Frank Oz: Where is the Filmmaker and Muppet Performer Now?

As a Ron Howard-directed piece chronicling both the personal and professional life of the man behind Muppets, ‘Fraggle Rock,’ ‘Labyrinth,’ and more, ‘Jim Henson: Idea Man’ is simply gripping. That’s because this Disney+ original not only celebrates this ambitious genius at every step but also underlines how his perpetually busy schedule led him to have a few issues along the way. Amongst those to thus feature in this original to share their experiences with him was Frank Oznowicz (or just Frank Oz), but he is actually a legendary actor, filmmaker, and puppeteer himself.

Frank Oz is an Entertainer Through and Through

Although born on May 25, 1944, in Herefordshire, England, to Frances Ghevaert and Isadore “Mike” Oznowicz, Frank was primarily raised in Antwerp, Belgium, until he was around five years old. It was then that the family relocated to the US, only to ultimately settle in Oakland, California, and begin re-establishing themselves as puppeteers — the parents specialized in wood puppets. Yet, according to the aforementioned production, because they were always serious about their craft, their son deliberately chose to go down the cavalier route despite being incredibly talented.

Nevertheless, Frank caught Jim Henson’s eye while serving as an apprentice with the Vagabond Puppets at Children’s Fairyland amusement park at 17, resulting in an open offer of sorts. He, hence, relocated to New York around two years later to join Muppets Inc., unaware he’d soon become one of its most significant performers thanks to his creative thinking and comedic timing. In fact, whether it be Miss Piggy, Animal, Fozzie Bear, plus Sam Eagle on ‘The Muppet Show’ or Bert, Cookie Monster, as well as Grover on ‘Sesame Street,’ he portrayed them all for years.

Frank also played a variety of smaller characters, yet the primary thing he remembers is that half of their skits were spontaneous rather than scripted whenever he and Jim worked together. “I think I used Jim as a father figure [during the initial years],” he candidly revealed in the documentary. “I was unfair to him. I was dependent, and it took a while. The more independent I became, the more we came closer. He was my boss. I worked for him. He paid me. But, I mean, he never acted like a boss. So, it really was a partnership. Eventually, it was like [we were] brothers.”

That’s why Frank even agreed to co-direct ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982) when asked by Jim, which then led to him directing ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ (1984) and other commercial films too. Though what’s even more impressive is that he did it all while also performing the beloved character of Yoda in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, beginning with ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in 1980. But alas, by the time 2001 rolled around, over a decade following Jim’s untimely demise, this artist knew in his heart he’d done more than his share of puppeteering and chose to semi-retire from the Muppets in 2001.

Frank Oz Prefers to Primarily Focus on His Family Today

While Frank continued to perform on ‘Sesame Street’ on a yearly basis until 2012 and even reprised his role as Yoda for over four decades across various platforms, his priorities had admittedly shifted. He actually told Ain’t it Cool News in a candid 2007 interview that he’d parted ways with the Muppet world for “a lot of reasons. One was that I was a dad, I have four kids… I was constantly asked to do stuff. And also, I’d done this for 30 years, and I’d never wanted to be a puppeteer in the first place. I wanted to be a journalist, and really what I wanted to do was direct theatre and direct movies. So it was more a slow progression, working with Jim, but I felt limited.”

Frank then added, “As an actor and a performer, you always feel limited because you’re not the source of the creation, and I wanted to be the source. I wanted to be the guy and give my view of the world. If I screw it up, I screw it up, but at least I tried. As a director, what you’re really showing is you’re showing the audience your view of the world. I don’t know why, but I thought I say things a certain way, and I wanted to express myself. I’ve always enjoyed, more than anything else in the world, bringing things to life, whether its characters or actors in a scene or moments in movies. I’ve done so much with the puppets that I’d always wanted to work with actors.”

It thus comes as no surprise most of Frank’s credits since the early 2000s have revolved around acting, directing, producing, and voice acting, with just some of his credits as a filmmaker being ‘The Stepford Wives’ (2004), ‘Death at a Funeral’ (2007), ‘Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched’ (2017), plus ‘In & Of Itself’ (2021). As for his acting/voice acting roles, they include ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001), ‘Knives Out’ (2019), ‘Echoes of Violence’ (2021), ‘StoryBots: Answer Time’ (2022-2023), as well as, most recently, him reprising his part as Subconscious Guard Dave in ‘Inside Out 2’ (2024).

Coming to Frank’s precise standing at the moment, it appears as if he has slowed down a little in the past few years to spend more time with loved ones – his wife Victoria Labalme (married 2011) and his four children from his first marriage with Robin Garsen (1979-2005). We should mention that with over 12 feature films directorial, 75 puppeteer, plus 11 Yoda credits under his best as of writing, many have asked this talented entertainer to write a book about his experiences, yet he doesn’t wish to do so.

Therefore, New York-based Frank’s official website simply consists of one page, reading: “I don’t want to write a book. That’s too hard. So for now, if any one wants to know what’s happening with me, best to just go to @TheFrankOzJam [on X]. As for this site, I’ll let you know when I actually have something going here in the future so I can share with you whatever the hell I’m going to share with you. Thanks.”

Read More: Where Are Jim Henson’s Kids Now?