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THE MAN BEHIND THE MUPPET
By Susan Goodman, Correspondent
The Record
November 24, 1985

Muppet fans are of course familiar with Scooter, Kermit's zealous sidekick and "gofer. " They are probably unfamiliar with Scooter's creator, Richard Hunt.

But replace the styrofoam, orange hair, and Ping Pong ball eyes with flesh and blood, and one sees they are really one and the same.

"One thing I'll say about Scooter and Richard," said Muppet writer Jerry Juhl. "They'd both most likely take charge of a party."

Scooter first appeared at the Muppet's stage door in the early 1970's to ask for a job as a gofer. Kermit was ready to throw him out until he discovered what Scooter had going for him his uncle owned the theater. While Richard Hunt had no similar connections, he too showed up at the stage door as a youngster of 18 to ask for a job, drawn to the craziness of the Muppets. He began as a full-time muppeteer with "Sesame Street" and then continued with "The Muppets" in 1972.

Kermit, given voice by Muppet creator Jim Henson, once asked Scooter about his heritage. "My mother was a parrot," replied Hunt, holding Scooter. "We don't know about my father. It was during the war. "

Hunt's background is less obscure, although the Closter native is still quite capable of the zaniness displayed by his Muppet alter-ego.

One recent evening, Hunt emerged from a performance of the Metropolitan Opera in a dapper Italian suit, dark tie, and squeaky-clean sneakers.

"That's Richard," said Diane Bergenfield, executive producer of The Muppets, when she heard about his outfit. "He's as decorous and proper as can be, and then there's that absolutely eccentric, wild, bizarre, hilariously funny cap he puts on. " The 33-year-old Hunt has created all the characters he plays, and although he said Scooter is most reflective of his character, the others offer glints of some aspect of his personality.

They include Gladys, the long-lashed theatrical cow; Forgetful Jones, who speaks his own language; Beaker, the frantic lab assistant; Bif, the construction worker with the heart of gold; and Janice, the "Valley Girl" rock guitarist.

Hunt's love for for performing evolved in a six-room Victorian home in Closter, where he and his four siblings grew up with a father who was a Shakespearean actor and a mother who acted in local theaters. The Hunts took every opportunity to be on stage. "Our house had a staircase with a landing that lent itself to all sorts of entrances, scenes, and Fred Astaire-type dances," said Richard's mother, Jane. "The kids were always dreaming up shows. They would run upstairs to rehearse. Then they'd appear . . . down the steps, on the landing, and over the furniture. "

The family's sense of humor was as spontaneous as its acting. Sitting around the dinner table, the children would behave like mirrors, mimicking what the others were like, Mrs. Hunt said.

Hunt, who also has acted in the film "Trading Places," maintains a frantic schedule. He travels to Toronto every other week to tape "Fraggle Rock," a two-year-old show seen in the United States on Home Box Office pay cable. Then he returns to New York City to perform on "The Little Muppet Monster Show," "Sesame Street," and other special engagements.

Soon, he will be taping the 30th anniversary Muppet special and a Muppet film. Hunt says there is purpose to all the frolic of the Muppets. On camera and off, Hunt says he is always fighting against the tendency of people to turn inward and to only care about themselves.

He says he helps achieve his goal, in part, through his work. "On `Sesame Street we are lucky," he said. "We can teach the kids about how to live with each other," and "the sooner you realize that, you can get onto other important things. "

Copyright 1985 Bergen Record Corp.


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