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Fran Brill

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Fran Brill

Fran Brill (b. September 30th, 1946) is an actress & Muppeteer who has worked on Sesame Street since 1970. She was the 1st female puppeteer hired by Jim Henson, outside of his wife Jane Henson. She is best known for performing Zoe & Prairie Dawn. 2 of her other Sesame Street characters are Snow Grouch, a parody of Snow White & Omagrossa, a parody of Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. She also voiced the red Grouch in "Scramalot", a spoof of Spamalot.

Early Career

A Pennsylvania native, Brill began her performing career in community theater, & in 1968, while in Atlanta, she joined the cast of the play Red, White & Maddox, which ridiculed segregationist governor Lester Maddox. The show proved somewhat controversial due to its political subject matter, but transferred to Broadway in 1969, & 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 3 months, after only 41 performances. Out of a job, Brill was seeking work as a voice-over actress & 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 & 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, & after a 2 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."[2]

Brill also coined the character's name: "I heard of an actress with a similar name [Prairie Dorn] & Jim loves unusual names." Other characters followed, but it wasn't until 1993 that Brill established her next major role, as Zoe. Brill observed children, boy & girl, 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 & 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 & Violence, SNL, & Dog City, amongst many other Muppet projects.

Acting Career

While Muppeteering kept her busy, Brill continued to pursue an acting career on stage & screen. On stage, concurrent with her Muppet work, Brill won 2 Drama Desk Awards for What Every Woman Knows (1976) & 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), & What About Bob? (1991, directed by Frank Oz). TV work includes recurring stints on such soap operas as All My Children & As the World Turns as featured supporting characters & guest spots on Third Watch, Law & Order, & Kate & Allie. She has also made several cameos in Muppet productions.

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

Muppeteer 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. 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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