Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Genius of Goelz

I've always had a hard time answering questions that go like this: "What's your favorite (blank)?" I mean I'm a huge movie fan, but if you ask me what my favorite flick is it might be "The Wizard of Oz" one day and "The Empire Strikes Back" the next. Favorite food...maybe a Chicago Style Hot Dog maybe a banana. Depends on the mood.

I can think of only one category I won't waver on, favorite puppeteer. Granted, "Who's your favorite puppeteer" isn't typically listed in Cosmo as a top ten ice breaker at parties, but since puppetry is my chosen profession it's understandable that I would have an opinion on this subject.

Many puppeteers have had an impact on me. Burr Tillstrom, Bil Baird, Richard Bradshaw, Roy Brown, and, of course, the Muppet Performers. I grew up in the golden age of the Muppets. I was born a year and a half after the debut of "Sesame Street." I was there for the premiere of "The Muppet Show," and returned every Saturday night after. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Caroll Spinney...these performers not only taught me my ABC's, they taught me the art of puppetry. Each of them has influenced me in some way, but none more so than Dave Goelz. Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Boober, Traveling Matt, and, of course, The Great Gonzo are just a few of the characters brought to life by this amazing performer.

Goelz was the junior member of the Muppet team when "The Muppet Show" premiered in 1976. He had worked as an industrial engineer before his interest in making puppets let him to Henson, first as a puppet builder and later as a performer. He learned his art on the job and over the course of the last 30 years he has earned his place as one of the finest puppeteers of all time.

For awhile I've been wanting to try and put into words some of the things that I love about Goelz's work. I'm finding it a lot harder than I thought. In a recent radio interview, Goelz himself couldn't even describe his performance style. I think what makes it so difficult for me is that even though I know there's a puppeteer bringing the characters to life, in my mind the characters of Dave Goelz, more than any of the other Muppet characters, seem to really live. Creating that illusion of life is one of the marks of a great puppeteer. Dave Goelz is the master in that department.

I have a feeling I'm going to come nowhere close to describing what makes Goelz's work so intriguing to me. I'm gonna give it a shot, though. Luckily you can always grab the DVD's and check out the real thing. Stay tuned for more.

No comments: