The Creative Way Frank Oz's Father Mocked Hitler

Frank Oz has had his hands in — as literally as you can possibly take that phrase— some of the most iconic characters in the history of both television and movies. He was the puppeteer and voice behind Yoda from the "Star Wars" franchise, as well as Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear on "The Muppet Show" and many of the films that featured the characters. He also lent his puppeteering and vocal talents to Grover, Bert, and Cookie Monster on the children's classic "Sesame Street" (via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency).

Oz's talents haven't been limited to puppetry. According to IMDb, he has quite a few directing credits to his name. These include several Jim Henson productions, like 1982's "The Dark Crystal" and 1984's "The Muppets Take Manhattan." He is also responsible for the 2004 film "The Stepford Wives" and the 1988 comedy classic starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (via IMDb).

Given his immense talent, it should come as no surprise that somewhere in his lineage was another talented, creative person. That person was his father, who came up with a way to mock the reviled Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler.

The Hitler marionette

Frank Oz was born Frank Oznowicz in Hereford, England in 1944. While he was born on British soil, his parents — Isidore "Mike" Oznowicz and Frances Oznowicz — had quite the journey getting there. According to The New York Times, the Oznowiczes lived in Antwerp, Belgium prior to World War II. Isidore was an amateur puppeteer, who took it up as a hobby after seeing a street performer when he was only 11 years old. In the 1930s, he was making his own puppets and made one in the visage of Adolf Hitler, the loathed Nazi leader. Isidore was Jewish (Oz's mother, Frances, was Catholic) and made the puppet as way of making fun of the dictator who had come to power in the early 1930s and was about to plunge the continent into six years of war.

Frances Oznowicz was concerned about her family's well being, especially if the Nazis moved into Belgium and discovered the marionette. So, when the fighting neared Antwerp, the Oznowiczes fled the country, heading south and crossing through France, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal, before making across the English channel to Great Britain. However, before they fled, Isidore buried his Hitler marionette in the family's backyard.

The Hitler marionette is recovered and displayed

After the war the family returned to their old home in Antwerp. While there, Isidore dug up his old Hitler marionette, which was still intact. The family took the marionette with them when they were finally granted a visa to the United States — a wait which lasted five years — and settled in Oakland, California. Sadly, as Frank Oz revealed in a 2022 interview with The New York Times, half of his father's family was killed during the Holocaust.

Frank Oz learned puppetry from his father, though he insisted he didn't have that much of an interest in it beyond the age of 18 until he met Jim Henson. "I really don't care about puppets," Oz told The New York Times. "I really don't. And never did. And Jim showed me how to be successful. Then I became successful at the very thing that I didn't initially want, but the joy was working with Jim and the Muppets."

The Hitler marionette stayed in the family attic, until Oz rediscovered it and displayed it in a museum case in his Manhattan apartment. Starting in July 2022, the Hitler marionette crafted by Isidore Oznowicz will be on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, as part of an exhibit titled "Oz is for Oznowicz: A Puppet Family's History."