Wednesday, December 03, 2014

U Is for Uncle Deadly

Back when I had things like a job and disposable cash, I bought the Muppet Show action figures made by Palisades Toys. I still have them all in a box in my library room. One of my favorite figures is their Uncle Deadly figure, which is made with such care and detail you'd think that Uncle Deadly was a much bigger part of the cast than he ever was. But he was just so dynamic, funny, and fascinating to look at that he looms large in the imagination.

Uncle Deadly's first appearance was on the great first season episode of The Muppet Show that starred Vincent Price. Here's a sketch that was, sadly, cut out of the Disney DVD set because of rights issues: "You've Got a Friend." You can see Deadly--here an assistant to Vincent Price--among all of the Frackles and Heaps and Ghosts.

Jerry Nelson performed Deadly as just kind of creepy, with a raspy voice, but two episodes later, Uncle Deadly skulked around the Muppet Theater as The Phantom of the Muppet Show, a legend that Kermit doesn't believe in until he meets him face to face. Then, the Phantom tells Kermit that he was a Shakespearean actor who played Othello there, and was killed on opening night... by critics. He now haunts the Muppet Theater to stop anyone from performing there, until he's reached out to by the episode's guest star, Twiggy. After that episode, he drops the Phantom shtick and becomes a benign member of the cast, popping up in bits. Here he is, for example, as part of the cast singing "Consider Yourself" with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

Uncle Deadly appeared sporadically, not really having a major role until he got a song all to himself in the second season: "Sheik of Araby."

Early in the third season, he played a villain menacing Miss Piggy in a short-lived series of Muppet Melodramas. Very short-lived, it turns out: there were only two. Here they both are on one three-minute video.

Jerry Nelson said that his performances as Uncle Deadly were meant as a tribute to John Carradine and his sometimes hammy performances in horror films. I've seen the character referred to as a dragon, but designer Michael K. Frith actually based Deadly's look on gargoyles.

Aside from a couple of appearances in group shots, Uncle Deadly didn't really appear in any Muppet productions until he was resurrected for 2011's The Muppets, where he and Bobo the Bear played the assistants of evil oil billionaire Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Now performed by Matt Vogel, Deadly has become a little less hammy and little more droll.

What's he been up to in between Muppet gigs?

Deadly and Bobo also had a cameo in Muppets Most Wanted, so I hope they continue to pop in. Uncle Deadly's a great little character, and a welcome member of the cast.

ABC Wednesday


Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, when I saw him in the movie, I thought he looked faintly familiar. Droll, indeed.


Lmkazmierczak said...

Love your in depth look into the background of the little known muppet characters♪

Keir said...

I had nightmares as a kid seeing him in the illustrated Muppets book...

Keir said...

An image from it:

SamuraiFrog said...

Oh, neat. I've never actually seen the book before.

I understand the nightmares. He has some of the same design elements as other Jim Henson creatures, like the Skesis, which DID give me nightmares until I was 37... That is true. They became recurring nightmare figures until last year.