Fozzie Wars! Oz v Brandreth - the full story

Wow!  What a forty-eight hours this has been!  “Fozzie Wars”.  “Fozziegate”.  “Fisticuffs in Fozzie country’.  “Madness in Muppetland”.  The Twittersphere has been erupting.

This tweet sort of sums it up.

Flames. Flames, on the side of my face‏ @Scriblit Aug 10  Frank Oz vs Gyles Brandreth isn't a Twitter Beef I ever expected, but fuck it, it's 2018, the simulation is clearly broken, I'm just going to enjoy this one.

How the drama began.

Well, it seems that somehow word reached the great Frank Oz – the Mighty Oz, actor, director, genius, the original “voice of Fozzie” in The Muppet Show and so much else besides (see below for details) – got wind of the fact that my collection of Teddy Bears – now on show in the Brandreth Bear House at Newby Hall in North Yorkshire, England – boasts of having in it ‘the original Fozzie Bear given to me by Jim Henson (1936-90)’, creator of The Muppets, founder of Muppets Inc (in 1958, I think) which later became the Jim Henson Company. 

Frank Oz just couldn’t believe it and took to Twitter to say:

“Please explain in detail how Jim gave Fozzie to you.  Because I assure you.  That could not have happened.”

But it did. 

In 1988, Jim Henson appeared on TV-am, Britain’s first commercial breakfast TV station, where I was one of the presenters.  We met on the sofa and we got on well.  Afterwards, over breakfast I told Jim about my Teddy Bear Museum.  I told him my collection included bears of every kind, ancient and modern, including an original Sooty, an original Paddington given to me by Michael Bond (as featured in the TV stop-frame puppetry version of Paddington voiced by Michael Hordern in the 1970s), a Winnie-the-Pooh blessed by the real Christopher Robin (on condition the bear’s face faced the wall: Christopher Robin did not approve of his smile) and a thousand other bears – ranging from Dame Barbara Cartland’s Bear (‘The Prince of Love’ – he’s a bejewelled bear wrapped in pink ribbon!) to a bear given by the then President of France, François Mitterand.  Jim said The Muppets owed so much to Britain (the series was made in the UK by ATV from 1976) that he would love to see his original Fozzie Bear on show in England – and that he would be happy to give Fozzie to me for me to display with the rest of the collection.

A short while later, Fozzie arrived – and ever since 1988 Fozzie has had pride of place in the Brandreth Bear Collection, first at our museum in Stratford-upon-Avon, then at the Polka Children’s Theatre in London, and now at Newby Hall, near Ripon in North Yorkshire.  (Newby Hall is a wonderful historic house, built by Sir Christopher Wren.  If the Germans had invaded London during the Second World War, the Royal Family would have moved to Newby Hall in Yorkshire.  My feeling was: if Newby Hall is good enough for the British Royal Family, it’s good enough for the Brandreth Bears.)

We are very proud to have Fozzie here – and very grateful to Jim Henson and his memory.  We are grateful, too, to the genius of Frank Oz who brought Fozzie to life and provided his voice from 1976 to 2000. 

Of course, I was dismayed by some of Mr Oz’s remarks on Twitter – but he quickly did some research and another tweet then followed:

'Okay Gyles. I owe you an apology. I'm sickened that Jim did this but the Muppet Archivist emailed me this: "The gift was made in 1988 and the paperwork describes the puppet as "an original Fozzie Bear" - not THE original FB." Not sure why Jim made the gift but that's the story.'

A couple of things to say here.  I’m not sure why Mr Oz should be “sickened” that Jim did this.  The Muppet Show was made in the UK by ATV because Lew Grade picked up on it when American TV companies didn’t – and I got the impression from Jim Henson that he was grateful to Britain and had loved his time working here with a British crew and felt that Fozzie would feel totally at home here.  I also thought (but I could be wrong on this) that Mr Oz was English-born.

We’re thrilled to have an original Fozzie Bear – a beautiful gift from a beautiful man.  And I’m excited now to be in touch with Mr Oz because perhaps he can unravel the mystery.  If this Fozzie bear is “an original” Fozzie, but not “the original” Fozzie, where is “the original” – if such a creature exists.  I imagine there were variety of versions made right at the start of the story . . . but when exactly was the start of the story?

Jim Henson told me he was sending me “my original Fozzie” and I believed him – and when the bear arrived I was particularly intrigued to see the label inside which reads: “FOZZIE 1965 BEAR”.  (I have posted a picture of the label on Twitter for all to see – check out the @GylesB1 timeline for 12 August 2018.)

If the bear Jim Henson sent me does indeed date from 1965, as it says, can there be an earlier one?  If so, where is he?  It would be wonderful to fully unravel the genesis of Fozzie Bear and discover the original “original”.

Mr Oz is continuing to issue courteous messages of apology:

'Frank Oz‏Verified account @TheFrankOzJamTo whomever rightfully suggested that I remove my snide tweets so as not to harm Mr. Brandreth's activities, I realize my tweets have been retweeted many times and I don't know how to delete all those. I'll try again tomorrow. Thanks'

There is no need!  Frank Oz is a genius.  He rightly cares about the heritage of Fozzie Bear.  My admiration for him and his work knows no bounds.  I’m delighted that “Fozziegate” has introduced me to him – at least by Twitter.  Perhaps one day we will meet.  That would be an honour for me – as it was an honour for me to meet the great Jim Henson all those years ago. 

Meanwhile, the original Fozzie Bear generously sent to me in 1988 by Jim Henson has pride of place in the Brandreth Bear House at Newby Hall, Near Ripon, North Yorkshire, England.  Please come by to see him whenever you can.  Wakka wakka wakka!

PS

jon ronson‏Verified account @jonronson 'Gyles was vindicated. His Fozzie IS a real Fozzie. Frank Oz was generous in defeat, and fulsome in his apology. The crisis has ended, and part of me is glad, but another part of me feels empty as I was hoping for more crisis.'

I know the feeling.

Wikipedia on Frank Oz   Frank Oz (born Frank Richard Oznowicz;[2] May 25, 1944) is an English-born American puppeteerfilmmaker and actor. His career began as a puppeteer, where he performed the Muppet characters of Miss PiggyFozzie BearAnimal, and Sam Eagle in The Muppet Show, and Cookie MonsterBert, and Grover in Sesame Street.[4] He is also known for the role of Yoda in the Star Wars series, in which he has performed and provided the voice for the character in several films and television series.  His work as a director includes Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), The Score (2001) Death at a Funeral, (2007), and the US TV series, Leverage (2011).

Gyles Brandreth