NELSON, JERRY L. (1934–2012).
Master puppeteer, or "Muppeteer," Jerry L. Nelson was born on July 10, 1934, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but was raised in Tulsa. He served in the military in the 1950s and afterward worked for a television station in Washington, D.C., at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and as an actor in stock theater in New York.
Nelson's love of puppetry began, he said, at age 11 when he saw a marionette in a Tulsa department store. Nearly two decades later he briefly worked as a puppeteer with Bill Baird, creator of Baird's Marionettes. In 1965, when Nelson discovered that puppeteer Jim Henson was in New York, he asked for work and was hired. Nelson manipulated Rowlf the Dog's right hand (the rest of the puppet was activated by another person). They appeared regularly television's Jimmy Dean Show and then toured with Dean for several months. Later Nelson moved to California but in 1970 rejoined Henson's team, which had just created The Muppets concept.
In his career as a Muppeteer, Nelson created numerous "personalities" that appeared on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. He was the original Mr. Snuffleupagus, performing that creature from 1971 to 1978. For Sesame he also created Count von Count, Herry Monster, The Amazing Mumford, and Sherlock Hemlock. He used voices imitating his favorite famous actors, including Bela Lugosi (the Count), John Carradine (the Phantom of the Muppet Show), Howard Cosell (Lewis Kazagger) and even Marie Ouspenskaya (Majorie the Trash Heap, on Fraggle Rock). Other characters included Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Fleet Scribbler, Uncle Deadly, Lew Zealand, Crazy Harry, Floyd the Bass Man, and Robin the Frog (Kermit's nephew). Nelson worked in Muppet movies and specials including The Muppet Movie (1979), Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), and Muppets from Space (1999).
In the mid-2000s Nelson fought cancer and emphysema and curtailed his participation in The Muppets. He died on August 23, 2012, in Massachusetts.
Kristi Eaton and Anna Holton Dean, "The Road to Fame: Jerry Nelson," Tulsa People (magazine), September 2011.
"Jerry L. Nelson," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
Larry O'Dell, comp., Oklahoma @ The Movies (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).
Kathleen D. Toerpe, "Jim Henson Productions and the Muppets," The Guide to United States Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 2001).
"A Chat with Jerry Nelson," Tough Pigs—Muppet Fans Who Grew Up, 12 September 2009 (Parts 1, 2, 3), www.toughpigs.com, accessed 10 June 2019.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Nelson, Jerry L.,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=NE016.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.