUHL was the writer who breathed life into the felt-and-foam stars of The Muppet Show. His ability to develop personalities for the characters, while creating a three-dimensional vaudeville world for them, made each one a distinct individual. With Juhl as scriptwriter The Muppet Show, rejected by the American networks, became a huge success in Britain and was sold on to 100 other countries.
Born in St Paul, Minnesota, Juhl grew up making puppets and putting on puppet shows for friends and family. He moved with his parents to California as a teenager and began his television work — puppeteering for children’s television programmes — while still a student at San José State University. He became a member of a puppet troupe, the Vagabond Puppet Theatre, where he met the British-born Frank Oz. The two met Jim Henson and his wife Jane at a puppeteers’ convention in 1961, whereafter Juhl joined Henson’s company to help on their Washington-based children’s programme, Sam and Friends.
This show was the first to feature Kermit the frog, a character Henson had created as a child out of two ping-pong balls and a piece of his mother’s green coat, along with early versions of other famous Muppets.
The word “Muppet” derived from Henson’s combination of puppets with marionettes, controlled from both above and below. Juhl did not rate his own ability to manipulate the creatures, and was relieved when Oz joined the company. Thereafter he concentrated on scriptwriting.
Muppet sketches were used as fill-ins on programmes such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Jimmy Dean Show, often satirising news and entertainment presenters. The trio’s talent for parodying pundits would crop up time and again, in Sesame Street’s over-enthusiastic game-show host Guy Smiley, the Muppet Show sportscaster Lewis Kezagger and the Muppet Newsman, whose interruptions of “This is a Muppet newsflash ” would reveal some impending disaster that would immediately befall him.
In the late 1960s the PBS producer Joan Cooney invited Henson to “create a family of Muppet characters to populate Sesame Street” for a new programme being created by a non-profit company, the Children’s Television Workshop. While the characters of Big Bird, Bert and Ernie and Oscar the Grouch sprang from Henson’s fertile imagination, Juhl created the crackling dialogue that created a personality and back story for each, and the chemistry between them. He used comedy’s oldest recipe in Ernie and Bert, the wisecracking wind-up merchant Ernie and his straight-man flatmate Bert, a pedant whose interests include pigeon-keeping and collecting bricks. Juhl worked on Sesame Street until 1975, and won two Emmy awards.
Henson wanted to make a Muppet programme that was purely entertaining, but he managed only to make one-off specials for American audiences. The Muppets’ break came when Lew Grade offered Henson the chance to create a show for ATV, as long as his company moved to England for the duration. For this reason the show was less saccharine, more bizarre and somewhat darker than it might have been, combining grown-up cultural references with cheesy oneliners. “The innocence of the characters allows us to use bad jokes in a way that makes them funny,” Juhl explained.
It was Juhl’s dialogue that made Kermit, the stage manager, into a long-suffering everyman (“Third-rate show? Surely this is a second-rate show?”), Fozzie Bear, a hack comedian under constant assault from Statler and Waldorf, and Miss Piggy, the prima donna with dreams beyond Kermit’s variety programme (“Pretentious? Moi?”). The show’s quickfire vignettes, such as Veterinarian’s Hospital and Pigs in Space, reflected popular transatlantic soap and sci-fi culture.
The Great Gonzo was Juhl’s favourite: a purple, hook-nosed stuntman originally created by puppeteer Dave Goelz for an Ed Sullivan Christmas special, whose attempts to play the trumpet would start every show on a discordant note. Juhl made him a tragic misfit, but he developed over time. Chickens were his showgirls (one called Camilla was his love interest) and his one-man shows included eating a tyre to the strains of Flight of the Bumblebee. Just as Juhl based many Muppet personalities on members of Henson’s crew, he based Gonzo on Dave Goelz.
“Jerry seemed to pick up what was going on with me,” Goelz said. “He sort of incorporated it into Gonzo’s character.”
After the first season Goelz built a new Gonzo with movable eyelids so that his Muppet could at least show enthusiasm for the strange acts Juhl was putting him through.
Juhl became head writer for The Muppet Show after the huge success of the first series. It ran in America, where audiences were bemused by some of the British guest stars, and won Juhl the Writer’s Guild of America award in 1978 and 1979. He also won an Emmy for a special “dance marathon” show made in 1981, starring Carol Burnett. The series won a Peabody award in 1978.
He co-wrote The Muppet Movie (1979) and then The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets From Space (1999).
Juhl worked as head writer and creative producer for Fraggle Rock for five seasons, a popular children’s programme which followed the interconnected lives of a number of underground Muppet tribes who refer to human beings as the Silly Creatures of Outer Space. Although the show was about world harmony and looking at ourselves from another’s perspective, it managed, like The Muppet Show, to put its message across without recourse to a trowel. “There ’s a sweetness we get away with, without being sentimental,” Henson said. He gave warmth to each of the characters, even Animal — created in tribute to Keith Moon — who, like Crazy Harry and the fish-throwing Lew Zealand, appeared at first to be mad.
Juhl retired to Caspar, California, in 1999. He is survived by his wife, Susan.
Jerry Juhl, puppeteer and scriptwriter, was born on July 27, 1938. He died of cancer on September 27, 2005, aged 67.