Friday, September 23, 2011

Earl Kress - A Memoriam

EARL KRESS  (1951 - 2011)
 In Memory of a Great Person

I originally wrote this on Monday evening after hearing of the news that a great man, Earl Kress, was taken from us by that evil, horrible thing known as cancer:

Today, Monday  September 19, 2011, equals a very sad day with the news of my pal Earl Kress losing his battle to liver cancer.

At Earl's L.A. Apartment with Pinky and the Brain, for which he won Emmy Awards!

It was back in 2005 as I was planning a trip to Los Angeles, CA, to meet with other puppeteers that a friend of mine from Muppet Central (using the pseudonym WasOnceErnie) sent me a private message saying, “If you need a ride to your hotel from the airport, I’ll be glad to get you.”  I didn’t know WasOnceErnie at that time from any other person on the internet; but, I felt, ‘if he’s on Muppet Central, he’s okay by me!’  So, with gratitude, I accepted.  “You’ll know me at the airport by the Fozzie Bear t-shirt I’ll have on.”  For folks who don’t know, on Muppet Central I am known as “Fozzie Bear,” so it made sense to be looking for me in such a t-shirt.
There was also a plan that I’d return to his place to practice with Muley and his character, Davey Simpson, on camera and watching it on the monitor down below.  First, though, he showed me all around his town.  We went to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (where Emmy Awards come from) where I got my photo next to a new Jim Henson sculpture that wasn’t yet opened.  He showed me The Jim Henson Company at the old Charlie Chaplin Studios, REN-MAR Studios (which was once named DesiLu Studios and is where ‘I Love Lucy’ was filmed among other great shows), Raleigh Studios (the studio where Muppets Tonight was filmed), from a distance I saw the Hollywood hills letters, went down to see the theater where attendees of MuppetFest saw “The Muppet Show Live” in 2001, and more.
After a great lunch of chili, we went back to his apartment to goof off with puppets in front of the video monitor and camera.  While there, Earl took a phone call and I began looking around his living room.  I found a large Emmy-looking award and finally asked him, “So, how much did this set you back?”  and when he replied, “Nothing, I won that” I leaned in closer and read that it was indeed an actual Emmy Award for Pinky and the Brain.  I quickly scanned other things that I’d just looked at and realized that there were more awards that he’d won, then that the comic book pages I thought were collectibles were actually from books he’d written…who was this person?  “What do you do for a living again?”  He laughed and said, “I write for cartoons, comic books, t.v. shows, movies, do voice-overs…”  I looked around again and said, “I shouldn’t be here, then!  You’re a big deal, and I only draw a talking mule.”  He laughed at me again and said, “Oh, no, no.  I’m just a regular guy with a fun job.” 
Earl with Kermit made by Mike Moore of HMS Productions.

We visited some more and then began playing with Muley and Davey, and then he brought up a puppet of Kermit constructed by a friend of ours named Mike.  In the middle of our hilarious exchanges and practice, he got a phone call from someone trying to raise money for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign (or some such) and so he handed it off to me that I played a (bad) Fozzie Bear voice and responded to the guy.  I think it’s even on the practice DVD we made.

He drove me down to Disneyland and showed me around there, including the “Aladdin” show that was Broadway-worthy!  We also saw the puppeteered Playhouse Disney show which was awesome.  Being all Muppets fans we went to see MuppetVision 3D with the other Muppet fans and puppeteers.  Riding home to his house we sang Muppet songs in all the different voices we could muster.
At MuppetVision 3D with Frank, Tom, Cousin,
Anthony, Lucas and Kevin.

We met on Saturday, September 24, 2005, to go to the Museum of Television and Radio with my ol’ pal Matt Laesch.  A big Jim Henson celebration was on that day including meeting Cheryl,   Then, that night, we met with everyone over Italian dinners to celebrate Jim Henson’s birthday!  We went to dinner with a big group of puppeteers including my pal Steve Troop and more.  It was pretty funny as we all improvised and then realized that we’d all attracted the entire restaurant as an audience and then we ducked down under the table and began performing for the crowd.  Big fun!  Earl chose a great restaurant that night.  I was always thankful for his hospitality and the fun he showed me in Los Angeles.

At the ConSequential "Process of the Cartoon" Art Show with Andrew and
Amanda Chandler and Jason Negen.

During the puppetry panel, Earl performed alongside Kevin and Steve Troop.
One year later, the Mid-South Cartoonists Association put together and produced the educational convention about cartooning called ConSequential.  One of our special guests there was Earl Kress.  He came out and spoke in classes about writing, editing, cartooning, and puppetry.  He was, after all, a talented puppeteer.  On the panel with him were myself and our good pal Steve Troop.  We had a great time, and even traded our puppets back and forth to sample the puppet construction and joke with the different voices.  The end of ConSequential was at a party hosted by Adam and Penny Shaw, and I remember that he’d mentioned that we had a great group of people in Memphis because we were all such good friends.

After the convention was over, we had a chance to go to Graceland and it was probably the most enjoyable trip there I ever had!  He was really into the whole “Elvis-thing” and that made it all fun.  He was always the most fun to be around and talk to.
Then, I had a chance to go to San Diego Comic Con and folks could find Earl and I playing with the Master Replicas Muppets (when they finally set out Fozzie Bear, he called me on the phone to come over and see it).  We went to hear Jerry Beck talk about the worst cartoons ever—and they were—and Earl just laughed and laughed and laughed…  It was great hearing him guffaw at the dumb cartoons.  We goofed-off over dinner, and talked about the fun things we’d experienced before and were experiencing at SDCC. 
Other than e-mails and photos, it was the last chance I had to see him in person. 

Earl was very gracious the whole weekend having fun and making fun, enjoying the art…it was a true testament to the great person he was.  He’s a man to be respected for his kindness and humbleness. We could all do better to strive to be more like him.

I’d mentioned online earlier that I felt kind of dumb that I never sat down and had a real conversation about “the business” of writing, editing, voice-overs and was reminded: it wasn’t settling for goofy conversations and jokes.  It was that we were friends for friends’ sake.  And it’s true!  I still care about my buddy Earl!  He’s a great and wonderful person who will be sorely missed.

Following are some fun pictures from ConSequential.  Hope you have fun, too.
Earl with Muley, Kevin and Greg Weisman (Gargoyles Creator)

You gots money, dawg!

Signing for Pinky and the Brain!

The Three Puppeteers...just as dangerous as Musketeers (we will throw
puppets at you and RUN!)

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