You might not know the name Van Snowden. But if you’ve ever seen Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the Child’s Play series, or H.R. Pufnstuf, you know his work. As one of Hollywood’s foremost puppeteers, Snowden — who died of cancer at age 71 on Sept. 22 in Burbank — brought whimsical characters to life in three decades’ worth of movies and TV shows.
Born in San Francisco, Snowden’s Hollywood career launched when he donned the the famous dragon suit of H.R. Pufnstuff for the character’s 1970 feature film debut. He continued to work with children’s TV producers Sid and Marty Krofft on a variety of shows, including The Bugaloos and Land of the Lost.
Snowden soon became one of the most in-demand puppeteers in the film industry, performing characters like Chucky in the Child’s Play series and the Crypt Keeper in Tales from the Crypt. His credits include movies as diverse as Beetlejuice (1988) and Starship Troopers (1997). In 1989, he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program for D.C. Follies — the first time a puppeteer received that honor. (He lost to Linda Ronstadt, who won for her episode of PBS’s Great Performances.) Recently, Snowden worked a head of Hasbro’s puppeteer division, programming toys like Furby and Gizmo.
In honor of Snowden, take a look at some clips of his work in H.R. Pufnstuf, Child’s Play 2, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse: