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Fran Brill

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Fran Brill performing Little Bird.

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Fran Brill performing on The Muppet Show.

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Fran Brill and Bill Murray in What About Bob?.

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Fran Brill with Zoe and Prairie Dawn.

Fran Brill (b. September 30, 1946) is an actress and puppeteer who has worked on Sesame Street since 1970. She was the first female puppeteer hired by Jim Henson, outside of wife Jane Henson. She is best known for performing Prairie Dawn and Zoe.

Early Career

A native of Pennsylvania, Brill began her performing career in community theater, and in 1968, while in Atlanta, she joined the cast of the play Red, White and Maddox, which ridiculed segregationist governor Lester Maddox. The show proved somewhat controversial due to its political subject matter, but transferred to Broadway in 1969, and Brill moved to New York City to join her fellow cast members, who included a young Christopher Lloyd.[1] The show closed in less than three months, after only 41 performances. Out of a job, Brill was seeking work as a voice-over actress and in radio commercials, when she answered an ad from Muppets Inc., auditioning performers for what she initially assumed was a voice-over assignment. As the puppeteer recalled, "In those days, 1970, it was a small operation and if you called, you could get Jim directly on the phone.... They were training people to do a Christmas special for The Ed Sullivan Show." The special aired as The Great Santa Claus Switch, and after a two week puppetry workshop with Henson, she was subsequently asked to join Sesame Street.[2][3]

Sesame Street Girls

For Sesame Street, Brill initially played a variety of minor roles, usually supplying little girl voices, but quickly established her first notable character, Prairie Dawn:

They had a little pink puppet, they put on a blond wig, a party dress and asked me to create a character - a very feminine, girly-girl in the '70s. I came up with an innocent, pretty sound. I developed the character by working with her.[3]

Brill also coined the character's name: "I heard of an actress with a similar name [Prairie Dorn] and Jim loves unusual names."[2] Other characters followed, but it wasn't until 1993 that Brill established her next major role, as Zoe. Brill observed children, male and female, when developing her performance, picking up the basis for the character's laugh as well as the initial catch phrase "Don't joke me." Though Brill was initially uncertain of the character's longevity, Zoe was the only new character introduced that season who has endured and thrived. [4] Most recently, she added a new girl to her resume, playing Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet from Takalani Sesame, for all public appearances in the U.S. Outside of Sesame Street, Brill has worked on The Muppet Show pilot The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, Saturday Night Live, and Dog City, amongst many other Muppet projects.

Acting Career

While puppeteering kept her busy, Brill continued to pursue an acting career on stage and screen. On stage, concurrent with her Muppet work, Brill won two Drama Desk Awards, for What Every Woman Knows (1976) and Knuckles (1981). She received considerable acclaim for her role as Fran Bachman on the soap opera How to Survive a Marriage (1974-1975), in particular for her dramatic scenes following the death of the character's husband. Her notable film credits include Being There (1979), Midnight Run (1988, as Charles Grodin's wife), and What About Bob? (1991, directed by Frank Oz). TV work includes recurring stints on such soap operas as All My Children and As the World Turns as featured supporting characters and guest spots on Law & Order, Kate & Allie, and Third Watch. She has also made several cameos in Muppet productions.

Brill's voice work includes the animated series Doug and Doug's First Movie, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and several radio and television commercials. As she noted in 1987, "I can pinch myself and say, 'I may not be a major motion picture star, but that's OK. I've done all right."[2]

Muppet Credits

Sources

  1. "Viewers Praise Actress for Role in TV Serial." TV-Entertainment Review. Nov. 23-24, 1974.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Vadeboncouer, Joan E. "Voice of Prairie Dawn gives Fran Brill the freedom to choose her roles." Syracuse Herald American Stars Magazine. January 4, 1987.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Perera, Srianthi. "Street cred: Kids' reaction rewarding to Muppet creator." The Arizona Republic. December 27, 2007.
  4. Eckholm, Eric. "On the Set with Zoe: The Monster Is a Girl." The New York Times. August 9, 1993.

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