James Frawley, the Emmy-winning director who brought both the Monkees and the Muppets to screen success during a prolific television and film career spanning five decades, has died. He was 82. Frawley died on Jan. 22 at his home in Indian Well, as first reported in the Palm Springs Desert Sun.
Frawley was born in Houston in September 1936 and gravitated toward acting, first on stage and then in classic 1960s television fare such as Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, My Favorite Martian, Dr. Kildare, The Outer Limits and I, Spy.
Frawley’s career took a major turn in 1966 when he set aside acting to step behind the camera as the director of an experimental new NBC series, The Monkees. Inspired by Beatlemania, the primetime music and comedy series introduced a “pre-feb” version of the Fab Four with Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Took and Mickey Dolenz as a daft pop troupe channeling their own riff on the frenetic charms of the Beatles films Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.
The Monkees lasted 58 episodes spread over two seasons but its pop-culture legacy and popularity went far beyond that, especially when the show’s band scored authentic chart hits that became pop classics, among them Last Train to Clarksville, Daydream Believer, Steppin’ Stone and I’m a Believer.
In 1967 Frawley won an Emmy for directing an episode of the Monkees titled Royal Flush and he was nominated again a year later for another episode, The Devil and Peter Tork. He would add two more Emmy nominations in later decades for his work on the 1997 pilot of Fox’s Ally McBeal and the 2000 pilot of NBC’s Ed.
His credits in television also include Columbo, Magnum, P.I., Grey’s Anatomy, The Practice, Wonderful World of Disney, Cagney & Lacy, That Girl, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Melrose Place, and Smallville.
The sharp but loopy improvisational energy of The Monkees made a big impression on Jim Henson who more than a decade later flew Frawley to the London set of The Muppet Show to discuss a big-screen adventure based on the syndicated television series.
The two bonded and Frawley signed on to direct The Muppet Movie, the 1979 puppet epic that tracks an intrepid amphibian named Kermit the Frog on his quest for Hollywood fame and introduces him to new friends like Fozzy Bear, Miss Piggy and Gonzo. The film’s all-star cameos gave Frawley a chance to direct Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Mel Brooks.
Below, the opening sequence from The Monkees television series…