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James Frawley, Director of ‘The Monkees,’ ‘The Muppet Movie,’ Dies at 82

James Frawley, a prolific filmmaker who won an Emmy for directing the first episode of “The Monkees” and helmed “The Muppet Movie,” died Jan. 22 at his home in Indian Wells, Calif. He was 82.

His wife, Cynthia Frawley, told Variety that her husband died following a heart attack.

Born on Sept. 29, 1936, in Houston, Frawley was the youngest son of actor William Frawley. He broke into the entertainment business as a television actor with credits on “The Seasons of Youth,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Outer Limits” and “Perry Mason.”

Frawley was chosen selected by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to direct the first episode of “The Monkees,” starring Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. He won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series in 1967 for the episode “Royal Flush” and was nominated the following year for the segment “The Devil and Peter Tork.”

“I picked up a 16mm camera, and I shot two short films and edited them myself. They won a lot of awards and attracted the attention of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, two young producers in Hollywood at that time. Because I had been an improvisational actor and done a lot of comedy, they thought I’d be a perfect combination to direct The Monkees,” Frawley said in a 2007 interview with SFGate.

Dolenz said Frawley deserved a large share of the credit for the show’s success: “He not only coached us in the art of improvisation but brought to the party a brilliant sense of humor, a dazzling intellect, and the patience of a saint when it came to dealing with the completely off the wall antics of the improvisational, spontaneous monster that they had created…  ‘They’ being, Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and, Jim Frawley.”

“I liken it to a fission reaction. If you keep the lid on too tight, the fire goes out. If you take the lid off, it burns a hole through the center of the earth. To the credit of the producers, the writers, and largely to Jim Frawley, they somehow managed to sustain the reaction, control it, contain it, and use it to create a show that I feel blessed to be a part of and through the hard work of many, lives on to this day,” Dolenz added.

Frawley was also hired by Jim Henson to direct 1979’s “The Muppet Movie,” in which where Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and friends traveled across America to find success in Hollywood. His trademark cry on set was “Cut, print, yes!”

He also directed episodes of “That Girl,” “Columbo,” “Cagney and Lacey,” “Judging Amy,” “Chicago Hope,” “Law & Order,” “The Father Dowling Mysteries,” “Picket Fences,” “Magnum P.I” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” He directed the Emmy-nominated pilot for “Ally McBeal,” one of more than a dozen that he helmed, including two for David Letterman. He was also nominated for an Emmy for the 2000 pilot of “Ed.”

He moved in 2009 with his wife from Los Angeles to Indian Wells. Frawley is survived by his wife of 35 years. Donations may be made to the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

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