It might be difficult, for some, to understand the magic of Fraggle Rock: the Fraggles are puppets, they live in a cave next to the home of a man named Doc, they love music, their neighbors are Gorgs and Doozers and an oracular heap of trash.
But if you were of a certain age in the early ’80s, there’s no denying the feeling brought on by the words “dance your cares away.” The beloved Jim Henson production – which ran for five seasons — turns 30 this year. And marking that anniversary is the release of a special-edition complete-series DVD set, out May 14.
TIME talked to Dave Goelz — a longtime Henson puppeteer who brought to life Boober Fraggle, Traveling Uncle Matt Fraggle and Large Marvin Fraggle — about what it took to make the Fraggles happen.
The Fraggles were almost called … the Woozles.
“It’s a variation on a character group that dated back to the early ’70s called Frackles. I think it was probably just that they were looking for a word they liked as much as that one,” guesses Goelz, who says “Fraggle” has no specific meaning. An archivist at the Henson Company, however, confirms that—while Jim Henson and Fraggle Rock writer Jerry Juhl liked the sound of “Frackles,” who were the bad guys from The Great Santa Claus Switch—the show was originally called Woozle World. That name was abandoned when they discovered that Woozles were characters in Winnie the Pooh. A later working title, Fraggle Hill, was abandoned for sounding too British.
Each Fraggle was created with a specific puppeteer in mind.
Goelz, who had been working with Muppets since 1974 (and had played Gonzo since 1975), remembers going to New York to “meet” the puppets that had been created for Fraggle Rock. He was immediately suspicious that the puppets had been made with their certain puppeteers in mind, even though the writers denied that was the case. “I looked at the characters and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve gotta be Boober,'” he remembers. “Years later, Jerry Juhl did cop to it.”
Things backstage at Fraggle Rock were…scary.
Competitive scaring was not new to the Muppet universe—Goelz says that the legendary Frank Oz had a phobia about seeds and once, years ago, Jerry Juhl put birdseed between the slats of venetian blinds in the Muppet workshop nap room right before Oz went in there and closed the shades, causing the seeds to fly everywhere. Here’s an example of the extent of the pranking: Goelz once had a plan to get revenge on his “fake enemy” Don Sahlin, from the Muppet art department, who had once rigged Goelz’s desk to “explode” with puppet-making materials. The plan was hatched knowing that Sahlin would often leaving work around 4:00 in the afternoon and return to work later that night — and that when an employee entered the unoccupied building, he would have to throw a master switch in a breaker panel located in a small bathroom.
I had it off and the whole place looked like nobody was there. I sat down on the toilet and I covered myself with black duvetyne, that black velour stuff, so that when he came in and reached for that switch there would be a human hand on it. I would win for all time! 8 o’clock came, 8:15, 8:30, 8:45—and I’m still sitting on the toilet in this bathroom under a black cloth. It was a hot summer night, the air-conditioners were not on. I thought, ‘He’s not a guy of absolute rigid habits, maybe he’ll come later.’ 9:00, 9:30. Finally about 10:00 I realized he’s not coming back tonight. So he survived. And I never tried it again.
Things in front of the camera were scary too.
Another scaring victim was writer Jocelyn Stevenson. Goelz got her during a lunch break once by sneaking up on her while she was in an ATM vestibule—and then foiled her attempts to get back at him. She eventually took out her frustration another way: by writing the Season 3 Fraggle Rock episode “Scared Silly.”
Working on Fraggle Rock was, for some, a wonderful never-to-be-topped experience.
“Our video editor, Pat Hamilton, who, sadly, died recently—I saw him last summer at a little impromptu gathering in Toronto— it turned out he had left video editing when he was about 30,” says Goelz. “He was about 25 when he worked on our show. He left video editing and became an IT person. I said, ‘Why did you change careers?’ And he said, ‘I peaked too early.’ After Fraggle there was just not going to be anything else like it. I do feel like that feeling in the room gets on the screen.”
Not every audience saw the same Fraggle Rock.
The outer space (a.k.a. human world) scenes that frame episodes of Fraggle Rock varied according to audience. Goelz says the idea was inspired by Sesame Street‘s use of different-looking streets to personalize the episodes. (In some markets, Sesame Street doesn’t look like NYC.) Doc, the Fraggle Rock human, is an inventor in Canada and Germany. In England, he’s a lighthouse keeper. In France, he’s a baker—and his dog, named Sprocket elsewhere, is named Croquette. The actors were local talent.
Traveling Matt went all over the world—but Goelz didn’t go everywhere Matt did.
Local actors were also used to fill in for Goelz in some of his “Traveling Matt” sequences, during which Matt Fraggle files dispatches from various corners of the world. Goelz did, however, get to go to Australia and New Zealand for a month to shoot Matt’s travels Down Under. (Unlike the Doc scenes, Matt sequences were aired worldwide.)
The theme song wasn’t the tune that got stuck in the puppeteers heads.
Is the Fraggle Rock theme stuck in your head? Sorry about that. But for those who worked on the show, the music that appears in individual episodes was a bigger problem. “Anything that we shoot gets stuck in our heads when we’re working on it, for a day or two,” says Goelz. “A lot of times, we’ll cover songs in our normal Muppet work and there’ll be things that I don’t even like. Once you perform them you start to find out how they work, and you start to kind of like them. Then you can’t get it out of your head.”
What’s in Goelz’s head now? A song Tina Fey will sing in the upcoming Muppet movie—in which Goelz “plays” Gonzo, Zoot, Beauregard, Waldorf and Bunsen.
Goelz couldn’t make it to the Fraggle-themed Ben Folds Five video shoot — but he’s in it anyway.
The Fraggles made an appearance last year in the video for Ben Folds Five’s “Do It Anyway,” but the plan came together last minute and Goelz couldn’t make it to L.A. to do the puppet work for Boober and Traveling Matt. But at the end of the video, when that catchy theme song shows up, that is Goelz’s voice. He was dubbed in later for the “Down at Fraggle Rock.”
A Fraggle Rock movie is in development.
Though Goelz had no news to share about the progress at this point, the Henson Company did confirm what Fraggle fans have long hoped for.