James Frawley, director of The Muppet Movie and several TV pilots for successful shows such as The Monkees, has passed away. He was 82-years-old. The news was confirmed by his wife, Cynthia Frawley, who said he suffered a heart attack. Frawley had a serious lung condition that came as the result of his many years of smoking.
Born in 1936, James Frawley was the son of actor William Frawley. Before stepping behind the camera, which would go on to define his career, the younger Frawley made his first steps into the business and tried his hand at acting. He scored several gigs on shows such as Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and The Outer Limits. Frawley acted periodically after becoming a director, with his last on screen appearance coming in 1996, in the series American Gothic.
It was in 1966 that James Frawley's career really took shape, after being selected by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to helm the pilot episode of The Monkees TV series. The show was created in response to the British Invasion, which was kickstarted by The Beatles. Frawley went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for the first season of The Monkees, also winning an Emmy for the episode Royal Flush in 1967. Frawley directed 32 episodes of the series in total.
In the years that followed, James Frawley would go on to direct on shows like The Girl and Paper Moon, in addition to movies such as 1973's Kid Blue and 1976's The Big Bus. But it was when he was selected by Jim Henson in 1979 to direct The Muppet Movie that he would get his biggest break as a feature director. The movie was met with critical acclaim and, in no small part thanks to the music of Paul Williams and Henson's creations, went on to become a huge success. In an interview, Frawley revealed that he treated Kermit, Piggy and the gang as though they were real actors.
"When I did 'The Muppet Movie,' I know this is going to sound weird, I 'talked' to Miss Piggy and Kermit in method terms. I talked about what they were experiencing, what the scene was about and what they were feeling, and that came up through the Muppet performers. Jim Henson was underneath the camera, but he knew what I wanted. If I could touch him in terms of an emotional moment, it would translate into how he would manipulate Kermit."
While James Frawley did direct several TV movies over the years, he mainly worked on shows and developed a knack for directing pilots. He directed the pilot for Ally McBeal, which was eventually nominated for an Emmy, as well as the series Ed, which was also nominated for an Emmy. Frawley's last work behind the camera as on Grey's Anatomy. Frawley is survived by his wife. The news of his passing was first reported by The Desert Sun.