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Jerry Juhl

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Jerome Ravn Juhl (July 27, 1938 - September 26, 2005) was the head writer for the Muppets and Fraggle Rock for nearly four decades. He played a key role in developing the personalities of many of the best known Muppet characters, and scripted five Muppet movies.

Early Years

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Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Juhl began his puppetry career as a young man, building puppets and putting on shows in such venues as the St. Paul Children's Library at the age of 11. Three years later, his family moved to Menlo Park, California. He continued puppeteering, and in 1955, while still in high school, founded the Menlo Marionettes troupe, who performed in schools and parks around the region. [1]

Juhl subsequently worked with the Oakland Recreation Department's "Vagabond Puppeteers," where he first met and befriended Frank Oz. He attended San Jose State College, where he would receive an Associate Bachelor's degree in speech and drama, and also met his future wife, Susan, the daughter of the mayor. While at college, Juhl worked on a local television program, Sylvie and Pup, which debuted on KNTV in 1958. With Sylvia Cirone, he developed the concept for a stage presentation, and then adapted it for television with Producer-Director Mel Swope. Jerry also designed and performed the puppet, Pup, and built all other characters and props.[1]

In 1961, Jerry Juhl performed his original script, The Witch Who Stole Thursday, at the Puppeteers of America National Festival, Asilomar CA, along with Frank Oz and another puppeteer.[2] Jim Henson saw the performance and was impressed with Juhl and Oz. Henson hired Juhl to work for his fledgling company, which at the time was being run out of the basement of his and his wife Jane's home in Maryland. He began as a puppeteer, filling in for Jane Henson on the final season of Sam and Friends.

Juhl moved with the Hensons to New York, working as a puppeteer and beginning to branch out as a writer. In 1963, the future Susan Juhl came to visit her old college friend in New York, and then again in Washington DC, and they began dating (and would wed shortly thereafter).[2] While his wife worked as one of Jim Henson's secretaries, Jerry Juhl performed on some of the Muppets' variety show guest spots, but moved away from puppeteering as they went on:

I did it for self protection... Frank Oz joined us around 1963. He was, and he is, a magnificent puppeteer... absolutely A-1! I never rated much better than B-2... so I figured I'd better save my job by doing something else and besides, my arm was sore! [3]

Juhl's most notable contribution as a puppeteer was performing Taminella Grinderfall, who debuted in the Tales of the Tinkerdee and went on to appear in the Shrinkel and Stretchel industrial film and The Muppets on Puppets television special. Juhl reprised the role years later, providing the voice only, in The Frog Prince.

From Puppetry to Writing

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Eventually, Juhl discovered his true forte was writing. Although he became a freelance television writer in 1968, working mostly for PBS, he continued to write for numerous Muppet productions, and would do so for the next thirty years, limiting any future outside writing:

I always thought I was going to, but the Muppets always kept you... they were very busy years! So there wasn't a whole lot. I did a bunch of things for a public television station in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a hundred years ago... I got in touch with them because of the Muppets. We did a project down there; we did an early show -- The Muppets on Puppets -- I recall. Very educational, black and white, we all appeared on camera, we seriously talked about puppets... And subsequently I went back and did a series of children's stories for them. But basically it was the Muppets... It was a rollercoaster ride; you couldn't get off once you got on. [4]

Projects ranged from industrial films (Muppet Meeting Films) to special proposals (Johnny Carson and the Muppet Machine) to the non-Muppet experimental drama The Cube. He wrote scripts for television specials, including The Great Santa Claus Switch, and penned both book and lyrics for The Frog Prince and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen. He wrote for Sesame Street, creating Grover's alter-ego Super Grover and writing song lyrics and special linking material for records, as well as contributing to The Sesame Street Storybook and The Sesame Street Library.

After penning the pilot special The Muppets Valentine Show, Juhl joined the writing staff of The Muppet Show in 1976, and replaced Jack Burns as head writer starting with season 2. He joked, "The guest stars posed problems because it was the first time I had to write for feet!" [3] Juhl remained as head writer through the show's final season. Following the end of that series, Juhl became head writer for the entire run of Fraggle Rock.

Outside of television, he wrote or co-wrote five of the six Muppet theatrical movies: The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and Muppets from Space. Speaking jokingly of his work on Treasure Island, Juhl summarized the collaborative process as follows:

I did verbs, Kirk did nouns, and Jim's a great adjective man.... I can't remember how it actually worked. I think we stole the script from a fourth guy.[5]

After retiring from writing, Juhl continued to make appearances at special screenings of Muppet film work in N.Y. and L.A. For his final addition to the Muppet legacy, Juhl contributed many of the trivia facts that appear on the Season 1 DVD's for The Muppet Show, released in August of 2005.

Juhl died of cancer on September 26, 2005. Fans on the Tough Pigs message board have decided that September 26th should be celebrated as Jerry Juhl Day -- a day to do honor Juhl's memory by doing silly things.

At the 22nd Annual KidFilm Festival in January 2006, Dave Goelz spoke of Juhl:

The people at Henson were just so wonderful to work with. Though we were all so different. Everyone was so wonderful and we'll never forget those who have passed like Jim, Don Sahlin, Richard Hunt, and now Jerry Juhl... Jerry was a lot like Ernie. He was always grinning. He loved all of life. He even almost loved the bad times. I was kind of Bert to Juhl's Ernie. He would always put me [as Traveling Matt] in these aggravating situations like...on a roller coaster when he knew I was afraid of roller coasters. He was mischievous, but he always had a steady hand in everything we were doing.

Writing Credits

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Muppet/Henson Writing

Other Writing

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  • Sylvie and Pup (puppet series; KNTV, 1958)
  • The Witch Who Stole Thursday (play; ca. 1961)
  • "The Edward Salant Letters" (science fiction short story: The World of If, April 1968)
  • The Big Orange Thing (children's book; Bradbury press, 1969)
  • various WNET programs (ca. 1968-1969)

Muppeteer Credits

Awards & Honors

  • 1989: Writers' Guild of America Award for best Variety (Musical, Award, Tribute, Special Event) program for A Muppet Family Christmas

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Menlo Puppeteer Brings Skill to New TV Program." The San Mateo Times. October 22, 1958.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hale, Sam K. "Gems & Juhls." The Puppetry Journal. Spring 2001.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Profile: Jerry Juhl", Muppet Show Fan Club newsletter, vol. 1, no. 6, 1979.
  4. Hale, Sam K. "Hems and Juhls." The Puppetry Journal. Spring 2001.
  5. Horn, Danny, "Screen Play." MuppetZine #16. Spring 1996.

See also

External links

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