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Dave Goelz

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Dave Goelz (b. July 16th, 1946) has been 1 of the lead Muppeteers for over 35 years, performing Gonzo the Great, Zoot, Beauregard & Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, on The Muppet Show, Boober Fraggle & Uncle Traveling Matt (the uncle of Jerry Nelson's Gobo Fraggle) on Fraggle Rock & Rugby Tiger in The Christmas Toy. However, he is 1 of the few major performers to have no prior experience as either an actor or puppeteer. He also provided the voice for Huxley's Humongous Chicken in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

Early years

Born in Burbank, California, Goelz had an interest in puppetry as a child, including an affinity for the children's TV show Time for Beany, but after high school, attended the Los Angeles Art Center's College of Design & began work as an industrial designer. The mechanically-minded Goelz worked for such companies as John Deere, American Airlines, & Hewlett Packard. However, when Sesame Street premiered, he was fascinated by the craftsmanship, as he recalled in a Muppet Central interview:

"I had been a Muppet fan for many years, but now I started getting fascinated with the design process that went into what I was seeing on the screen. Who were these people who created the puppets, costumes & performances that were so evocative? I got very curious."
―{{{2}}}

While working full-time for an electronics firm, Goelz began dabbling with puppet building.

Building Muppets

In 1972, Goelz met Frank Oz at a puppetry festival, & during a vacation in New York City, he attended the daily Sesame Street tapings. A few months later, Goelz showed his design portfolio to Jim Henson, & in 1973, he was offered a job w/ Henson Associates as a part-time puppet builder. His 1st assignment was to build puppets & design effects for a proposed Broadway show. However, the show was soon abandoned in favor of an ABC pilot, The Muppets Valentine Show, for which Goelz built characters & got his first crack at performing, playing Brewster, who he also designed.

Upon Goelz's return to California, he learned his electronics employer replaced him so he set up shop creating puppets for industrial videos. 8 months later, in the fall of 1974, Henson offered him a full-time position as a builder/designer, & occasional performer in specials, while still letting him keep his industrial clients. Returning to NYC, Goelz began work on The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, for which he built the new host character, Nigel. Working from sketches by Jim Henson, Michael K. Frith & Bonnie Erickson, he also built Animal, Floyd Pepper, & Zoot, the latter becoming his 1st major character.

The birth of Gonzo

In 1976, Goelz joined the rest of the Henson team & flew to London to begin work on The Muppet Show. In addition to reprising his role of Zoot & playing background roles, as in the earlier specials, Goelz was promoted to "Principal Muppet Performer" with the starring role of Gonzo the Great. The puppet had debuted in The Great Santa Claus Switch, as Snarl, & had made brief appearances in Muppet Meeting Films & Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, with different performers. The sad-eyed creation was now given a permanent name & puppeteer. However, in addition to playing Gonzo, Goelz was still employed in the Muppet Workshop.

Goelz recalled the hectic schedule of working full-time behind the scenes & in front of the cameras in a 2004 Film Threat interview:

"So my typical day involved running back and forth between making puppets and performing. & I of course didn’t know anything about performing. At all. I guess I had an aptitude for it, but it was something I hadn’t had any training for. So I was learning on the job, & I found the whole thing very stressful. At the end of the 1st season, I said, ‘Jim, look, is there any chance I could come back next year & just be a performer, & not work in the workshop?’ & he said ‘yes’. So I sort of blended into the performing world that year."
―{{{2}}}

Gonzo, that 1st season, like many of the new Muppet Show creations, was a work in progress, & especially for Goelz, playing his first starring character & major speaking role. When he was assigned the character, he panicked: "I have no voice!"

He thought of the voice the morning before the 1st taping performance. As recalled later, Goelz thought that he had the worst voice out of all the Muppet performers & was scared the 1st time he had to sing.

The early Gonzo, with a permanently sad expression, inspired a similarly depressed portrayal from the novice puppeteer: "The downcast eyes made him easy to play, because that was exactly how I felt. I was an impostor in show business. I was learning how to perform & to puppeteer on the job."

In that 1st season, Gonzo was a misfit & out of place, according to Goelz, which was how he saw himself as a performer:

"When I came to "The Muppet Show", I found myself suddenly with a different & enormous star every week, & I had absolutely no credentials. I felt so out of place. So that came into the character, & for the 1st season, he was very self-effacing & he felt like a misfit."
―{{{2}}}

Looking at the character in retrospect at MuppetFest, he recalled that "over the years, he sort of evolved along with me... I was an impostor in show business. In season 1, Gonzo is always self-effacing & embarrassed. But he knows he has something special." Adding to Goelz's insecurity was the jaded veteran crew members of ATV Studios, who had worked with the likes of Julie Andrews & Bing Crosby, & were thus hard to impress.

Finally, towards the end of season 1, Gonzo had a scene where he had to shout, in amazement, "No!" Jim Henson told him to go bigger, so Goelz obliged with a overemphatic "NO!" This earned his 1st laugh from the crew members. Goelz had once said: "I got another laugh the 2nd season. It was unstoppable now! & I thought, I could make a character of this. Then when I got that 1st laugh...I felt limited because he couldn’t look excited. His droopy eyelids always made him look pathetic. So after that 1st season I asked Jim if I could build a Gonzo with an eye mechanism. He said ‘sure’, so I went back to New York & did that. Now he could convey his excitement & enthusiasm for his silly acts, & it was much more entertaining. Along with this I was becoming more comfortable with performing. So it started to work better. I think he grew because I was growing, & I was capable of doing more."

As Goelz increased in confidence, & Gonzo transitioned from a nervous depressed failure to a manic, confident stuntman, other facets of the character fell into place. Season 2 introduced his romantic fascination with poultry, most especially Camilla the Chicken. As the performer reminisced in Of Muppets and Men: "There was a moment during the 2nd season when I had Gonzo ad-lib a line that was, I think, important for my understanding of his character. He'd been auditioning chickens for the show -- dancing chickens -- & they were all terrible. At the end of the scene I had him turn to the camera & say, 'Nice legs, though.' Something jelled right there. It told me something about him."

Muppet Show characters

In addition to the starring role of Gonzo, during season 1 of The Muppet Show, Goelz also had the slightly less-challenging but still time-consuming supporting roles of Zoot & another new creation, scientist Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Goelz had once said: "It's easy for me to do Bunsen, cause I've known dozens of Bunsens. Actually I don't think he's very funny except as a foil for Beaker, who is 1 of my favorite characters. Zoot is a big puzzle for me. People write to me & say they know people exactly like Zoot. Well, I'd like to meet one of them, because I've never met anyone like that. I found that when the writers gave Zoot lines to speak, I would always try to give them away to other characters, because I didn't know what to do with him. Maybe that helped to define the character. Perhaps it's best that he's so non-verbal."

In later seasons, a new Goelz character was added, the well-meaning but slow-witted janitor, Beauregard: "Bo is very similar to a character I performed in Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas. His name was Wendell Porcupine & I had a lot of fun with him. Bo was sort of modeled after him. He's big & strong & clumsy-- I love him--but he's passive, we've never found a hook for him."

Fraggle Rock

With the debut of Fraggle Rock, Goelz was cast as 1 of the 5 leads, the depressed, pessimistic Boober Fraggle. Boober stemmed from something Goelz had said while working on The Muppet Show, that he was so busy on the show that the only things he had time to worry about were death & laundry (The Muppet Show Season 1). At Muppetfest, Goelz related the process of character creation for the show: "They looked at the performers, & picked out our flaws, & made characters out of them. They denied it...So that's how I ended up with Boober, the suspicious, paranoid character." In the Fraggle Rock: Complete 1st Season interviews, Goelz also mentioned that "I was cast with Boober, who was sort of grumpy & inflexible, just like I could be a lot of the time." Demonstrating his versatility, he also played Gobo Fraggle's pompous Uncle Traveling Matt, the rat-like Philo, & the cantankerous The World's Oldest Fraggle, as well as a variety of guest characters & memorable incidentals, such as the obese Large Marvin Fraggle. In the Fraggle Rock: Complete 2nd Season interviews, Goelz talked about how he developed Traveling Matt's character, from the starting point as Matt being simply a misinterpreting chronicler of human life, to determining that Matt was also inherently clumsy & inept, which led to Matt covering up his blunders in his postcards & developing a comedic air of ostentation.

Movies & beyond

Goelz continued to reprise his roles as Gonzo, & Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Waldorf in feature films, slowly adding more aspects to "the weirdo", & also worked on Henson's forays into "realistic" fantasy, The Dark Crystal (performing the Garthim Master SkekUng & the dog-like Fizzgig), & Labyrinth (playing a variety of roles, notably Sir Didymus). "I loved the atmosphere on Dark Crystal. That turned out to be a very stimulating project, because it was pretty much unprecedented. On the very 1st day we filmed, the Skeksis had to file past the deathbed of the Skeksis emperor, performed by Jim. The Skeksis all had ulterior motives as they walked by the bed to pay their respects. In our very 1st shot, I was inside the Garthim Master Skeksis with another puppeteer doing the right hand. I was totally blind except for a little monitor on my chest, & I just stepped off the platform & we started to fall. Fortunately somebody was there & caught us & pushed us back up."

As the '80s progressed, in addition to switching between the manic Gonzo & the phlegmatic Boober (a variety which Goelz recalled as "stimulating"), Goelz played occasional new roles in specials, notably Rugby Tiger in The Christmas Toy: "I had such a good time. He’s just a naive, self-centered & self-satisfied, little tiger cub, & he was just so much fun. He was just completely unaware of the feelings of others. The crew loved him. It doesn’t show up much on the show, but it was just a fun thing to do with the crew." Another new character was Digit in The Jim Henson Hour.

1990s - present

Soon after, Jim Henson's very tragic, sudden death in 1990, & with Frank Oz continuing to focus heavily on directing, Gonzo the character & Goelz the performer gained increased significance, starting with the 1st new feature, The Muppet Christmas Carol. By performing Gonzo as Charles Dickens as narrator, Goelz (accompanied by Steve Whitmire as Rizzo the Rat, a pairing which would be repeated in subsequent productions) largely dominated the Muppet side of the film, & received top billing as "Muppet Performer" (a distinction which would continue through Muppet Treasure Island & Muppets from Space) "...when we did The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gonzo developed a soulful side. He played the part of Dickens, & I just loved doing that. It just paralleled my own growth. Jerry Juhl wrote it as a way of getting Dickensian prose into the movie. But the fact that he chose Gonzo was very satisfying to me. & I think it was because he saw me changing & I think he felt that Gonzo could change too" (Film Threat). Goelz also took over the part of Waldorf from Henson to Jerry Nelson's Statler, whom Nelson had recently taken over from his very dear friend Richard Hunt who had passed away in 1992.

Apart from a brief stint operating the face of Earl Sinclair & performing hand-puppet guest characters on Dinosaurs, & reprising Rugby Tiger in The Secret Life of Toys, Goelz' most notable new TV character was Stinky the Skunk in The Animal Show. Otherwise, the Muppeteer remained mostly occupied with Gonzo in movies, videos, & the 1996 series Muppets Tonight, the latter introducing a few new characters such as Randy Pig & Bill the Bubble Guy. Goelz also performed a handful of minor Sesame Street characters, & appeared in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland as Humongous Chicken. His most recent credits include Extreme Makeover: Home Edition & the Muppet viral videos.

Muppeteer Credits

See also

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